Rites and Wrongs

The quest to have Intelligent Design imposed on school science classes continues unabated; a pseudo-scholarly Bible curriculum makes inroads into US classrooms; sex education is under siege from prononents of abstinence. But these mainly conservative Christian insinuations into American education are just a Scylla: there’s also the New Age Charybdis. Over to the Sacramento Bee:

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Called2Action, an activist Christian group, says stress-reduction classes at a Raleigh elementary school promote “New Age” beliefs, providing school-sponsored religious activity barred by the Constitution.

But Emily Diane Gunter of the Rites of Passage Youth Empowerment Foundation says she merely enhances students’ learning practices and “I don’t do anybody’s religion.”

No, not much. Gunter (bio here) gives further details on her website:

The Rites Programs used in America originated in Africa…The Rites Programs’ youth initiates transition into adulthood through the passing on of knowledge and tradition by trained and certified Elders from the community. The Elders facilitate the youth through numerous challenges, experiential exercises and workshops. In the African tradition, the youth must ask for the RITE (right) or permission OF PASSAGE (passing on) to a higher level of human social and educational development. After the youth have demonstrated competency in their academic and personal development during the rites program, the Elders in the community grant permission to their RITE OF PASSAGE.

Fortunately for the Raleigh schoolkids, the RITEs do not include such traditional African traditions as circumcision (as practised by the Nandi of Kenya on girls, and by the Akamba and the Massai on boys). Instead, the emphasis is apparently on, er…controlled breathing and chanting (no Afro-centrist, Gunter has also picked up ideas in Nepal and Tibet).

So, how do I get to be an Elder? Gunter’s outfit also offers the chance to train as one at a special retreat:

Be willing to change. Surrender to the flow. Watch how mundane activities are transformed into Divine support. God loves us and we need to feel this love directly in our bodies. The retreat is a safe and loving place to help us feel our innocence, in the sweet caring setting of nature. Open to receive miracles. Come join the Mutual Admiration Society with fellow elders.

Agenda includes: Sacred Geometry, Spiritual Code of Ethics, Conflict Resolution, Balance, Spherical Holy Breath, Balance, Fire Ceremony and so much more.

Nope, Gunter doesn’t “do anybody’s religion”. Instead, she appears to have made one up herself, to the point of self-parody. “Mutual Admiration Society”? “Spherical Holy Breath”? Just what do these terms have to do with African traditions? Or with anything remotely sensible? But for all that, Gunter can claim some successes. There are apparently 36 Rites of Passage Universal Learning Centers across the USA; one is the Rites of Passage for Girls Youth Empowerment Academy based in Florida, which is part of a larger organisation called Urgent. Their three-year progress report can be seen here.

Called2Action, meanwhile, is a somewhat unattractive local version of the Family Research Council. Its leader, Steve Noble, is a member of the Council for National Policy, and he once led a boycott of a local newspaper for daring to print a photograph of two gay men. Pam’s House Blend notes that C2A’s partners include Pastor Patrick Wooden (“We have to block the use of euphemisms when we talk about homosexuals. They are not gay. We’ve got to use terms like ‘deviant’ and ‘abomination.'”) and Kings Park International Church, which we’ve come across before. With an eye for dramatisation, Noble has employed Terri Schiavo’s attourney David Gibbs in his battle against Gunter and all her works. Gibbs’s letter can seen here.

One Response

  1. Between Scylla and Charybdis? Granted, of the two, Charybdis was slightly less of a threat (though her whirlpool probably wasn’t any fun to get caught in), but let’s have some sense of proportion here!

    A better metaphor for the relative power and viciousness of religious conservatives on the one side and Rites of Passage on the other would be “between Scylla and a fluffy baby bunny”.

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