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Paganism, a collection of diverse religions rooted in indigenous traditions, has experienced rapid growth in the United States. Paganism
encompasses shamanistic and magical religions such as voodoo, druidism and witchcraft.

In 2001, the state of Wisconsin hired Jamyi Witch, the nation’s first Wiccan priestess to serve as a full-time state prison chaplain. Witch, who legally changed her previous last name, serves at the maximum security Waupun Correctional Institution even though only 30 of the 1,200 inmates identified themselves as Wiccans.

In southern Florida, 100,000 people practice Santeria, a syncretistic religion of African and Cuban customs. In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah that the Florida municipality had violated religious liberties by forbidding animal sacrifices, one of the primary features of Santeria performed at such events as marriage, cure for the sick and initiation of new members.

Santeria is nowhere more prominent than in Miami’s Little Havana, the location of Centro Cristiano Casablanco, an Assemblies of God church plant started three years ago.

Grace Salazar, a licensed Assemblies of God minister who helped plant the church, says Santeria followers walk around the church regularly in an effort to cast spells on Christians. Santeria devotees have left dead chickens hanging from the church’s trees and dead frogs on the doorsteps. The city of Miami has a voodoo police squad that collects animal carcasses.

The Assemblies of God church, with 300 weekly attendees, is meeting needs despite the challenges of ministering to adherents who have brought a variety of polytheistic beliefs with them from 20 Latin American countries.

Salazar warns that Christians must be vigilant not to fall prey to religious pluralism. “Too many Christians have been assimilated into the culture in the United States,” Salazar says. “Instead of taking a stand, they have become lax.”

“Many people today appear to be practicing a ‘do-it-yourself’ faith — taking pieces from various traditions and building their own kind of ‘patchwork’ faith,” says pollster George H. Gallup Jr. Such relativism in an increasingly pluralistic society muddles the uniqueness of Christ’s claims. For instance, one-fifth of people who call themselves born-again Christians also say they believe in reincarnation, according to a Gallup poll. Forty years ago, two-thirds of Americans believed the Bible is the literal Word of God; today, only one-third make that claim.

A growing number believe Christianity is only one of many paths to salvation. “But the Cross doesn’t allow us to [believe or teach] that,” Groothuis says. “The Cross signals that redemption comes only in one Person — the person of Christ.”

Groothius believes Christians should be informed about court cases regarding the display of the Ten Commandments or the display of crèches on public grounds because they affirm the religious liberties long enjoyed in this nation. “But,” he adds, “we can have manger scenes all around a city, but if people don’t know anything more about Jesus than that He was once in a manger, it’s somewhat cosmetic. The real issue is how do we make the truth and power of the gospel known in a pluralistic society?”

John W. Morehead, an expert on cults, believes the circle-the-wagons approach used by Christians is ineffective. He cites a recent protest of a pagan bookstore — where Christians ringed the parking lot, opened the doors of their vehicles and blasted Christian music and shouted Bible verses — as being counterproductive.

Evangelism involves taking cultural considerations into account and translating the meaning of the gospel into terms that a person with a different worldview understands, according to Morehead, who teaches at Capital Bible College, which is affiliated with Capital Christian Center in Sacramento.

“You can tear down a belief system and refute it, but unless you communicate Christ to them in a context they can understand, the gospel doesn’t mean anything to them,” Morehead says. “The early church was born in and thrived in a religious pluralism environment.”

There is no reason for the Assemblies of God to cower from an increasingly complex and diverse culture, according to Home Missions Director Hackett. He notes that the Fellowship is often the only evangelical presence on secular college campuses, at maximum-security prisons and in fast-growing suburbs. “Home Missions is taking the gospel to places where churches ordinarily don’t go,” Hackett says.

Bryan Elliott, Chi Alpha pastor at Kansas State University in Manhattan, knows the challenges and rewards of working in such an environment. “One Hindu family came to our church and wanted to accept Christ and add Him to the list of 437 other gods they worship,” Elliott says. “But they had a problem with Jesus being the only way.”

Rather than recoil from such encounters, Elliott relishes them. Without compromising his beliefs, he has befriended leaders in Individuals for Freethought, a student group on campus that successfully fought to keep a Ten Commandments memorial from being installed outside city hall.

Along with 60 atheists, agnostics, socialists and communists, Elliott is on the group’s e-mail address list, where he regularly defends Christ. He has also had a group of atheists to his home for dinner. Last year, the Chi Alpha group co-sponsored a secular humanism versus Christianity debate with Individuals for Freethought, attended by more than 1,100 people.

“Apologetics, while beneficial and necessary in overcoming obstacles, won’t by itself bring people to Christ,” Elliott says. “Jesus has called us to engage the culture as He engaged the Samaritans, tax collectors and religious leaders of His day. When we are called to be soldiers of Jesus on the front lines, we’re going to be taking more hits from the enemy. But the spoils of war go to those who are engaged in the battle.”

John W. Kennedy is news editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

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