When Religious Discrimination Hits Home


The past 24 hours have been almost surreal. I was sitting at the dinner table with some friends at an Indian restaurant when I received a call from my father that my cousin Brad was dead. Brad was four years older than me and had been my superhero while I was growing up. As a kid I used to tell my friends incredible tales about the amazing feats that my cousin could do, as though he was some mythical figure with superhuman powers.

Truth be told, in a lot of ways he kind of lived up to that. He was very good looking, smart, funny, incredibly strong, and was one of those guys that everybody liked. So, when I was told that Brad was dead, I was in shock. Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of the bad news.

A short time later, I received another call informing me that my father and I would not be allowed to attend Brad’s funeral because I was Wiccan and Brad’s wife didn’t want me to “pollute their church” with my evil presence. I was dumbfounded by this. Even as I write this, I still have a hard time believing that this really happened.

Does being Catholic mean that you cannot be accepting of other spiritual paths? What makes Wicca, which is one of the most gentle and forgiving spiritual paths, so “evil”? Would Jesus have barred me from saying goodbye to a deceased family member because I wasn’t Catholic?

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that this kind of thing had happened. Only four months prior, Brad’s father, Bruce, was found dead in a hotel room. When I attended his funeral at the church, most of the family would not even look at me or say hello. During the luncheon that followed the funeral service, I stood up to say a few kind words about my recently deceased uncle. As I looked out at the faces in the crowd, I could see several people looking at me as though I was some kind of leper. There was an almost palpable look of disgust on many of their faces. As we left, both my father and I commented on how unwelcomed we felt.

This whole situation is very disturbing on so many levels. How can any spiritual tradition, be it Christian, Hindu, Shinto, Pagan or Jewish, justify denying someone the fundamental human need to say goodbye to a deceased family member? How can the Wiccan spiritual path, which is founded on the reverence for all living things and celebrating the diversity of life, be considered so disturbing, so evil, that followers of the Catholic faith can feel justified in shunning members of their own family?

Although I am not a Christian, I often reflect a famous prayer attributed to St. Francis where he speaks: “Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted; to understand, than to be understood; to love, than to be loved.” Perhaps if those who so vocally profess their piety would simply follow their own prayers, the world would be a place with much more comfort, understanding, and love.

And I would have had the opportunity to say goodbye to my superhero. Goodbye Brad, I love you.

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Todd Berntson
Todd Berntson is a doctor of chiropractic and a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology. He has been actively involved in the Neopagan community both locally and nationally, and is the Vice President of Summerland Spirit Festival, which is a spiritual retreat for followers of Earth-centered spiritual traditions.


  1. When fear of the unknown and misunderstood or not understood drive the choice, the choice is made by not the person. Religion’s encourage fear and discourage any contact with that which is in opposition to or could undermine/undermind their teachings. When fear chooses for a person, there is no rational basis for the choice, only fear based control of the choice through the person.

    For the most part you could look at it as a conflict of ideology’s and belief structures. Human’s at caught in the middle of this perpetual struggle between what was created by the spirit realm and within the spirit realm. Human’s are feed this energy belief garbage from the unseen realms and then human’s struggle to make sense of it all.

    An additional thought. Brad is no longer with his body and Brad was not his body. If this is truly about YOU and BRAD, then use your voice to talk directly to Brad. You certainly don’t need a church for that to take place or the energy of all these other people to make it possible. As your life connection with Brad was very personal to you, then your personal connection to Brad still today is the only truly valued way to connect with him again in appreciation and thanks for his friendship and then let him go.

    As far as the rest of it…….well, do not let their issues become your issue!! It is what it is!
    Maybe you are already consciously aware of this! But events, circumstances, the choices of others or fear choices through others offers to us as human’s, the opportunity to struggle or choose not to struggle, to have an issue or not have an issue. In the end, this is really not about them….this is about you Todd!! How you act or react is an indicator for you!!

    Rick Schuster

  2. Oh Todd, I am so sorry you are experiencing grief right now and that it is compounded by the rejection of some of your family. Been keeping you in prayer since that evening you rushed out of the restaurant, knowing something terrible must have happened.
    Please know that while there are people who call themselves people of faith but who do not walk in love or understanding, there are other people of faith who do and are striving to build bridges of communication and fellowship across all faith traditions.

    I’ve been blessed to be able to sit at a roundtable with other persons and ministers of faith from across a spectrum of traditions – jewish, buddhist, several christian denominations including UCC, UU/UA, Catholic, Mormon- for the last 6 months as we strategize to work within our faith communities to defeat the straight-only marriage amendment in Nov.

    The last week in March we held our first Multi Faith worship service. Needless to say i was very moved by how non-judgemental so many people were. It gives me hope.

    Many traditions including Wiccan were represented through out the service. It will take time for society to shed their prejudice that they have learned based on lies they have been told about our faith.

    I know that not every Wiccan or Pagan can be out about their faith for a variety of reasons. But for those of us who are, I encourage us all not to shrink back when we experience negativity, but to use the oppotunity to demonstrate compassion for them and walk out your faith just as Todd has done by reminding himself of the basis for our faith and not striking back.

    I agree with Rick Schuster that we can always communicate with our loved ones no matter what plane of existance they are on. But I also understand that funerals are also about sharing the experience of loss with our family and friends. It does bring us comfort to be among others who are experiencing the same.

    Peace and healing to you Todd and to your family.
    ~Robin Mavis

  3. I am so sorry for your loss and the pains that have accompanied it. How unfortunate that family understands less than someone you have never met, what it means to follow your path and be true to yourself.

    There are many thoughts that have already been shared here, so I will not ‘parrot’ those thoughts. They are well said and well meaning, true their hearts.

    I offer you the only thing I can as someone who understands that sting of betrayal and discrimination, I offer my condolences and prayers for you and yours as well.

    I truly hope that one day they have a great epiphany as well, and when that happens, I wish for strength from you to be able to forgive them. It is human nature to fear what they do not understand, and when the time comes, be gentle with words to show that.

    Honor Brad in your heart and in your own way. You are loved. Blessings to you and yours.



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