Harry Potter and the Church Part I

By Eugene C. Scott

Like J. K. Rowling’s wonderfully weird invention of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Jelly Beans, her Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and God’s equally wonderful and weird church are both humanity flavored hope. Sometimes they’re sweet and sometimes disgusting.

The truth is Rowling gave Hogwarts the same humanity flawed quirkiness that God created the church to reflect.

In chapter six of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” a confused but expectant Harry Potter stands on platform nine and three quarters waiting for the Hogwarts Express–a magical train that will take him–for the first time–to Hogwarts, where he will be schooled in magic. Once there, Harry’s life changes dramatically.

In this magical castle filled with moving staircases, strange rooms, stranger people, talking portraits, and ghosts, Harry, among other things, will cement life-long friendships with Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley while discovering that even the best witchcraft and wizardry school is full of quirks and imperfections and–more-so–quirky and imperfect people.

As I have enjoyed J. K. Rowling’s classic stories as pure fun reading, I also have been challenged by some of her deeper themes. Did she, for instance, intend to draw parallels between the mythical castle called Hogwarts and God’s mysterious community called the church?

Intentional or not, the parallels are there.

Relationships Define the Church and Hogwarts

Contrary to popular belief, the church is not a building nor an institution. It is a community. Yes, most often the church meets in a building and–unfortunately–becomes far too institutional. Hogwarts too is a particular place and has rules–most of which Harry breaks. But this is not what defines Hogwarts.

At Hogwarts, Harry, the orphan, finds his family. Through his friendship with Ron Weasley at Hogwarts, Harry is unofficially adopted into the Weasley clan. It is at Hogwarts also that Harry meets his godfather, Sirius Black and is mentored by a father figure, Albus Dumbledore.

Like Hogwarts, the church, first and foremost, is a community. A family thrown together in a myriad of relationships. Orphans all adopted by Christ.

I grew up in what is commonly called a dysfunctional family. We weren’t completely dysfunctional, however. We did two things very well: fight and meddle in each other’s business. What we did not manage was to foster intimacy. We loved each other to the best of our ability. Still my family was a lonely, chaotic place.

Then I became a follower of Christ and was adopted into this quirky, imperfect family called the church. Like Harry, it was in this completely foreign and unexpected place that I discovered true family. I am who I am because of God speaking and working through the family members I have met in various churches. I have served in six churches over the last 32 years. In each one God has introduced me to people who have become life-long friends. We have, as the great theologian and poet Paul said, “carried one another’s burdens.” We have cried, laughed, fought, feasted (a lot), and lived life together. Rowling was brilliant in drawing Harry as a hero who needed friends to accomplish his mission. And Hogwarts as the place those relationships formed and thrived.

This too is us.

The Church and Hogwarts Are a Mix of Angels and Demons

Much to Harry’s dismay, however, Hogwarts is far from perfect. It is there, under the Sorting Hat, that he discovers his own dark side. It tells Harry, “You could be great, you know, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that.” But Ron warns him, “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.” Should Harry join the darker, more prone to evil House of Slytherin, or the more benign House of Gryffindor? Each of us, whether follower of Christ or no, face the same choices.

No wonder so many wars and wonders have been wrought in the name of God. 

In Hogwarts Harry battles his nearest enemy, Draco Malfoy. Hogwarts, like the church, contains not just angels but demons (so to speak). In the church I’ve been and met both. Like Harry, all of us who have spent more than 10 minutes in the church carry and have inflicted wounds.

Rowling invents a fictional school that rings true because it is such a real mix of sinner and saint. Just like the church.

If Harry imagined Hogwarts as utopia, he was sorely disappointed. This may be why so many of us give up on the church. We are drawn to its divinity but are driven away by its humanity. Our unrealistic expectations are as much a part of our disappointment as are the actual flaws thriving in the church. I plummet emotionally each time the church–or more correctly people, including myself, of the church–don’t live up to my lofty ideals.

Though I understand well the pain that the church can inflict (from personal experience as well as theoretically), the load that weighs heaviest on my pastor’s soul is trying to convince people that the church is both more and less than they ever imagined. More in that it is about being human and being in relationships while also being in relationship with God.  Less in that it is about being flawed humans who need each other.

And in that way the church reflects humanity and human community perfectly. Harry could have never become who he was born to be without Hogwarts and all the pain, joy, disappointment and triumph mixed together in one.

Imagine had Harry, as do so many people today in regards to church, refused to board that mysterious train bound for Hogwarts, one of the best stories written in modern times would have never come into being. So too, when any of us refuses to join that infuriating, dangerous, glorious, Christ-community God calls the church. What real story might you be missing?

Eugene C Scott is co-pastor of one of those wonderfully weird places called The Neighborhood Church.


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6 responses to “Harry Potter and the Church Part I

  1. Jim

    Your statement is pungent and speaks well of the journey I would have never wanted to miss – “We are drawn to its (the community of God’s people) divinity but are driven away by its humanity. Our unrealistic expectations are as much a part of our disappointment as are the actual flaws thriving in the church. I plummet emotionally each time the church–or more correctly people, including myself, of the church–don’t live up to my lofty ideals.”

    Most importantly, “it is about being human and being in relationships while also being in relationship with God. Less in that it is about being flawed humans who need each other.” In reality this is the very best place to be living. And I’m glad we’ve met and can be on the journey together.

  2. Georgie-ann

    Beautiful points. Some people find it easier than others to “hang” in groups, familiar and unfamiliar. I tend to enjoy the opportunity to just “be there” and “observe” the different people and interactions going on, at least for a time, until I might eventually find a niche that “fits” me and gives me an opportunity to be more connected and involved. And I’m accustomed to relying on prayer (thoughts and on-going “conversation with God”) to help guide me in finding my appropriate place and relationship to the group.

    A group, especially a nice church-y one, provides a dynamic, and hopefully “warm” enough, setting and set-up to not only “make life interesting,” but to allow us to extend ourselves “beyond ourselves,” discovering things that God has placed within us, that otherwise could remain latent and untapped.

    As a choir director, I can also say that in many ways the necessary interactions and guidelines involved help us to mature in adjusting ourselves to bigger realities and greater possibilities, than we would ever find sitting home on the couch eating chips,…or some such similar scenario.

    Give and take. Fun. Ideas. Goodwill. Respect. Honest exchanges. Interesting positive projects. Helping and being helped. Different ages all together, like families. Not to mention giving God better opportunities to bless us, while we also try to be a blessing! It all adds up to great opportunities to give God our “little” and let Him “make much.” Face to face interactions and relationships, idiosyncrasies and all, while allowing for the personal space and dignity of each one “in God,” fill our lives with the good things and goodness that God has in mind for us.

    In discovering each other, we discover ourselves!

    That “feasting” sounds soooo goood! (-:

    (Nothing like joyful Christian feasting!)

  3. Georgie-ann

    btw,…I’ve learned to beware of cultish groups, where attitudes and power are abused “in the name of God;” to avoid habitual trouble-makers, the chronically critical, and negative nay-sayers; to test everything with prayer and the Word of God, and to be at peace about following God’s will personally as He reveals and confirms it to me. It’s ok to be “choosy” for oneself, as long as, in so doing, we’re not just succumbing to vague fears and blanket avoidance, — ultimately “throwing out the baby with the bath,” and missing a valuable part of what God has planned for us.

    Only God is God. And only God is perfect. If we project our “God desires” on others, expecting or hoping for them to be, and to provide, the personal answers and fulfillment that we will best find in our own relationship grown and matured with the Lord over time, we are destined to be disappointed. We could even be misled for a season.

    But over and over again, I’ve seen how Faithful our Good God is to those who genuinely seek and keep on seeking Him. Since we all come to Him “in the same leaky boat” and in various stages of disrepair, we are all contributing in some way to the human confusion problems that occur. Patience, Love and Goodwill go a long way to help in “sorting it all out!”

    …and “no thank you” for any Slytherin options,…no need to go there,…we can make many quality decisions by making good observations, and avoid a lot of problems from the outset,…

    I like to throw satan’s “Did God really say …?” impertinence right back at him, when he makes his counterfeit claims and deceptive offerings,… especially in these situations.

    God can speak for Himself, and has done so in His Word to us. We do well to study it, and keep its foundation in focus.

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