Friday, February 23, 2007

Army Chaplain Not Allowed To Switch To Wicca

The night wind pushes Don Larsen's green robe against his lanky frame. A circle of torches lights his face.

"The old gods are standing near!" calls a retired Army intelligence officer.

"To watch the turning of the year!" replies the wife of a soldier wounded in Iraq.

"What night is this?" calls a former fighter pilot.

"It is the night of Imbolc," responds Larsen, a former Army chaplain.

Of the 16 self-described witches who have gathered on this Texas plain to celebrate a late-winter pagan festival with dancing, chanting, chili and beer, all but two are current or former military personnel. Each has a story. None can compete with Larsen's.

A year ago, he was a Pentecostal Christian minister at Camp Anaconda, the largest U.S. support base in Iraq. He sent home reports on the number of "decisions" -- soldiers committing their lives to Christ -- that he inspired in the base's Freedom Chapel.

But inwardly, he says, he was torn between Christianity's exclusive claims about salvation and a "universalist streak" in his thinking.

Larsen's private crisis of faith might have remained just that, but for one other fateful choice. He decided the religion that best matched his universalist vision was Wicca, a blend of witchcraft, feminism and nature worship that has ancient pagan roots. Full Story

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