Predatory Christians Give Fake ‘Free Hugs’ at Bedford’s Pagan Pride [COMMENTARY]

The goal was to get contact information to harass people into being ‘saved.’
Photo credit: Jim Chaykowski

By Ginger “Stormwalker” Marshall

I am a pansexual transgender witch. Right-wing evangelical Christians think I’m a dozen kinds of evil and need to be saved.

Five thousand pagans celebrated our community on August 18-20 during the 14th annual Cleveland Pagan Pride on the Square in Bedford, Ohio. Occasionally a few Christians show up to protest, but they usually stay on the sidewalk across the street and we ignore them.

This year, on Saturday afternoon, a small group showed up offering “supernatural hugs.” They were not vendors or performers. They did not ask permission and they did not cause a visible disruption. They pretended to be caring friends.

Turns out, they were not. Sunday evening Cheryl Fritz from Euclid, Ohio, posted on Facebook about giving evangelical-Christian “supernatural hugs” at Cleveland Pagan Pride. She also said she had been at Cleveland’s Pride in the CLE giving “mom hugs.”

She does not give hugs. I mean, she goes through the motions, but her openly stated goal is to create a false sense of connection so she can talk people into giving up their contact information so she can attempt to proselytize them.

It gets worse. Fritz brags she always sneaks into events, dramatically calling it going “under the radar.” She claims she’d have been thrown out of Pagan Pride if we caught her. It was totally made up, for drama.

Everyone is welcome at Cleveland Pagan Pride. We ask you to be a good guest, not cause problems, disrupt or harm others. Now it turns out we must also insist people be honest about who they are and what they intend.

Beyond lying to come in – and lying about why she lied – Fritz and her friends lied about what they were doing. They initiated physical touch – she says with permission – while “praying silently” for the person, and then asked carefully crafted questions designed to create a false sense of connection. She says her goal was to get their contact information to invite them to a “supernatural class” – another lie. She said the offer of a class was a ruse to proselytize them.

Many of us have experienced a version of that tactic. Religious zealots memorize formats with questions designed to elicit responses, each point of supposed agreement leading to the next. The so-called “Romans Road” based on verses in that New Testament book is one example; there are others. Fritz seems, according to her own description, to go beyond the usual manipulation and deeper into mind games to trap the unwary.

Why is this important to the LGBTQ+ community? Because Fritz bragged in her post she has also used this tactic at Cleveland’s Pride in the CLE and may be planning on taking it to Akron Pride and other events.

Comments on her post from other predatory Christians across the state and beyond showed others are already using variations of her deceptions. One guy shared his sign offering “anti- depression hugs.” Others copied the “mom hugs” ruse. She had over 150 Facebook responses from people cheering her on and vowing to do the same.

As the praise went on, her responses became increasingly grandiose. To hear her tell it, a revival with hollering in tongues and Benny Hinn-healing broke out on Bedford Square. (Look up Hinn. Lots of fun.)

Also, nothing like that happened.

I am angry. She is skilled in deception, but as a community elder, a priestess and a leader at Pagan Pride, I should have asked questions. Instead, I was distracted by the hundred other things that go with working a big event. Never again.

I am angry because Fritz and her followers used predatory lies and invaded a sacred space of joy and celebration. Their actions were and are inexcusable.

Finally, what makes me the angriest, is that so many pagans and queers have suffered religious abuse from people just like her. Seeking victims, she comes into my communities to cause harm, manipulating religious-abuse survivors, trying to entrap them again. That is absolutely unforgivable.

When you are at public events – especially gay or pagan events – pay attention. Harmful people are coming in. Don’t get snared. And don’t let others get taken, either.

Ginger “Stormwalker” Marshall is a priestess of Isis ordained in the Society of Aset Rising; a chaplain in the Sunflower Sisterhood of the Paratheo-Anametamystikhood of Eris Esoteric; and an elder holding the Keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood. She teaches witchcraft and diversity and has been known to enjoy a little good trouble.

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