Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Voodoo Christians? Really?

posted by Rod Dreher

Syncretism in our time, in the home of a former Lutheran pastor and her husband, who are now worshiping voodoo spirits:

CHICAGO – Images of the washed-out Haitian hillside where their children’s relatives lived have led Peter and Paula Fitzgibbons to fear that their adopted son and daughter have no biological family left.
The strongest bond their children Odeline and Sevvy may have to their homeland now is the way they “serve the spirits” and speak to God.
Every night since Jan. 12, when a devastating earthquake hit the children’s homeland, the Fitzgibbons family has assembled in their Evanston, Ill., den for Vodou prayers, part of the couple’s effort to preserve their children’s ties to Haiti through a religion they say has been misinterpreted and unfairly portrayed.
With Haitian tunes echoing from the kitchen, Odeline, 9, Sevvy, 8, and their 5-year-old sister, Isa, stand before an altar with their parents, light candles, and call upon Papa Legba, the Vodou spirit and gatekeeper who admits other spirits into the sacred circle to hear the family’s prayers.
Together, the family whirls and twirls around the living room, pounding drums, shaking tambourines, and chanting to invoke the pantheon of spirits, or lwa.
“Feed the people!”
“Save our children!”
“Find our family!”

More:

Many orphanages had strict rules that required a Christian upbringing. The one where Odeline and Sevvy first lived warned prospective parents to stay away from teaching Creole, Vodou, or Haitian history. But Paula Fitzgibbons saw no conflict between Vodou and Christianity.
“At the core of those religions is service,” she said. “We’re serving the spirits, and the spirits are doing the work of God. How is that different from honoring Jesus? . . . It’s very important that the children learn about Jesus and his compassion and how he wants us to live our lives.”
She believed it was important to preserve the children’s spiritual heritage. So this month, in addition to incorporating Haitian history into the children’s home-school curriculum, cooking Haitian foods, and listening to Haitian music, the family embarked on a spiritual journey – an adventure chronicled on Paula Fitzgibbons’ blog: www.raisinglittlespirits.com.
That perspective is cultivated by Lake Street Church, the American Baptist church in Evanston that the Fitzgibbonses chose to join five years ago.
The Rev. Ann-Louise Haak, associate minister at Lake Street, compares the role of spirits in Vodou to the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding believers that the Apostle Paul discusses in the New Testament.

I believe these well-intentioned people are playing with fire. Real spiritual fire. From a purely theological point of view, though, it wasn’t so long ago that Christians knew that syncretism (as distinct from inculturation) was something to be highly concerned about. Whatever happened to the First Commandment: “I am the Lord, your God; you shall have no other gods before me”? For normative Christianity (and Judaism, and Islam), this is impossible to get around. How do you justify invoking the name of Vodou gods in worship in a Christian home? Vodou/voodoo is a syncretistic religion by nature, but Christianity is not. Vodou can (and does) accomodate elements of Christianity easily, but the converse cannot be true. That family is not diminishing the power of Vodou by their syncretistic worship, but they are diminishing the meaning of Christianity in the minds of their children, whether they realize it or not.



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AC

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:11 pm


“How do you justify invoking the name of Vodou gods in worship in a Christian home?”
Simple. You call them “spirits”, as the people referenced do. Many Christians believe angels exist, and demons exist. Many Christians pray to Saints, believing that Saints can have a positive influence. Similarly (and frankly this seems so obvious that it’s surprising to me that you didn’t think of it on your own) these Vodou-influenced Christians interact with spirits.
Why can’t these spirits be beings similar to angels or Saints?



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Tom

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:44 pm


Praying to or interacting with saints, angels, spirit entities is one thing. I don’t know of any devout Christians asking the spirit of St. Francis or Michael the Archangel to possess them, though. Intercession and possession are completely different phenomenon; one is way more compatible with traditional Christianity (whereby even the Holy Spirit doesn’t “possess” us; he merely prompts us to take certain courses of action, leaving our free will completely intact to accept or reject Him).



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elizabeth

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:57 pm


Chiming in with above comments, my (admittedly limited) understanding of Voudoun is that there is one God, but hundreds of spirits that intercede with the human world on behalf of heaven. It is a mistake to confuse these spirits with the one deity.



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Hector

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:58 pm


Re: Why can’t these spirits be beings similar to angels or Saints?
Good point, AC.
In fact, they most probably are. Practicioners of Vodoun do identify the African deities with Christian archangels.
Count me as one Christian who believes that Christian syncretism can sometimes be a very good thing.



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Andrea

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:12 pm


I don’t see a real problem with it. It’s not all that uncommon for there to be strong elements of Native American spirituality combined with a Roman Catholic Mass in the area where I grew up. Syncretism is a Roman Catholic tradition. They just turned all of the native gods into saints and angels. The same is true of Orthodoxy, by the way. A number of the ancient Russian saints are actually Christianized Russian gods. I believe St. Pelagia is connected to Moist Mother Earth. The St. George and the dragon stories are also closely related to mythology. The Christian Church allowed such things to make it easier to convert people to a new religion and kept cultural elements that were part of the people’s identity. If I were the parents, I’d tell the kids that their voodoo spirits are like the angels and there is only one God, who the good spirits help.



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Larry

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:12 pm


I suspect that this guy can so easily mix Christianity and Voodoo because he doesn’t know what Christianity is. The “core” of Christianity is not “service”, the core of Christianity is that the God of Universe became incarnate in human form and was crucified. Christians move from that truth to service, but service is secondary, never primary.



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M.B

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:18 pm


Rod, do you see Day of the Dead celebrations (observed primarily by devout Catholics) as similarly threatening to traditional Christianity? Seems to me a very similar type of spiritual expression.



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Lisa

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:27 pm


Rod, they’re doing more than just messing up their children’s understanding of Christianity, they’re playing with actual spiritual fire. The devil is real, so are his demons and other evil spirits. There is REAL danger in what these people are doing, inviting these spirits into their home and their lives. Unless they change their ways, I would hate to see what their lives look like ten years from now.



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Ali

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:34 pm


These people are completely confused about their faith. They are not Christians at all. I would never attend that church–ever. As an Orthodox Christian, I worship the Jesus Christ as my only Savior. I find it frightening that this family in your post is dabbling in such a dangerous world, and also frightening that they don’t see what they are doing is so dangerous.



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Ali

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:35 pm


Meant to say: “As an Orthodox Christian, I worship Jesus Christ as my only Savior.”



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yg

posted February 4, 2010 at 5:29 pm


If you are truly born again, you can easily dicern the diffence between what’s true or not. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said in Jn 3:3- “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” A born again christian can perceive the kingdom of God and it’s reality, but if you are not born again it’s like walking around blindly and thus you can be deceived easily like this couple. I pray they open their eyes before it’s too late and realize what He said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father,but by me.”



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maxentius

posted February 4, 2010 at 6:41 pm


I assume Rod wants to remove all the Platonism that has been imposed on “Christianity” since its founding Jewish rabbi died? If any religion is syncretic, it is Christianity.



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lancelot lamar

posted February 4, 2010 at 6:42 pm


Honestly, liberal “Christians” like the family and pastor in the article are beyond parody they are so ridiculous and so clueless.
Of course there is no difference between honoring Jesus Christ–the Son of God, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity–and honoring conjured Voudou spirits! Of course calling forth demons is the same as communion with the “great cloud of witnesses” of the New Testament!
This kind of complete and utter inability to make the most elementary of theological distinctions, as well as a total abandonment of historic Christian teaching, is what you get when you ordain muddle-headed women to be pastors. No wonder the churches with lots of these kinds of pastors are dying so rapidly. They are not Christian churches anyway (although some once were) so Christianity itself probably benefits in the long run from their decline and eventual death. However, insofar as they deceive themselves and undiscerning others by claiming to be Christian, they damage true Christian churches.



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maxentius

posted February 4, 2010 at 7:13 pm


Which historical Christian teaching would that be, Lancelot? And which Christian truth? There are so many varieties of syncretism for Christians to choose from, after all…..



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Diamantina

posted February 4, 2010 at 7:38 pm


As a practicing Catholic, I can see why Haitian orphanages would want prospective adoptive parents to not teach their children voudou, but what is wrong about teaching them Creole or Haitian history? That baffles me. Shouldn’t children have the right to know about their ancestral heritage?



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Pat

posted February 4, 2010 at 8:41 pm


This story reminds me of when, as a child, I asked my father whether I couldn’t pray to Sherlock Holmes instead of to Jesus. They were both characters I only knew of from books, after all, and Holmes seemed a lot smarter.
I’ve grown up and no longer think Holmes was smarter than Jesus. Buddha, on the other hand…
At the end of the day, they are still all just people I’ve read about in books.



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michael

posted February 5, 2010 at 12:03 am


Andrea makes a good point. The Catholic church has been engaging in syncretism for centuries. In the reformed churches we shun anything of the kind. How sad that people calling themselves Lutheran would play in this swamp.



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Peter Ramsey

posted February 5, 2010 at 1:53 am


“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (Jesus Christ).” John 14:6
I think that sums it up. Conjuring up spirits (demons) and making a pact with the Devil is a historic reality in Haiti. I have seen armed thugs attack UN food convoys on TV, and fights breaking out over food that is distributed for free.
Haiti shares the same island with the Dominican Republic but problems aren’t as bad there.
Does anyone seriously wonder why?
Haiti desperately needs Christianity, and it seems rather ironic that it is Christians who are doing the work on the ground while the Haitian government arrests New Life missionaries on child trafficking charges, who were only trying to help children (and most of the parents supported them) by taking them to safety in the Dominican Republic.



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Japhy Ryder

posted February 5, 2010 at 2:05 am


Diamantina,
Because the real purpose of “most” of those orphanages and others in other countries is really the conversion of souls. They won’t say it and probably don’t even believe it, but the fact that they are adopting them out to good homes and people who want to provide a better life for them is secondary to saving their pagan souls. Why else would you ban their language, their history and their religion?
Rod, I know you’re trying to make this a different blog from Crunchy Con and I think you succeeded. 90% of the posts are from overtly religious posters who rely on arguments that boil down to “my religion is better than your religion which is really a bunch of devil worshipers.” I don’t even need to boil it down when Lancelot puts it so well that Christianity would be better off if women weren’t pastors. I find the intellectual back and forth that you’re aiming for sorely lacking.
I wonder, you wanted this to be a “non-political” blog from here on out, but as you yourself are so committed as a Christian, how can this blog be a fair and open discussion of the topics you now blog about? So far, I don’t think it has been which, I guess, is why I ask.



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Japhy Ryder

posted February 5, 2010 at 2:11 am


Also Rod, for what it’s worth, Travel Channel has a show called No Reservations with Anthoney Bourdain. It’s a great show all around, but you really should watch the episode on Brittany (France).
It’s got CrunchyCon themes all throughout and if there is a heaven for Crunchy Con – or at least you, it could very well be Brittany.



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Franklin Jennings

posted February 5, 2010 at 9:24 am


“I don’t even need to boil it down when Lancelot puts it so well that Christianity would be better off if women weren’t pastors. I find the intellectual back and forth that you’re aiming for sorely lacking.”
Well, sure. Those who merely reject his claim as backward or sexist, without making any effort to understand his position, without any effort to interact with him, are definitely letting down the whole readership, leading to this stilt in discussion of which you complain.
Rod, why can’t you find many decent folks with Japhy’s beliefs who are willing to enter into real dialogue? Because apparently, your blog’s gonna suck until you find some people willing to do his work for him.



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polistra

posted February 5, 2010 at 11:35 am


I ran across this passage just now, in the WPA Writers Guide to Missouri, circa 1938:
Traces of voodooism linger among the Negroes, especially among those of the cities and the cotton industry. It is not the voodoo worship of Haiti, however, but a curious compound of that cult with the Protestant religion, faith healing, fortune telling, and any other sort of mumbo-jumbo which happens to appeal to the practitioner. The belief that an enemy can be destroyed by placing a spell upon a waxen image of him has not entirely passed. One method of invoking such vengeance is to hold the image over a fire, repeating a spell as it melts.
(The disdainful tone here isn’t typical of the WPA guides; most of them treat all religious beliefs, folk or elite, with the same respect as measurable facts. The Missouri writers were more “modern” or Dawkins-like in their dislike for beliefs.)



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Rod Dreher

posted February 5, 2010 at 12:07 pm


You know, polistra, I can speak to that a bit. When I was a kid, there was a poor black family living across the road from us out in the countryside of south Louisiana. They had a ne’er-do-well man living with them, Wilbur, a welfare cheat (this I knew because a relative of mine, a retired do-gooder social worker, helped him get away with it) who had taken to stealing gasoline from the school bus my mom drove. He’d sneak over at night and siphon it out, we were pretty sure, but we never could catch him in the act. One night, my father had an idea. He took an uncooked chicken from the fridge, and a bag of Gold Medal flour, and sneaked across the yard late one night. He put the chicken on the ground at the end of that family’s driveway, made a circle around it in flour, and “drew” with the flour an arrow pointing from the circle to the family’s house. He made a few other nonsense symbols around it, then crept back home.
His mistake was telling my mother about it. She was so angry at him, telling him that he was going to frighten the two old ladies who lived in that house. She made him go back across the road and retrieve the chicken, and fuzz up the flour symbols. Which he did. The funny thing was, the good-for-nothing Wilbur cut the bobwire fence and made a new path to get the car out so he didn’t have to drive over the smudgy circle and nonsense symbols in his driveway. They apparently scared the bejeezus out of him. They didn’t go back to using their driveway until after it rained, washing the flour away. Had my dad not told my mom about his prank, that family probably would have moved away.



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Franklin Jennings

posted February 5, 2010 at 12:26 pm


Rod,
Tell me you did not just write “bobwire”.



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Franklin Evans

posted February 5, 2010 at 12:30 pm


Be content, Franklin J., because Rod could have called it “kenwire”.



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Rod Dreher

posted February 5, 2010 at 1:03 pm


I know it’s “barbed wire,” but “bobwire” was what we called it where I’m from. You can imagine how easily that word emerged from trying to say “barbed wire” with a Southern accent. The Southern mouth naturally says “bobbed war,” which, if you go that far, you might as well go the whole way and say “bobwire” (pron. “bobwar,” or “bob-wye’r”.



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Franklin Evans

posted February 5, 2010 at 1:15 pm


Down Under they’d cook it on a grill and call it barbied wire. Eh?
;-D



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Andrea

posted February 5, 2010 at 3:31 pm


Correction: It’s Saint Paraskeva who is associated with Moist Mother Earth in the Orthodox Church, not Saint Pelagia. But my point stands. The Lutheran parents are doing what Christians have done for centuries when converting people.



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Japhy Ryder

posted February 5, 2010 at 4:05 pm


Franklin, thanks for the flip response. I just assumed based on previous history that arguing with people that believe women shouldn’t be religious leaders because they are muddle headed (just say it, “stoopid”) and rely on the Bible as their evidence is a no win situation.
So Franklin, is it all women that are “muddle headed” and unfit as pastors? Or just this one? Are any women fit to be pastors or are they inherently unfit for pastoral service because they are intellectually inferior?
What churches are true Christians and which one are not true Christians? Why are black people in Haiti calling forth spirits (or apparently Demons according to some) any different than me praying to the saints? Are the kids who saw Mary in Guadeloupe demon worshipers because they saw spirits? What about people afflicted with Stigamta? Snake handlers? Speaking in tongues? I just want to make sure I’m clear on what is and is not Christian.
And my comment to Rod was in the spirit of his post from a couple weeks ago asking why traffic was down and what could be done to improve the blog. The question about how he’s shaken off any notion of being conservative and this is no longer a “political” blog and how it can be even handed as such a committed Christian, I think, is valid. Other comments here have “warned” about even broaching the topic that Haitian religious practices might call forth evil or some such nonsense and Rod was even called to denounce Haitian religious practices or he was being un-Christian (If I read that right).
And finally, back to the larger point – what good reason does an orphanage have for telling people not to teach Haitian language, religion and history by the adoptive parents? I say again, because these people have no interest in helping connect kids who need homes and parents who want to provide a good home. It’s all about saving pagan souls so they can get into heaven. It’s disgusting.



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EdL

posted February 5, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Rod Dreher

posted February 5, 2010 at 4:28 pm


Japhy, I said this blog wouldn’t concern itself with politics, and would stay away from the culture war, which was its bread and butter before. I didn’t say I would cease being a conservative. That’s who I am. What I’m aiming for here is to run a blog that is not ideological — and there’s a difference between being conservative, and being ideological. An ideologue of the left or right is interested in advocacy first, last and always. I think any fair-minded reader of this blog will recognize that in its new incarnation, at least, it’s been about asking questions as much, and maybe more, than answering them. Furthermore, I’m going to provide my own answers to questions I raise out of my own convictions, reading and experience — and I hope my readers will do the same thing.
You seem to think that providing a forum for discussing these questions requires me to put my opinions aside. I disagree; what it requires is for people to be willing to listen to others, and to disagree without being disagreeable. It requires being able to articulate one’s own position in such a way as to invite debate and discussion, not start a bar fight. I believe that people who disagree with me on these questions have a fair chance to be heard in the comboxes — and if they don’t feel that they do, I want to hear about it, so I can make any necessary changes to make this a more inviting forum.
I really do agree with Sir John Templeton’s motto, “How little we know, how eager to learn.” I learn from my readers all the time. If you find this forum disappointing, that’s too bad, but my sense is that you simply don’t like to hear a conservative point of view, period. This blog will likely never make you happy, at least insofar as you care to pigeonhole my POV as “conservative” (the opinion I expressed about Haitian voodoo could be easily held by a person of socialist political convictions, but Christian religious ones, so “conservative” really doesn’t tell us much, does it?). But it might if you would humble yourself enough to listen to people who disagree with you, and respect them even though you consider them wrong. If you don’t want to do this, fine by me — but then this blog is not the place for you.
One thing you really should learn: serious Christians seriously believe there is something objectively dark and dangerous about voodoo practices. It’s not about saving people’s souls so they can get to heaven — at least it’s not *only* about that — but about delivering them from spiritual oppression in the here and now. Perhaps Christians are wrong. That’s a perfectly legitimate position to hold, and to express on this blog. But you aren’t doing yourself or anyone else here any favors by reacting to this point of view with snide disdain. Watch Franklin Evans, our longtime reader and a practicing Pagan, who typically rebuts these kinds of arguments from people like me with intelligence and respect. That’s why he’s a pleasure to read, and to learn from, and hotheads are not.



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Japhy Ryder

posted February 6, 2010 at 1:41 am


Thanks for the response Rod.
My question to how you drop the political aspect and keep the religious while being a committed Christian has been answered. My question wasn’t an attempt to Pigeon hole you as a conservative – despite the politics of my handle here I consider myself conservative, I think you misread that in my question . By your response I know understand better and will likely read the blog as such from a little different perspective.
I think the Templeton motto is great. I come to this blog to learn and frequently do. I don’t think my original response to Diamantina’s post (re: adoption policy of orphanages) was snide or disdainful. The second part of that post, my comment and question to you (which I think was partly misread as a “political viewpoint” attack but no big deal, I understand things can be read differently when we’re not in person to have a back and forth), was genuinely seeking to understand better the nature of this blog – and your answer gave me that as noted above.
My “snide disdain”, at least I thought, was centered around the belief that women are intellectually inferior for roles as pastors, the idea that I should seek to understand this belief as well as those who are not posting with a “How little [I] know, how eager to learn” spirit with respect to Haitian religious practices and simply denouncing it.
Perhaps its the topic, which I’m learning is apparently just as hot as gay marriage used to be around here, of Haitian religion and Christianity, and the passion around it. I’ll try to be more respectful in subsequent posts and attempt to follow the motto more – which you might consider posting at the top of your blog as a guiding principle for the comments section?
I’ve already learned a great deal through the back and forth on this post and if I’m still allowed around here will seek to ask more questions and make less statements.
Enjoy the snow!



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lauren

posted February 9, 2010 at 10:49 pm


I have to agree with Japhy Ryder–well said.



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Your Name

posted April 9, 2010 at 2:12 am


It is my pleasure to read your article! What a vivid photo it is! Thank you for sharing! good luck!



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