This post contains details about the ending of the final Harry Potter book. Consider yourself warned.
Last month Kendra Nolde, pastor at the Gethsemane Lutheran church in south St. Louis, took the pulpit and began to speak to her congregation about the final Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. However, instead of following the lead of many of her peers and warning her parishioners about the evils of witchcraft and paganism inherent in the mega-bestsellers, she began pitching ideas for a slogan that would grace the church’s sign on the corner of Hampton and Pernod.
The resulting reader board, pictured above, is indicative of an issue which has divided the religious community: should churches embrace or condemn the books that rival the Bible in sales? For many conservative Christians the decision is easy. As Michele Combs, a spokeswoman for the Christian Coalition of America recently told Newsday, "As a parent, I would never allow my children to read these books or watch the movies.”
In 2005 Pope Benedict XVI made headlines by saying the Potter books, “erode Christianity in the souls of young people.”
However, Nolde, who says she read the 700-plus page Deathly Hallows (in two days no less), is hardly alone in her Christian support of the Potter series. Several books have been written about the religious aspects of the series, including The Gospel According to Harry Potter: Spirituality in the Stories of the World's Favorite Seeker by Connie Neal, and Looking for God in Harry Potter by John Granger.
J.K. Rowling, author of the books, has even stated that she occasionally dons her Sunday best as a member of the Church of England. In fact, Deathly Hallows includes such biblical allusions as “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” – taken from the Sermon on the Mount – and, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” from First Corinthians. The phrases serve as important clues in Deathly Hallows’ plot development.
Nolde and others also point to larger Christian values such as love, friendship and self-sacrifice as evidence of Christianity in the Potter series. The latter is easily found in the book’s climax, when Potter, in a chapter suggestively titled “King’s Cross,” sacrifices his life then returns in the flesh to save the wizarding world from evil.
Whatever the case, many local Christian Schools continue to ban the Potter series from their libraries. Janet Gregory, principal at West Country Christian, says that even though the books might contain some Christian themes, she intends to keep them off the shelves to avoid any controversy.
Nolde, though, is considering incorporating Harry Potter into more church activities. “One of the things I’m thinking about for the fall is doing some kind of adult-education class,” she says, estimating that about half of her 160 parishioners are Potter readers. “Maybe we’ll look at phenomenon of Harry Potter and religious themes.”
For now, however, the message on Gethsemane’s curbside sign has changed to reflect the latest trend. It reads: “Our Church is prayer conditioned.”