From Chapters to Congregations
On the upcoming changes to TST's structure.
(Posted with the permission of the lead coordinator of the transformation project, however these thoughts are my own and do not represent TST or any chapter or organization.)
The Satanic Temple recently released documents which outlined some structural changes that will take place in the organization in the coming months. The changes in a nutshell, as I understand them, are that TST will be divided into two pillars. Campaigns, which will be run by their respective directors and answer to Executive Ministry (Lucien and Malcolm), and Congregations.
Congregations will take the place of what we currently call Chapters. The focus of Congregations will be more about community and religious practice, and less about political or community actions - which are in the purview of Campaigns. Members of congregations can join Campaigns and vice versa, but there is to be a more clear divide. Don’t like something a campaign is doing? That’s fine. Don’t join that campaign. You are still free to engage in religious fellowship with your congregation.
For a while now, I have personally desired more of a community and religious focus within TST. I was very excited by the ordination program for this reason. I also felt very engaged by Priest Penemue’s guest post on Stephen Bradford Long’s blog, which was titled Denominating Satan. It asked if members considered TST to be their denomination, or if TST was just the organizational entity, and they used other words to describe their particular type of Satanism. It’s a bell I had quietly been ringing for some time, but he put it perfectly into words, and it started some interesting conversations in my own chapter. I also think the blog was Penemue’s way of testing the waters for the announcement to come.
I’ve generally said that I am a member of The Satanic Temple and that I practice Modern Romantic Satanism. I have friends who use other descriptors like: “Miltonian”, “Compassionate”, “Egalitarian”, and “Epicurean”. I was texting with a friend about it, and just as I sent, “I bet there is a Stoic Satanist”, they sent to me, “I would identify as a Stoic Satanist.” I jinxed them and they still owe me that Coke. It seems there are as many forms of Satanism as there are Satanists, and I love that. Which is why I personally don’t call TST “my religion”. It is the organization I belong to, but if I ever were to leave TST, I would still be a Modern Romantic Satanist.
This is why I am excited about Congregations. It is unclear at this time how Congregations will be formed. Current chapters will be given the opportunity to become Congregations, but aside from that, the way that new Congregations will come into being will be decided by a governing body that has not yet been created. It is my hope that Congregations will be based less upon a person’s location, and more upon values and interests - just like the churches of other religions.
That’s why I was delighted to read this passage in the Transformation Handbook:
“What becomes possible in the future? Congregations may decide to divide so that they can
better serve localized regions in larger, less populous states. Congregations may decide to
merge together to operate more efficiently under consolidated leadership. New Congregations
could apply to join The Satanic Temple even though they overlap geographically with a region
that is already occupied by an existing Congregation—there are situations where this kind of
overlap may be justified. However, in all of these cases the exact criteria for what is allowed and
under what circumstances will be determined and managed by the Governing Body of the
When I was a teenager, my mom took us to a Christian church in a different city - because that’s where she felt her values aligned and she felt the most belonging. I love the Arizona chapter, but it covers the entire state, and a lot of different people. I would travel from Tucson to Phoenix to participate in Satanic study with the person I already consider my Priest, if it were an option. This past year has taught us many things, and one of them is that proximity doesn’t matter as much as connection.
When speaking with others about the changes, reactions pretty much across the board have been high hopes and low expectations. A lot of, “I love the idea, but I don’t know if they / we can pull it off.” There are concerns that the same issues we have seen with the org, that have frustrated some of us and caused others to leave, will continue with different window dressing.
International Council is being dissolved, which many see as a good thing, but some have concerns that those same people will be shuffled into different positions of power. Depending on the person, I don’t think this is always a bad thing, but it’s still a continuation of what can be seen as favoritism / in-group / nepotism / popularity contest / blah blah blah. And it’s that stuff that pisses members off.
Another concern I have heard, and that I share, is that current Chapter Heads are being given first dibs on ordination. This essentially means that they will become the de-facto leaders of the chapters-turned-congregations. My issue is this - the people we chose to lead a Chapter may not be the same people we would choose as our religious leaders. If our Chapter Leadership was selected democratically, they were elected into a role that is completely different than I feel the role of a Congregation leader should be. Otherwise, what’s the difference? You’ve simply changed the title and nothing else.
Add to that the fact that many chapter leaders were not selected democratically. It’s not that I don’t like my chapter leadership - I do! But you know what I like more? Choosing my leadership. There’s this little thing called Arbitrary Authority, and Satanists kind of hate that. So, if Chapter Leadership is presto-change-o into Congregation Leadership, and I don’t have the option to choose a different Congregation, then I might not belong to a Congregation.
“But Dresden!” you say, “They will have to go through Ordination and maybe they don’t want to, or maybe it will be too hard for the ones who aren’t serious about being religious leaders!”
True. Definitely a possibility. Or maybe they will take the course and they will become awesome religious leaders. That would be wonderful. But what’s also true is this - the title of Satanic Minister / Satanic Priest / whatever Satanic title you want -- is fucking BADASS. No one doesn’t want that. Especially people who wanted the title of Chapter Head. I don’t think any of them are going to decline to try. And I wish them knowledge and enlightenment on that journey.
So, let’s say all that happens. All the former Chapter Leadership get to be ordained first, and then it is opened up to others. Now it’s my turn, right? Or my unofficial Satanic Priest’s turn? Maybe, but can you get a recommendation from someone in your chapter leadership? I probably can’t. Why? Because I write stuff like THIS. Because I fight against Arbitrary Authority. Because I will. Not. Shut. Up. And this has led me to be somewhat unpopular with certain people. Too Satan-y for the Satan club, I guess.
So, if I wanted to seek Ordainment, could I get a letter of recommendation from those same people? Highly doubt it. Luckily, I have connections beyond my chapter. But what about the people who don’t? Their chapter-turned-congregation leadership can stand between them and ordainment. Which means stopping them from starting their own Congregation. And so, does the cycle continue?
From the new Charter & Policy Packet:
“The Satanic Temple will bring together a leadership team during the month of April 2021 for the purpose of defining the structure of a governing body for its congregations and the initial set of policies and procedures by which it will operate.”
The Project Team is not the Governing Body, but they will decide how that Body operates. It will be made up of current and former Chapter Leadership, who may or may not have been democratically elected. The new documents dictate that the Governing Body must accept and consider applications for the formation of new Congregations, even if they are in the same geographic area as an existing congregation, but does not dictate what criteria the Governing Body can require when deciding to approve an application or not. This will be decided by Task Group 4 of the Project Team.
So my question would be - how will a task group made up of Chapter Leadership approach designing the process for what may, in some cases, feel like competition to their own chapters or positions?
I am not here to complain. I am absolutely not trashing the hard work that has gone into the entire org and this transition process. I have a lot of hope, and I would love to see this work out beautifully. I am asking you, my Siblings in Satan, to consider these things, and any other issues you have had with the organization in the past, and think about what we want to do better moving forward.
Because the power is in YOUR hands. The Governing Body of the Congregations has not been created yet. The Project Team is just about to be formed, and it will be made up of our community leaders. Let’s hold our representatives accountable and make sure this Governing Body is serving the best interests of the Congregation members, and that we do our best to create the change we want to see in TST. Because isn’t that what we all say when someone flames out and writes a Medium article and starts calling us a cult? “Why couldn’t they stay and fight for positive change?”
This is what I am doing. I have been close to leaving multiple times. Don’t worry, I’m never going to be slanderous or hijack a Facebook page or steal TST’s intellectual property. But if we want people to quit doing that, let’s make sure we listen when they raise concerns. And if YOU have concerns, make sure you feel heard, otherwise you might just find yourself full of rage for something you once loved.
Keep the hope alive. This could be a beautiful transformation. I DO feel heard by leadership right now. So let’s make sure we are using our voices and addressing concerns and working together to build a beautiful new chapter for ourselves and for the Satanists to come.