Role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons have gotten a rap that they open doors to dark, sinister forces. It's surprising (and refreshing) then to hear of them being used to inspire a sense of holy imagination and to advance the causes of justice.
In this episode, Rev. Derek White (aka The Geekpreacher) talks about the history of the Satanic Panic in regard to gaming, how roleplaying games played a pivotal role in his faith, and how he sees them inspiring a more just and grace-filled vision of the world today.
Derek White is an ordained minister who is best known for work on 3 documentaries on faith and imagination. His latest project is now available on Tubi for streaming, it’s called “The Satanic Panic and the Religious Battle for the Imagination.” Derek uses Dungeons and Dragons to teach ministry leaders how roleplaying games may be used for community formation, building bonds of commonality in an increasingly diverse world, as well as social skills training for speaking out on issues of social justice.
The documentary, The Satanic Panic and the Religious Battle for the Imagination, is available for streaming on Tubi.
You can learn all about Derek White and the Geekpreacher ministry through his LinkTree.
Interested in getting involved in some faith-based gaming? Many churches offer gaming groups which are visible through a local search. There are also local groups available through Facebook and several even some sites that specialize in offering campaigns led by professional Dungeon Masters.
Ryan Dunn (00:02):
Hi. This is the Compass Podcast where we tune into the divine that's present in the every day, including in the games we play and the ways in which we imagine. My name is Ryan Dunn. I'm just a shade younger than the characters of the Stranger Things franchise as they would've been hitting high school. I was still in grade school. But their experience, it still feels very relatable to me. Well, I mean, you know, not the crazy ghouls and upside down world and all that, but the experience of being a maladjusted dungeon and dragons obsessed bike riding teenager, that kind of stuff, mirrored my own experience. The scenes of a group of friends huddling around a role playing game in a suburban Indiana basement is very reminiscent of my own experience of huddling around a role playing game, while heavy metal music barked outta my friend mom's stereo in their living room and suburban Illinois.
Ryan Dunn (01:01):
And while the Stranger Things characters lived under the shadow of, for them, a very real and evil presence in their world, my friends and I played under the dark suspicion that our activities might be opening doorways to something sinister to around sixth, sixth or seventh grade, we had a special gathering at my church. In this gathering, a special presenter shared with the congregation the threats of satanic cults. According to him, they were nearly invisible, but were assuredly infiltrating our little corner of suburbia and corrupting our young people and brainwashing them into doing dark evil acts. And then he shared some of the telltale signs of these cult's influence. He held up a Dungeons and Dragons monster manual, just like the Monster Manual my friend's older brother used in our d and d adventures. Then the presenter held up a copy of a heavy metal album by the band Iron Maiden, just like the one we had listened to days before.
Ryan Dunn (02:09):
I was floored. I was a young person. I played d and d. I listened to Iron Maiden. Was I being brainwashed into satanism? I didn't feel like a satanist. In fact, I kinda liked doing church stuff, and I got a big kick out of service opportunities. But I also liked indulging my imagination, and it felt cool to escape into a fantastical world where I played a character, who made important decisions and had spectacular abilities, and talk to girls. All these things that were pretty lacking in my own experience at that point in my life. Was my imagination then opening a door to something sinister? If it wasn't, might it have actually been opening my mind to something divinely inspired? Well, that's what we're talking about with Reverend Derek White. In this episode of Compass Derek, also known as the Geek Preacher, is an ordained minister who's best known for work on three documentaries on faith and imagination. His latest project is now available on Tubi for streaming. It's called The Satanic Panic and the Religious Battle For the Imagination. Derek uses Dungeons and Dragons to teach ministry leaders how role playing games may be used for community formation, building bonds of commonality in an increasingly diverse world, as well as social skills training for speaking out on issues of social justice <laugh>. He's also my dm. Let's get to Talking Satanic panic, holy imagination, and more with Reverend Derek White.
Ryan Dunn (03:51):
Derek White, aka the geek Preacher. Thank you so much for joining us on this episode of Compass. Normally I kick these conversations off with asking how it goes with your soul. I'm gonna reframe that question for you. In particular, what alignment do you feel like your soul is in today?
Derek White (04:09):
In today? I would say neutral. Good. I would say neutral. Good. Because neutral. Good. you work with the systems when you have to work with the systems. <Laugh>?
Ryan Dunn (04:22):
Derek White (04:24):
Neutral. Good is all about you know sometimes you need rules and regulations, but when the rules and regulations are not, are hurting other people you, you don't just bend them, you break 'em, shatter 'em and destroy them <laugh>. So, Okay. Yeah. That, that's pretty much where my soul's at today. Mm-Hmm.
Ryan Dunn (04:42):
<Affirmative>, And that sits in between like the lawful good, which is like follow the rules at all costs and the chaotic good, which is good at whatever cost. Is that a fair assessment? Yes.
Derek White (04:52):
Yeah. Yeah. That, that's how I would, that's how I would phrase it. Yes.
Ryan Dunn (04:56):
Well, we're gonna get into ideas like religious hysteria and the place of a whole of holy imagination. And for you, those conversations are really centered around your love for role playing games. So can you just let us in a little bit on your history? Like how did you get involved in role playing games, especially since we were just talking about the alignments, especially Dungeons and Dragons.
Derek White (05:23):
Yeah. I got involved playing role playing games in the early 1980s. I saw some kids playing it at school, and I thought, Wow, that's really cool. I already loved fantasy. It's my love of fantasy and science fiction that got me into role playing games. And so I had already read The Hobbit. I was already reading a lot of fantasy. My mother had bought me a subscription to Analog Science Fiction magazine, so I was reading stuff like that, and I saw kids play this game during recess, and they, they had these really cool looking books. And during Mardi Graw break in our early 1980s, we were out in Texas visiting family, and we were at a, at a mall. You know, it's 1980s. Malls are everywhere. Yeah. We were at this really huge mall, and I found the book and my stepfather's sister-in-law, my step aunt bought it for me. And I came back to school, had a book, and the group let me in and started playing in the 1980s. And I didn't get to play those extended campaigns like a lot of people in the 1980s did. I was the guy who ran the games during recess. Yeah. When we were at our recess break, or if we had some downtime. So I might run a 30 minute session during recess or a 45 minute session in the library when we, we had some type of study hall or something like that.
Ryan Dunn (06:55):
Now, this group that you're with, did you have a cool name? Like hell Fire Club?
Derek White (07:00):
No, no. We were just those my cool name was dorky Derek. That was my cool name in that, that's what people called me at school a lot of times because I mean, no, I mean, it wasn't cool. It was not cool to play dnd. It wasn't cool to be in fantasy to love fantasy, especially in the 1980s in the backwards of northeast Louisiana where everybody was riding their three wheelers and out and hunting and fishing. You know, that, that was not, geek culture was not cool back then. And only sea. That's the weird thing, seeing how cool and well-loved and well beloved geek culture is now. Right. It still amazes me every day.
Ryan Dunn (07:46):
Yeah. In large part, I think we have Stranger Things to, to thank for that. And it, it's fascinating to me that really you grew up and started getting involved in this and the time scenario in which that whole series takes place. Do you feel like it was kind of accurate to your experience?
Derek White (08:05):
Ryan Dunn (08:07):
Derek White (08:07):
Okay. I mean
Ryan Dunn (08:09):
This side, like smoke monsters and all that
Derek White (08:11):
<Laugh>. Yeah. We didn't have the monsters. We didn't have where I was at, the huge hysteria that other people I've talked to had, I mean, one of the guys I played d and d with was a preacher son. Another guy was a deacon son. The only time we would come across negative stuff is when somebody decided to literature bomb the area with you know, I remember I had a weird family growing up. My stepdad's ex-wife gave my mom <laugh> some negative anti d and d materials, and that was the worst I saw it. However, over the, the years I have talked to people who grew up during the eighties, and I mean pe ki guy guys I've talked to who were forced out of their church because they played d d I've talked to people who are now clergy where they got attacked at camp at bible camp by clergy who were just brow beating them about why DND was bad. But my personal experience wasn't that bad. Though I do remember when I was about 19, I got in a car accident and I had my DD books in the back of the car. It was just a wet bridge, and I told him my car on Wet bridge mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And the police officer who finally arrived on the scene saw my d d books in the back of my car and told me I was writing with the devil.
Ryan Dunn (09:49):
Derek White (09:51):
And that's probably why I had a wreck.
Ryan Dunn (09:54):
What, what were they targeting there? Like what was the big religious fear over role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons?
Derek White (10:02):
I think part of it was the artwork was very evocative back then. It still is evocative, but, you know they're seeing their kids reading books with demons on the cover. It that bothered people. Of course, you know, this is mainly an evangelical subculture that is not very familiar with the Renaissance <laugh> something. Okay. Saw the really gruesome artwork. I mean, you look at a Dodges Dragons players handbook from the 1980s with a demonic idol on the cover, and then go look at Rafael. Okay? Mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, you know, that's, that's much worse. It, So I think that was part of it. That was the initial figure. But ultimately when we did our documentary on the Satanic panic, I think one of the biggest things that came out to me is that it was about control. Who's going to control the minds and the imaginations of children? And they felt like Dungeons and Dragons was allowing their kids to grow in a way that they could not control, which comes out of the sixties where you saw parents upset cuz they couldn't control control their kids in the sixties. Then you saw the seventies. And so, you know, there is this desire in the eighties, I think, where people are really wanting to just buckle down and control that generation that's coming up, not realizing that the kids need the freedom to grow on their own in some areas.
Ryan Dunn (11:39):
Hmm. Now, as you were growing up, did you grow up in a particularly religious household?
Derek White (11:46):
We were, what I like to refer to as occasional Baptist. Occasionally when we went to church, it was a Baptist church. I mean, my parents both self-identified as Christians. We went to church maybe occasionally on Easter. We didn't go to church around Christmas. I mean, what, what's Christmas got to do with church man? That's that's, that's about Santa Claus, and that's about presence. That's about Christmas parties. You know, what does that have to do with church? I remember my first exposure, I think, to the nativity story was Charlie Brown Christmas. So you know but I liked the great pumpkin. It's the great pumpkin Charlie Brown. So Charles Schultz probably introduced me to more faith terms in that way than my family did in that sense. I mean, my mom taught me to pray and things like that, but church was just not really a part of our lives.
Ryan Dunn (12:43):
Hmm. Well, obviously at some point you went in all in for the religious thing. You're a an ordained Methodist clergy person. Now, did your experience in kind of negative connotations coming from the religious right, make you wary of religion at all?
Derek White (13:05):
I was at times scared of the church. I was scared I would be condemned, but I was also always interested in religion. I was always interested in something above and beyond myself. So I remember as a young boy, I mean, I don't think I was 10 or 11 years old, I read both inches Mythology. So that was something that was very important to me in that I enjoyed it. And then I was, let's see, what else was I reading? Well, there's Bull Inches mythology. Then of course there was a book that they put out for Dungeons and Dragons called Dees and Debbie Gods, which had a lot of different mythologies from around the world. And I really liked that. So there was always this interest in religion, and my view of Christianity was, Well, you know, that that's kind of boring, that that's not as boring as re that's not as exciting as reading about Thor and Oden or the Greco Roman gods.
Derek White (14:20):
But there was something that drew me in. I mean, in the South, during that period of my life, there wasn't a whole lot to do on the weekends. We didn't always have Cable vi, we didn't have cable or anything like that. We might pick up some channels on our satellite tv, but that was it. So I remember just being bored one summer and saying, Okay, I want to go to vacation Bible school. There's nothing else to do. Hmm. So I went to vacation Bible school when I was about 13 or 14 around the time I started playing d and d. I had a religious experience there, but nothing kind of stuck. And then I went to college. A lot of things happened. I dropped outta college and one of my best friends, you know, just became a radical Christian. And what really appealed to me is that no matter where I was, he always sought me out. He'd come pick me up at a bar, take me out to get something to eat, we'd chill and talk. And eventually, you know, he got me to come into some college ministry meetings, even though I was a college dropout. And I came to faith, and I came to faith in a very conservative evangelical tradition. It, and, you know, it was a weird thing because coming to faith in that tradition, you want to get rid of all your d and d stuff or anything that's keeping you away from,
Ryan Dunn (15:46):
Like, did you back away from it then?
Derek White (15:48):
Oh man, I burnt my books. You know, I was like, you know, I'm gonna be the best Christian I could be, you know, and what to do this thing, Right? But there's a problem when you're a geek who's been studying. I wrote my high school term paper on mythology and its effects on ancient man. So I mean, this is, you know, so when I came into the faith, I just began to devour everything I could. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, I began to read everything I could. I would go to the library, check out a Bible commentary. I would I learned early on to read the Psalms as poetry instead of taking them literally. And then I was like, Well, I don't know enough. I'm gonna go back to school. And so I went to a Christian university, which taught me, even though it was conservative Evangelical University, they taught me how to read the Bible, how to look at the cultural background of that time and that period, how to use ex of Jesus and hermeneutics.
Derek White (16:42):
I was like, Wow. I mean, I'm a geek. I'm eating this all up, you know? All right, here's how you diagram the structure of a sentence, and here's how you find the main idea in the paragraph. And, you know, we would have to I, I still remember enjoying going through my Bible and using white out on all the headings because the professor told us to do that so that we could find the paragraph breaks in English translations ourselves. So we're making our own paragraph breaks. And, and when you begin to read the Bible that way, you're going, Wait a second. What they're telling me from the pulpit does not agree. So, so me and my friends are,
Ryan Dunn (17:20):
This thought doesn't always separate from that thought kind
Derek White (17:22):
Of deal. Exactly. And so I remember sitting in church with one of I was married, my friend was married. We're both sitting in church. We're going to that Christian university. This is an even seminary. This is undergrad. And they're teaching us all this on the undergrad level. And we're sitting in the back, Me and him have our bibles out, and we are just dissecting the heck out of the preacher sermon. And he's a preacher in that, that denomination. But we're like, Dude, did he take this class? We took? Because that's not saying that, you know, And, and so that was the idea. But it was also a very charismatic Pentecostal church. So even though we were taught to really use academic rigor in looking at the text, we were still encouraged to have an experience of God on a personal and intimate level. So it was a, so I began to learn how to, it took me a while, and I'm still learning how to balance the academic with the experiential.
Ryan Dunn (18:25):
Okay. So often the stories that we share in this podcast are kind of coming back to faith stories in, in your case, Derek, I'm curious, like, so at what point did you come back to the role playing games, <laugh>? When did this become something that you wanted to pursue?
Derek White (18:40):
It actually started while I was in in that, at that Christian university with a video game called World of Warcraft. Yeah. This is not the world of Warcraft that most of the younger generation think of. This is not the massive multiplayer online role playing game. This was the strategy based Warcraft. This was Warcraft where you would just you know, it, it's a it's a, a resource management game. And so you would build up your little villages and you would send your orks out to raid other villages. That was the original world of Warcraft. And I found that game and I'm like, Well, this can't be bad. Right? This can't be bad. We'd actually scrape together in money to buy a computer because we're talking 1994 computers were were expensive. I mean, a thousand dollars.
Ryan Dunn (19:38):
Not everyone had three or four in their house. Yeah,
Derek White (19:41):
Yeah, yeah. And I mean, a computer for a thousand dollars in 1994 would be like paying five grand for a computer now. And so I got a computer ha had a computer with his dial up modem. And that guy was telling me about that I was dissecting sermons with, He also had, he's the one that told me about World of Warcraft. And so we would get on there and we would play World of Warcraft, dial up, dialing into each other's computer, just one on one. And that was amazing. In 1994, well, I came to find out he had played Dunes of Dragons, and we began to talk about that. And I was taking classes where we were reading CS Lewis and I began just discovering that. Yeah, I didn't know JR. Or to was a Christian. I read to when I was 12 years old.
Derek White (20:34):
I read The Hobbit, I didn't know Token was a Christian, So you discovered that Token is a Christian. You discover that the writer of the Chronicles of Narnia is a Christian. And so I began looking at this going, Wow, wait a second. And that all happened. And I was like, Wow. You know? So I started thinking about it, thinking about it. And back then I was looking at an opportunity to go minister in Alaska. That did not work out. My, my wife would not have liked it. <Laugh> pastoring in Alaskan Village. This is the mid nineties. But while I was still thinking about it, I stopped at a store in Anchorage, I think it's called Boscos. And I picked up a science fiction role playing game, cuz I'm thinking if I'm stuck in a village, I'm getting heat. Something to do.
Derek White (21:28):
Yeah. And I thought, well, science fiction role playing game will be okay. And then I came back home, We were staying with my mother-in-law in Mississippi, and I got on this thing called the internet. And I said, You know what? Let me see if I can find Christian role players. And that really changed everything that's around 94, 95. And I found the, the Christian Gamers guilt, of which I've been part since the early nineties. And there were people in there that played Dungeons of Dragons and had no problem with it. And I got to know these people. And so it was around that time I was like, Well, you know what? I can, I could play Do's Dragons, It's not a problem. And that just exploded my journey. So I, I got back into role playing games around 95 or 96, and haven't looked back since.
Ryan Dunn (22:20):
Okay. And now since then, you, you've kind of brought that together with some of your faith experience. Can you you tell us about how you're employing role playing games these days in terms of ministry? Or, or maybe vice versa? Are you using Yeah. Ministry to get into role playing games? Tell us about that.
Derek White (22:38):
It, it, it's weird how it worked. Back in 2007, I was on a panel on faith and gaming with the co-creator of Dunes of Dragons, Gary Acks. And Gary and I had talked online, We'd communicated online for quite a bit before we met in person at this convention. And we really got along. We, we got to talk we talked and we shared emails. And that really had a profound impact on me because Gary was a person of faith read his Bible faithfully. And so we had some really great conversations. And because of that, he it really began to just open up how I viewed the whole industry. And then he passed away a few months later, and the next year his children decided to have a convention in his honor, a gaming convention. And I have a good friend who's in the industry I've known since the early two thousands, and he lives close to that area.
Derek White (23:49):
And he sent me a message, he's like, Derek, you've got to come. You can come stay with me. And so I went to the very first Gary Con in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where Dodges and Dragons started. I got to meet Gary's kids, and I've been going ever since. And then about five or six years ago Luke Gary's second to youngest son Luke, Guy G made me the official volunteer chaplain for Gary Kai. So that was the first real collision. I mean, I'd already been doing unofficial chaplaincy work in the gaming community in that people would come to me. They knew I was a preacher, I was very open about it. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, I was helping lead worship services at gaming conventions. But that really just kind of solidified what I've been doing with the gaming community.
Derek White (24:46):
And then you know, so, and I had personally been using dus and Dragons with a group of young adults just because of the nature of who I am. It's always been a quasi discipleship tool. And so it just comes out in who you are. You know, I'm not very, I'm not really big in B C D E F G discipleship. I don't have a really good method, which is bad for a Methodist <laugh>. But, but, but discipleship just comes out. I, I really believe discipleship comes with walking with people, living a life with people. That's how we disciple one another. And it's,
Ryan Dunn (25:27):
I think that's actually like a hundred percent Methodist right there. Like,
Derek White (25:31):
I, I, I, I agree. It, it, you know, and, and Discipleship's not a one way street. I'm not just discipling you, you're discipling me. Whether you're new to the faith or not. Whether you've been a Christian for 50 years or five minutes, there is something I can learn about God from you. He, I can learn about God. I've learned some great things about God from Atheist. They get mad at me when I tell 'em that my Fri atheist friends, they don't get mad at me. They, they just laugh, You know, because I tell, you know, I've learned some great things about what it means to be human and what it means to be a follower of Jesus, what it means to be Christian, whatever term you want to use. I, I've learned great things about that. And, and so that's part of the discipleship process too.
Derek White (26:15):
And so I had been doing that you know, and I, I had been somewhat intentional about it cuz I, I had been running games for, for guys I knew I was already grown married with a family. But at the local game store, I would come across these teenagers. They'd play in my games. They knew who I was. And discipleship just naturally flowed from that process. So this year the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, a person who works with the East Ohio Conference contacted me because they came across some of my stuff online and they said, Hey, I really like what you're doing. I wanna talk to you about a possible project. And so we put together a clergy training where now I am intentionally <laugh> putting together a way to teach clergy how to use tabletop role playings games like Dungeons and Dragons as a way of discipling other people.
Ryan Dunn (27:19):
So what does that look like? Do you kind of go through a session and at the end you, I don't know, make what I call the Jesus joke like, Oh, well we, we encountered this conflict today. Here's how that relates to this story about Jesus in the Bible, or, or how, how does discipleship come out through that
Derek White (27:36):
Discipleship? The type of discipleship I'm talking about is what's called virtue. Ethics of virtue. Ethics is you know, some people might not like it because they think it's a moralism, but it's not. Virtue ethics is all about practicing good positive virtues that we might grow in virtue and growing grace. You have the classic for virtues from Greco Roman philosophy, which is fortitude, prudence, temperance, and justice. I've redefined fortitude in terms of courage, courage, temperance is the ability to be flexible. Prudence is the one I always have trouble with. It's knowing when to speak and knowing when to shut up, as my southern mama said, <laugh>. And justice, which is a very important one for us as United Methodist Ed, we reframe those in light of what we know in today's world. For example, justice in the ancient world was all about justice for the powerful and the wealthy.
Derek White (28:35):
But we understand as United Methodist justice in a very different way. Justice is for the weak and the marginalized. So number one, you can use any of those themes in a role playing game. You know, rescuing the week and marginalized in a game. Yes, of course, practicing courage prudes that knowing when to go in and when to observe, when to listen, when to wait. Those are all very practical skills. And the key is, is that those skills come through practice. And the more we practice it, the better we get at it. And those, those skills begin in imaginative play when we were children. If you play at play cops and rappers when you were a kid, that's a form of imaginative play, which begins our own moral development. And this type of thing is very Jesus centered to be, because it's not about hard and fast rules.
Derek White (29:33):
It's about practicing these things. Now the Christian element comes in and the faith element comes in when you add what we call the three essential Christian virtues, faith, hope, and love. Love is all about sacrifice. It's all about giving yourself up for others. It's about themes of redemption faith and hope or intimately intertwined. And so that you have these things that you can put those themes in a game. So what we do is we play a game. And then after the game, because this is clergy, what I'm doing with them is when after we run a session, we're gonna talk about where did you see any of these things come up in this game? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, how can we improve this game to put these themes in here better? Because the key is, is I don't want to use Dodges and Dragons or any tabletop role playing game as a way of bashing people over the head with a Bible or as a way of trying to force them to come to Jesus.
Derek White (30:37):
Because it's about discipleship. And we as United Methodists believe discipleships for the whole world. We're discipling and transforming the world. And so it's about transforming things. So if people become more virtuous, people focus more on issues of justice, I believe God is happy with that. And, and so that's just a very important thing for me. And when they meet Jesus in the midst of that, if they meet Jesus in the midst of that, that's the icing on the cake. But it's all about transforming lives and people living more virtuous lives. And we, as United Methodist call that sanctification
Ryan Dunn (31:23):
Derek White (31:23):
Something we don't talk about a whole lot anymore.
Ryan Dunn (31:26):
Right. <laugh>? Yes. Well, it's one of those big churchy words, so it makes us a little reticent to, to use, I suppose. Yeah. So that does then become kind of a, an an easy access point into talking about some of those, I suppose tougher church concepts like justification and sanctification.
Derek White (31:48):
It, it does. And, and, and here's the thing. And this is what I'm really trying to get across to the clergy. Cuz we've only, I've only done one session with the at the time of this recording, I've only done one session with each group. So it's just been an introductory session. But the ultimate way we do discipleship is that we sit down at a table or over a screen and we have fun with people. And in doing that, people for us is clergy for me as a clergy person. When I establish that level of trust and they see they can trust me in that play field imaginative way, they can then come to me later when the hard parts of life hit them. In my work as a gaming chapel. Now, I've seen that over the years. I've had people come and play in my games.
Derek White (32:47):
Two months later I'm getting an email, Hey, my marriage just fell apart. Can I give you a call? I don't have anybody to talk to. I don't have the money for counselor. I just need to talk to somebody I trust. And I trust you, Derek. I know you've got the background. I know you've been a pastor. Let me talk to you. And so that has happened, and I've been doing that on and office for over a decade. When you do this at a gaming table, what I've done, especially since the pandemic started, I've gotten to know a lot of people online. I already knew a lot online, but I've gotten to know a lot of new people mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And so now doing TikTok videos or playing role playing games online, I have people contact me. And sometimes the contacts are just as simple as, Hey Derek, you know what?
Derek White (33:38):
I'm wanting to reexamine my spiritual life and I would really like to connect to a good local church in my area. Can you can you point me to one that is open and affirming <laugh>, you know, or as we as United Method to say, Can you point me to a reconciling congregation? And I help them find a church that is open to them. You know, generally the people that contact me are looking for a more progressive, open-minded church. And so I help them find those places. And, and it comes through establishing a level of trust. So I tell people, if you could sit down at the dinner table, the gaming table, or the Lord's table laugh and have a good time, you're gonna bring people together. And that's where relationships with each other are built. And I believe as we build a relationship with each other, God is pleased and then we build a relationship with God.
Ryan Dunn (34:32):
Yeah. And I love that idea of kind of reclaiming or claiming to, from the get go, a sense of imagination and a sense of fun that's attached to our faith building. Like, I don't know if a lot of people, when they think about members of the clergy or pastors or ministers or even church leadership, if they think fun folk, you know, <laugh>,
Derek White (34:56):
I, I know I wouldn't have, I I recently told someone this I have decided at this point in my life, I want to be the type of minister that 14 year old Derek would've loved to have had in his life.
Ryan Dunn (35:11):
Yeah. Right on.
Derek White (35:13):
You know, it's not about being cool. It's not about, because a cool that the type of minister I am now in, in the, in 1984, they'd have probably burnt me at the stake. Okay. <laugh>. Okay. You know, but I, I will be the type of person that 14 year old Derek could, could have come up to and said, Man, I'm struggling with this. Or 14 year old Derek could come up and said, Hey man, you wanna play a game and have, and have a good time? You know that that's who I wanna be. I, I want to show that clergy are an essential part of our lives as human beings, because clergy often dehumanized themselves and are often dehumanized by their congregations. And what I mean by that, I don't mean dehumanized and deni integrated. I mean, we're dehumanized because we're elevated on such a high pedestal.
Ryan Dunn (36:11):
Right. Okay. So not a less than human, but a you're to be superhuman.
Derek White (36:17):
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And, and, and, and, and when we do that, when we idolize, I don't want to use the word idolize, but that that is the word. When we idolize clergy, when we put clergy on that pedestal, we have dehumanized them because we're making them less than human. We are making them less than human. Because to be human is to make mistakes, To be human is to burp and to fart and to cough and to laugh and to not iron your shirt. Right. Or to put on the wrong shoes. I, I'm speaking for my own religious trauma here, <laugh>, you
Ryan Dunn (36:57):
Know. Okay. I thought you were talking about my morning. All right.
Derek White (37:00):
Yeah, yeah. Seriously. I mean, why, why is it the pastor's shirt ironed properly this morning? What was his wife thinking? Or his spouse, or their spouse thinking, Why is the pastor wearing tennis shoes? I mean, you know, I, I mean, this is stuff that still goes on. You would think it, you know why are they wearing a clerical collar and not a tie? Why are they wearing a tie and not a clerical collar? And that is a dehumanizing feeling because you are not allowed to be just as human as them. And I've had cler, I've had parishioners tell me that over the years. And so what I want the world to see is clergy who are trained, who have that theological training, who have backgrounds in counseling, but they're also seen as human and as people who make mistakes. And so they need, So we need grace too. It, it's a weird dynamic because we're also in a position of power. So there are times when yeah, we need more discipline than grace. When we screw up, we need to step back just like anybody else and any other profession. That's a rabbit trail. I didn't expect to screw up
Ryan Dunn (38:11):
<Laugh>. It's all good. You know, I don't remember if we've actually used in the course of this conversation the word satanic panic, but we did allude to that whole movement when we first started talking about like your occurrences with Dungeons and Dragons and some of the religious pushback in the 1980s. And all that was part of this, this greater movement where just at society at large, we were afraid that there were satanic cults that were taking control of our children and influencing our minds. And one of the conduits for that were role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons do. Since you're working in a world of Dungeons and Dragons now, do you still experience aftershocks of the Satanic panic? Are there still people who are weary that this is some kind of portal to <laugh> a dark realm?
Derek White (39:05):
I don't hear it as much about Doug's Dragons, but Okay. I'll give you a good example. I'm here in Nashville, Tennessee, and, and we have a pastor who I'm not afraid to mention Greg Lock, who's burning Harry Potter books. And he is not burning Harry Potter books for the right reasons, because JK Rowling's a turf <laugh>, sorry, he's burning Harry Potter books because it's evil and it talks about magic. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. So yeah, we, we still experience this today. We I, I did this documentary on the Satanic panic. I aired it at Gen Con, the largest tabletop. We, we, we, we, we screened it at Gen Con for their film festival at Gen Con is the largest tabletop gaming, tabletop gaming conviction in the United States. And I had a 19 year old come up to me, 19 years old. This young man is younger than my oldest child. And he told me just a few years ago how his parents were telling him how evil Dungeon and Dragons is, how satanic it is. So yes, we still see it today. We think we're over it and we're past it, but we're not. My director who's Canadian was talking about this in Canada to another older gentleman about the documentary, and they were like, No, that's evil. That's Satanic.
Derek White (40:51):
So, so yeah. Yeah. It, I I still see it all the time. I, it, the, the strangest part for me is, you know, for a long time, the only people I saw would be people my age who were reliving the trauma of the 1980s mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. But I am coming across teenagers who still experience this. And, and I think honestly, it is because certain subec of Christianity have really turned off their imagination. No, I take that back. They've allowed their imagination to be corrupted. Their imaginations are not about what is good, what is true, and what is beautiful. Their imaginations are about every conspiracy theory they can think of. That's the only places their imaginations can go. And I believe God gave us imagination to help us to hope for a better future and a better world. I mean, that's the type of science fiction I grew up with.
Derek White (41:59):
All the, you know, there was not, you know, there was dystopian science fiction in the eighties. We had the Terminator, but there was also a number of science fiction books that were about a glorious and beautiful new future. And this is part of what I believe is our God given imagination. But unfortunately imagination when it's positive is seen as almost a negative in some parts of the Christian faith. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. And so that's part of what I want to do. In the documentaries I've been in, they've all been on faith and imagination. And I want people to look, you know, we're living in a such a difficult time in our world today. We've got record break inflation you know, people having to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. We've got going on in the Ukraine where thousands upon thousands of people are dying have got overwhelming student loan debt.
Derek White (43:01):
The world looks really dark right now. And so if I have a prayer for anything, it's that God would give us people who might write books and tell stories of a more beautiful future to give us a light in the darkness that we're going through right now. And that, that's what I'm looking for is a light in, in the darkness. And I don't care if those stories have witches in it, devils demons, angels, whatever. I don't care if those stories are based off Greek mythology or Roman mythology or Egyptian mythology. Whatever stories we can tell to shine a light in the darkness of this age that we're going through, that to me is where Jesus can be
Ryan Dunn (43:43):
Found. Derek, thank you so much for lending this time to us, for sharing so much of your personal story with us. I know that's not always the most comfortable thing to do, but I think we're learning through your story.
Derek White (43:54):
Well, thank you for having me ride. I have enjoyed this. I've enjoyed talking with
Ryan Dunn (43:58):
Thanks, listener for being a part of this. Are you ready to get gaming? We'll link some relevant sites on the show notes for this episode, which are available atc.org/compass. That's part of the website for the United Methodist Church who graciously resources this podcast, <laugh>, and it's it's crazy adventures. A couple other episodes that might interest you, include a fresh look at radical Jesus with Damon Garcia, or if you want to get deeper into the weird and wonderful, then the episode on UFOs, Extraterrestrials and Faith might be up your alley. While you're checking out those episodes, hit the like or follow or subscribe button. Thanks much. We'll have another fresh disruption for your day to day in two weeks. In the meantime, thanks for listening. Peace.