If you are a Neopagan leader, community organizer,
online forum moderator, or just someone bewildered by the astonishingly
destructive behavior that people in our overlapping subcultures
can inflict upon one another run, do not walk, to your
nearest Christian bookstore (yes, thats what I said) and
buy this book!
Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal
with Destructive Conflict is a
paperback from Augsburg Fortress Pub. (at 426 S. Fifth St., Box
1209, Minneapolis, MN 55440, for those of you who prefer mail
order), a company that specializes in training and educational
materials for (mostly Liberal Protestant) clergy. It will be
the best $13 you have spent in a long time (less if you use my
Amazon link above).
Haugk discusses in detail the motivations,
styles, and attack procedures of the people he calls antagonists:
Antagonists are individuals who,
on the basis of nonsubstantial evidence, go out of their way
to make insatiable demands, usually attacking the person or performance
of others. These attacks are selfish in nature, tearing down
rather than building up, and are frequently directed against
those in a leadership capacity.
As Haugk presented case study after case study
of destructive individuals attacking pastors, chairpersons, and
lay leaders in various churches, name after Neopagan name flashed
through my mind. His listing of red flags to watch
out for and his stories of failed coping strategies caused me
to have one embarassing ah ha! experience after another,
as I finally began to understand various conflicts I had witnessed
and/or participated in over the years. At long last, I began
to comprehend Neopagan politics
The author is emphatically Christian and the
Bible is quoted frequently. Nonetheless, Christian theology is
actually irrelevant to the case histories and to most of the
suggested defense (and better yet, prevention) tactics he discusses.
I suspect that most people reading this review have seen the
amazing swathes of destruction that some have caused in our own
as well as many non-Christian communities with this book
a person of any or no faith will be able to stop such destruction
before it gets out of hand.
Haugk is very careful to distinguish antagonism
from normal criticism and creative conflict, and wisely warns
the reader against seeing antagonists in every situation where
disagreement occurs. This is not, however, a text on conflict
resolution or consensus decision making (quite a few other works
cover those topics) but a survival handbook for protecting yourself
and your group from wolves in sheeps clothing
those who appear outwardly pious (or in our community,
politically correct) but who are actually far more
interested in their own egos and power (over others,
as Starhawk would put it) than they are in the welfare of the
groups they (dys)function in. Offensive as the Christian imagery
of good people as sheep may be, the wolf analogy is quite apt
and recalls the ancient European warriors called werewolves
who, like berserkers, savaged both friend and foe.
If I had read this book 30 years ago, many,
many mistakes might have been avoided and Neopagan Druidism would
be much further along in its evolution. In fact, if this book
have been read by most of our old timers three decades
ago, our community would be easily ten or twenty times its current
size and far more effective at influencing the mainstream death
culture. Tens of thousands of lives and species
might have been saved and the environmental crisis significantly
slowed down. Instead, we spent literally millions of hours fighting
unending battles with antagonists inside our own community who
never intended to fight fair because what they really
wanted was the attention we gave them and the joy of destruction
for its own sake.
Haugk has also authored, with R. Scott Perry,
Guide to go with the main book. This $5 workbook contains
role playing exercises to help the leadership circles of your
religious group to learn to practice handling antagonist personalities,
and I received good reports from groups using them. Best of all,
Ive learned that the mere purchase of these books
by Neopagan boards of directors has been sufficient to cause
several antagonists to immediately leave those groups in a Huff
(thats a small German sports car).
Id like to see these books become required
reading for every Neopagan leadership training system in the
English speaking world. I strongly urge my fellow elders in the
community to get these books and study them carefully. If Haugks
principles and practices are applied judiciously, in ways congruent
to our own beliefs, this Christian author will have bestowed
a major blessing upon all of Pagandom. Wont he be surprised?
Since I began promoting this book five years
ago, Ive noticed an unhappy side-effect that I suppose
I should have expected: the use of the term antagonist
as a weapon to silence internal and external opposition. The
only solution to that is to make sure that everyone in a given
situation is familiar with Haugks precise definition (given
above) and that evidence supporting such name-calling is clear.
Just because someone is a pain in the rear, or refuses to shut
up and go away, does not mean that she or he is an antagonist.
Related to the antagonist phenomenon are the
witch wars (so called because Wiccans were usually
the individuals or groups involved in the early years) that occasionally
sweep through parts of the Neopagan community. These can result
in the destruction of groups and individuals, often with valuable
leaders resigning and dropping out of the community, leaving
bad feelings lasting for decades among those involved. I think
the term witch wars has been severely overused and
that connecting it to the antagonist concept is not always an
honest or accurate process.
I have no doubt that some witch wars
are caused by antagonists, sometimes with antagonists on both
sides competing to see who can be the most destructive, but others
are the result of legitimate ethical and moral conflicts between
individuals and groups conflicts which need to
be fought, honestly and wisely. Tossing the word antagonist
into the middle of such community thrashing out of standards
and expectations may be less than helpful (or honest).
Speaking of honesty, a number of people in
our community have begun writing modified versions of Haugk and
Perrys material, removing the Christian theology and replacing
it with Pagan concepts. As a Neopagan I approve, for we need
training and study tools that reflect the specific needs and
characteristics of our faith community. As an author, however,
I am most uncomfortable with what can only be called plagiarism,
especially since it is being done to living authors in violation
of not just their copyrights but their religious beliefs as well.
It may be obvious to us, as I mentioned above, that the
Christian content of their work is fairly irrelevant to most
of the principles and tactics discussed in their work, but they
may feel quite differently.
So I would ask my colleagues who are modifying
Haugk and Perrys hard work for specifically Neopagan groups
to include all the original copyright notices and to insist
that modified versions be purchased only by people who have or
will purchase copies of the source book and study guide. They
are cheap enough that there are no excuses for ripping off two
men who have given us such valuable tools.