What’s a Christian to Do with Harry Potter?

In this blog entry, Dr. Melody Green shares a couple of  her experiences as a college teacher dealing with a series of books that is now twenty years old and just as popular as it ever was.  

Several years ago, when I was teaching a class called Foundations of Children’s Literature to future teachers at a public university, one of the required texts was a book from the Harry Potter series. Knowing that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ believed the books to be anti-Christian, I always offered an alternative reading for those who wished: the book What’s a Christian to Do with Harry Potter? By Connie Neal. Much shorter than the required novel, it is a non-fiction analysis of the debate going on between Christians regarding the suitability of this series for those who claim to be followers of Christ. One syllabus day, a young woman announced loudly to her classmates that she was going to be doing the alternate reading because her pastor said that Harry Potter is evil. So, a couple of weeks before that reading was due, I asked this student to stay after class so I could lend her the book for the alternate assignment.  She rather shyly admitted that she had started reading the assigned text because she was curious, and now she wanted to finish it.  During class discussion, I observed that she was actively engaged, even commenting to her classmates that the book “was not what I was led to believe!”  The next semester, she showed up at my office, thrilled to share that she had gone home over Christmas break, told her pastor that the book was not at all what he had said, and left her copy with him to read.  Just that last Sunday she had been visiting her parents, and at church that same pastor actually used a passage from it as a sermon illustration!

Another semester a student handed in a response paper explaining that in high school she had started going to church with her neighbors, and had really liked it until the day she brought her new Harry Potter book along.  The pastor had practically exploded and immediately made her remove the book from the building, declaring that it was anti-Christian and not welcome. She went on to explain that that was the last time she went to church.  After all, the paper reasoned, the Harry Potter books are about loving your neighbors, standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, and doing what is right instead of what is easy. She wanted no part of a group that was against these things.

Not long ago, another young woman sat across from me at Espresso Royale, explaining how Harry Potter had been instrumental in her journey to faith.  She found in these books not only a moral compass unlike what she saw around her, but also a story she had desperately wanted to be true:  it was about a person whose birth had been prophesied, who taught others how to fight evil, and who ultimately died to save others from that evil—and came back to life again. And once he was alive, evil had no power over his followers. This young woman explained that the Harry Potter books had prepared her to understand the story of Christ when she finally encountered it—what she had longed for in the one story turned out to be completely true in the other.

These three stories are just a few examples of why the church today needs to think more seriously  about how it approaches the Harry Potter books:  some condemn them as evil, others praise them for their distinctly Christian qualities, but there is much more at stake than simply a matter of personal taste.  This semester Urbana Theological Seminary is offering a class that will explore various aspects of this debate, shaping a framework for understanding and communicating with Christians who disagree with oneself about these books, while also working to better understand what this series is actually communicating.  For more information, contact Dr. Melody Green at mgreen@urbanatheologicalseminary.org  We hope you can join us!