Connie Neal is the author of What's a Christian to do With Harry Potter? and The Gospel According to Harry Potter (Westminster John Knox Press).

How did you get started on this?

I'm a mom, that's how. Actually it was before any controversy in the Christian community.  I'm very much involved in my children's lives and [the mother of] one of their friends said, "I've just read the most fabulous book.  Sarah loves it.  It's about this little boy who finds out he's a wizard and he goes off to this school to learn witchcraft."

And I went, "Oh, lovely." So I read the first book thinking I was reading it to explain to my kids why they couldn't. I could see immediately that it would be enormously popular. As I looked at it, it did not take me very long at all to decide that this was something tremendously useful for an involved Christian parent.

What do you say to people who say the problem with Harry Potter is that it encourages kids to dabble in witchcraft, divination, sorcery, and casting spells? The Bible says God abhors these things.

I absolutely agree that God abhors them.  I abhor them. One of the things that convinced me to take on Harry Potter with my children was I saw that it would be a tremendous tool for me to help them learn spiritual discernment.

I took them to Deuteronomy 18. I made it clear to my children that we are totally against witchcraft. But, I said to them, "Here's what we're going to do: What [J.K. Rowling] has done is she's mixed really fun, wonderful, creative creatures with some things that actually are real according to the Bible.  And so I want you to practice sorting it out.  As I'm reading the story, raise your hand if you find something that is also real in our world and then we can go to the Bible and understand it."

I went through and made sure that my children understood every single thing in these stories so that now they really are better able to help their non-Christian friends who are reading these stories.

In the stories you really see the dangers of the occult. You see the dangers of evil.  So I turned it into really some tremendous lessons on spiritual discernment. For all the fear that [the books are] going to be leading kids into the occult, I've not found any real children who have become occultists because of Harry Potter. 

There was a four year old who jumped off her counter on a broom, thought she could fly, and got hurt. And there are kids who will, you know, dabble with casting spells.  And they might get on a website and go to another one.  Therefore, that is all the more reason that we, as parents, must engage it.

What else do you say to opponents of Harry Potter?

If you start dissecting literature in this way, you end up looking at The Chronicles of Narnia and saying, "The Magician's Nephew.  My goodness."

Witches and magicians and wands and spells have been a part of children's literature throughout the ages. A lot of the accusations that have been made against Harry Potter have been selectively ignored when the same Christians are looking at the Narnia books.

One of the heroes on Aslan's side in Voyage of the Dawn Treader opens up a spell book and she casts a spell. It actually works. Aslan shows up. And then he says, "Do you think I wouldn't use my own magic?"

So for a person who sets out with an intent to find something specific to fill, they will find what they're looking to find. C.S. Lewis said that anyone can find almost anything in a book if they're determined enough.

Your position in The Gospel According to Harry Potter grows out of teaching people about the Bible through what you call "glimmers of gospel in culture."

It is just what Paul did.  It's what Jesus did. They would meet people where they were. John 3:17 says, "God didn't send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that through him the world would be saved."

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Paul walks up and down the streets of Athens.  He's reading all these shrines to these idols.  And he's totally disgusted.  But instead of telling them how disgusted he is, he finds one to the unknown god and says, "Look, I see you're religious.  Let's start here with something familiar to you." He would find something in the culture that he could then connect to the gospel.

I led someone to Christ using Harry Potter, someone I'd been trying to witness to for three years. He's the father of the girl who introduced the Harry Potter books to our family. When the first controversy was going on, he shows up pounding at my door and he's a real mild-mannered guy. 

I said, "Tully, what is wrong?" And he said, "I just heard some Christian on the radio saying we should burn or ban Harry Potter.  And I just want to make sure you're not telling my daughter that because we don't raise her that way." 

I said, "Tully, calm down. First of all, I have respect for you as a parent.  I wouldn't do anything with your daughter I wouldn't want you to do with mine, so I'm not going to be going behind your back in that way. But actually, Tully, I saw the gospel in the first book of Harry Potter."

He looked puzzled. His anger froze. And then this broad grin broke across his face. It was obvious we had been trying to get them to come to church, to the Christmas musical, or to the picnic. But they always managed to leave before the presentation of the gospel.  So he gets this big grin on his face, plops down on my couch, and goes, "Okay, you finally got me. Go ahead."

So you then sat him down and walked through the themes of the Gospel you saw in the first book. What happened then?

He looked at me and he said, "I've got to go back and read that again." And he did.

Within a month his wife, who was only 42, stood up one night and said, "I can't breathe."  And she dropped dead. Undiagnosed lung cancer.  Tully and Sarah turned to our family because we were good friends to them, and to our church, because they didn't have a church of their own. 

We helped them through that hard time and Tully accepted the Lord.

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Visit DickStaub.com for audio and video of his radio program (4-7 p.m. PST), media reviews, and news on "where belief meets real life."

Chris Rice is also a regular writer for Sojourners magazine.

Earlier Dick Staub Interviews include:

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The Dick Staub Interview
Dick Staub was host of a eponymous daily radio show on Seattle's KGNW and is the author of Too Christian, Too Pagan and The Culturally Savvy Christian. He currently runs The Kindlings, an effort to rekindle the creative, intellectual, and spiritual legacy of Christians in culture. His interviews appeared weekly on our site from 2002 to 2004.
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