By Eric Young
To capitalize on the “Potter” mania that is sweeping across the world, the Church of England has released a guide on how to evangelize using the popular “Harry Potter” phenomenon.
The guide’s author, Owen Smith, is a youth worker at St. Margaret’s Church in the United Kingdom and also wrote “Mixing it Up with the ‘Simpsons’” – a book that was released earlier this year by the Church of England’s publishing company in hopes of showing how Christianity is relevant to life today through issues tackled in the popular U.S. TV cartoon series.
In his latest work, “Mixing it Up with Harry Potter,” Smith enables youth leaders to draw parallels with daily life and help young people discuss ”big issues.”
“Using film scenes in which the characters make tough decisions to prompt discussion about moral choices and extracts from the books that demonstrate the power of words and their impact on others, the resource has creative ideas for using the Potter books as a basis for Christian teaching,” the Church of England announced in a press release.
Other ideas in the book include discussing stereotypes of what is ”normal” to examine how living a Christian life might cause a young person to stand out from their peers.
“The excitement and anticipation generated by the Harry Potter books show just what a great storyteller J. K. Rowling is,” said Diocese of Oxford Bishop John Pritchard, according to the Church of England. “Although the fictional world of Harry Potter is very different from our own, Harry and his friends face struggles and dilemmas that are familiar to us all.”
From theological concepts such as sacrifice and mercy, to everyday issues such as fears and boasting, each of the guide’s 12 sessions reportedly provides a basis for an hour’s discussions and activities. The sessions include Bible verses that present the Christian perspective on the theme, and prayer activities drawing on the topic.
“Jesus used storytelling to engage and challenge his listeners,” Pritchard noted. “There’s nothing better than a good story to make people think, and there’s plenty in the Harry Potter books to make young people think about the choices they make in their everyday lives and their place in the world.”
For years now, Christians have been split on whether the Harry Potter novels have a negative influence on a person’s faith, in particular that of youth. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr, George Carey described the series as “great fun and a serious examination of good and evil.”
Pope Benedict XVI, however, has taken the opposite view and lambasted the megahit fantasy series, describing it as “deeply distorting Christianity in the soul before it can grow properly.”
In his introduction, the author of the newly released guide acknowledges that some Christians have expressed concerns over the influence of Harry Potter, but argues that engagement with the phenomenal success of the series is more productive than criticizing it from the sidelines.
“These sessions draw parallels between events in the world of Harry and his friends, and the world in which we are seeking to proclaim the gospel to young people,” Smith writes. “The magic in the books is simply part of the magic that J. K. Rowling has created, in the same way that magic is part of the world of Christian writers such as C. S. Lewis.
“To say, as some have, that these books draw younger readers towards the occult seems to me both to malign J. K. Rowling and to vastly underestimate the ability of children and young people to separate the real from the imaginary,” he adds.
As publication approaches for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final Harry Potter book, another “Potter” frenzy is expected to explode following last week’s release of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the fifth movie from the series.
“Mixing it Up with Harry Potter” is hoping to ride on the wave and is now available for churches to purchase from a range of Christian and general booksellers. The book is designed for use with 9-13 year olds.