Riled about Harry
Some see an Elk Grove Methodist church’s Harry Potter celebration as the handiwork of the devil
On a recent summer evening, a group of fervent children assembled outside an Elk Grove building where, down in the basement, a wizard awaited them. Dressed in a black robe and mask, the wizard roamed the moonlit grounds, handing out magic wands and warning the kids to be careful with the power they possessed. Inside, kids bowled for elves, a talking snake spoke about wizardry, and youngsters created magic potions amid Christian artifacts and banners proclaiming “Let the son shine on my life.”
What made this haven for wannabe wizards and witches unusual—even on an evening when countless others were celebrating the midnight release of a new Harry Potter novel—was its unlikely location. Held in the sanctuary of the Elk Grove United Methodist Church, the church-sanctioned event underscored disagreements between some area religious leaders and churchgoers.
“I think they’re a bad influence,” said Mark Elling, a father of three who lives in the neighborhood and attends a nearby Catholic church. “When I actually picked up the book, I realized it was full of all this witchcraft and sorcery, stuff about the occult, all kinds of stuff my kids shouldn’t be reading. I’m a Catholic man; I don’t want my kids reading anything like that. The church is there to glorify God and spread his word, not to support and spread these obviously satanic views.”
The folks who run Elk Grove United Methodist Church disagree. “They’re fantasy books, and we have a clear understanding of the difference between real life and fantasy,” said pastor Kathy La Point-Collup, whose husband, Steve, served as the evening’s roaming wizard. “We were just looking for a way to get more involved with the community, to get people into our church. It was a good way to meet some of the church people and for them to get to know us outside of a Sunday-morning experience.”
In the church’s fireside room, church member Axel Borg led a discussion called “Finding God in the Harry Potter books.” Borg, who likened the character Ron sacrificing himself for Harry to Jesus doing the same for mankind, insisted the Potter books “are in no way anti-Christian.”
“But the Bible clearly denounces witchcraft,” argued 17-year-old Ami Lundberg. “How can you say the books aren’t anti-Christian when they go against the Bible?”
“The Bible says we should burn female witches and just ignore male ones,” Borg responded. “It’s only bad if you’re taking the Bible literally. If we take the Bible literally, it’s a sin for me to shave the corners of my beard. I don’t use the Bible as a literal device.”
The other children listened quietly as the debate continued.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” countered the teenager. “If you don’t take the Bible literally, then how are we supposed to take it? The Bible is God’s word, isn’t it?”
“Yes, you’re right that it’s God’s word,” Borg said. “But I look at it more metaphorically. The Bible is the inspired word of God, but I don’t think that God wrote it.”
Borg cited other Christian themes in the books, many of which centered on the classic battle between good and evil, as well as treating others as we’d like to be treated.
Regarding his comparisons between Harry Potter and the Bible, Lundberg said, “You can find anything in any kind of book if you look hard enough.”
Much like the Bible, the Harry Potter controversy depends on how literally one takes the source material. Potter supporters in the Christian community claim the books are merely literature and that they, in fact, contain a number of underlying Christian themes. Those in opposition say that the book is a bad influence on children and could prompt them to try emulating some of the practices in the books.
Richard Abanes, a California author whose recent books include Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace behind the Magick, falls into the latter camp. Though he acknowledged the Potter books as a literary phenomenon that’s helped get kids interested in reading, Abanes decried their “occult” content.
“Because they contain parallels to what’s known as ‘real-world occult practices,’ some children might become so curious about those things that they will actually start trying them, things like divination, making potions and witchcraft,” Abanes argued. “Another concern, at least from my perspective, is that the books contain what is known as ‘moral relativism,’ where there’s no real standard objective of what’s right and wrong.
“I think you can take any novel or piece of literature and make it say what you want it to say,” Abanes added. “But we have to realize that the backdrop of the Harry Potter tale is not Christianity. It’s not the Bible. It’s the world of the occult.”
Elling is less diplomatic. “They’ve been blinded by modern society into believing that things like this are acceptable, when they’re really not,” he said of the church’s Potter party. “Deuteronomy 7:26, I think it is, clearly states that you should not bring anything detestable into your home, or your home will be destroyed. And I think that these books definitely qualify as being detestable.
“I hope they had good intentions with this, but it’s clearly a horrible thing to do,” he continued. “I pray that they are forgiven and that God has mercy on their souls, but if they keep this up, they’ll be burning when their time is up.”
But Pastor Chuck Carlson of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Sacramento weighs in with the Methodists.
“These are fables, fantasy. These are stories one tells by the campfire to children at night to cause people to think. The problem happens when zealous, fundamentalist, conservative, well-meaning people try to make more out of it than what’s really there. They try to defend what doesn’t need to be defended—in other words, God,” said the Lutheran pastor, who’s also a Potter fan. “By making these negative statements about a piece of literature and superimposing their religious beliefs on a nonreligious book, they’re causing the whole world to look at all Christians in that light and say, ‘This is stupid. It’s just a piece of literature. Why are they getting so upset about it?’”