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Caught in the Middle with Harry Potter
by Connie Neal

Editor's note: We asked Connie Neal, author of What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter? to help our readers grabble with this hot issue.

The fourth grade girls were coloring and chattering pleasantly, until someone mentioned Harry Potter. One girl -- hands on hips -- pronounced, "My mom says Harry Potter is evil! Real Christians don't read it!" Another girl looked up sharply, and replied, "So, you're saying my mom isn't a real Christian. My mom read me the books, and she teaches Bible study." Two alert moms averted a fight with some fast talk over warm cookies.
     An Awana meeting was interrupted when a group of kids gathered around a boy who had brought a Harry Potter toy. Some kids drew near; others backed away. The leader said, "We're here to memorize God's word. Let's put that away. This isn't the time or place to be playing with those toys." He was later confronted by parents of children who were excited about Harry Potter. They thought he was contradicting their family's positive stance on the boy wizard's tale, even though he wasn't.
At another church the fellowship in the courtyard was especially pleasant: kids on the playground, refreshments, bright sunshine, and cheerful conversation. I overheard a leader of the Sunday School ministry say to another adult, "I finally read the first and second Harry Potter books! What are people so upset about? I LOVED them! I can't wait to read the next." I noticed a few kids perk up, expressions of hopeful excitement on their faces. No parents seemed to have heard, but I could anticipate what the kids might say when they got in the car. Mom, Dad, Miss ______ says that Harry Potter is good! Can I read it now?
Last example. The movie had opened Friday; that Sunday morning several children in kids church were a-buzz comparing their impressions of the film. Their parents had read the books with them and put the stories in biblical context, distinguishing between the fantasy world of Hogwarts and real-world occult practices, even pointing out many Bible lessons. That day they had a substitute Sunday School teacher who held personal convictions against Harry Potter, although he had not read any of the books. He spent the first fifteen minutes of class arguing with kids whose parents held convictions opposite his own, trying to convince them that his view was right and their parents' wrong.
Does anyone see a problem here? It seems that no matter what you say as a minister to the children of others, you're going to upset someone. And yet, God has called you to be a spiritual leader to children, to teach God's word. This is a weighty responsibility. Some would say as weighty as a millstone!
While you cannot escape the controversy over Harry Potter, you can handle this divisive issue responsibly. It's not by persuading kids to your share your opinion or defending your opinion on Harry Potter. It's by affirming the parents' responsibility to handle Harry Potter, and set biblical family policy on this hotly-disputable matter.

Here are some points to bear in mind:
1. There are valid concerns over Harry Potter which Christians must address.
2. The Harry Potter stories are being interpreted in two different ways, therefore good Christians disagree on the meaning of the stories, and come to opposing convictions-even though both sides agree with God that real-world witchcraft is forbidden.
3. The Bible verse children's ministers need to focus on regarding Harry Potter is not Deuteronomy 18:9-14, but Ephesians 6:1, "Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." It's the parents' job to handle disputable matters like Harry Potter.
4. Our job as children's ministry leaders is NOT to share our personal convictions on such a disputable matter; in fact, this could be contrary to the teachings of Romans

Here's how I recommend you handle the recurrent disputes that will arise over Harry Potter every time a new book or movie is released (that's three more books and up to six more movies!):
1. Make a supply of What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter? available to parents in your congregation and encourage them to prayerfully come to their conviction for their own children. It can help Christians understand both sides, see how it's possible to interpret this in two different ways, and arrive at their own policy.
2. Encourage parents to accept their responsibility to teach their children the basics of spiritual warfare and that God forbids occult practices. (Editor's note: There is a chapter-written at a 2nd grade level-in Connie's book that parents can read directly to their child if they don't feel confident to do this on their own.)
3. Advise all children's leaders not to announce their personal opinion, because they may usurp parental responsibility by doing so. They can say something like, "We recognize that Christians interpret Harry Potter in differing ways. We agree that the Bible teaches real witchcraft in our world is forbidden, but Christians differ on how they interpret these stories. You need to talk this over with your parents, don't judge other Christians who differ with you-and be nice!"
4. Remind your staff and students that the same Bible passage that condemns witchcraft as a work of the sinful nature, also condemns emnity, strife, outbursts of anger, divisions, dissentions, and factions. Prayerfully consider Galatians 5:13- 23.

Editor's Q&A
TCP: Should parents read the Harry Potter books before making decisions?
CN: Much of what is being repeated in Christian circles is hearsay or passing on the interpretations of others. Therefore, common sense suggests that parents should be encouraged to read the first Harry Potter book before passing judgment. That would be the best way to know what is ACTUALLY in the stories and make an informed decision for their own children. However, bear in mind that parents who are already convinced that reading Harry Potter is sinful, should not be urged to violate their conscience. Even though some parents just want you to tell them whether or not "Harry" is okay for their child, I recommend that you pass this responsibility back to the parent. Those who are hesitant to read one of the books themselves can find a thumbnail sketch of the key characters, vocabulary, and story lines in my book. If they start there, they may decide to go on to read a Harry Potter book, or clarify why they will not be doing so. Still, this leaves the Harry Potter policy decision where it belongs, with the parents. When it comes to kids asking you if it is okay for them to read or see Harry Potter, the operative Bible verse is Ephesians 6:1, "Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right!"