The tabletop role playing game Dungeons & Dragons (commonly referred to as D&D) and religion have never had the best relationship. Ever since its creation in the 80’s, religious organizations have been quick to condemn the simple hobby as something demonic and evil. Sure, the game involves creatures of demonic origin, but often the party of nerds- er adventurers are killing them to save the world, not worshiping them. And even if a player is involved with a demon, it’s usually a “relationship” built on known mistrust and inevitable betrayal, not praises or goat sacrificing. But when some people, especially Christians, start playing D&D, they worry for their eternal salvation. They think God will hate them for rolling the dice or that they might go to hell…
But then, well, they play the game and see the wacky shenanigans that can occur. There’s no demon summoning rituals or Satan worshiping. Most of the people who play it couldn’t hurt a fly even if they wanted to. Thankfully the outcry has died down a bit, the panic of 80’s settled and the wounds closing. People began seeing the creative beauty of the game, and it’s become a part of mainstream nerd culture.
And one of the new “converts” to the game is Pastor Bob Jordan, the Lead Pastor at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois.
You’d think Bob would condemn the game when asked about it, says the avoid it if you value your ticket to heaven, but he instead revealed something startling: He played and still plays D&D and loves it.
But how could this be? A man of God enjoying the game of the Devil himself?
First, let’s learn a bit about who Bob Jordan is. The head pastor at Northminster Presbyterian Church, he is a soft-spoken and caring man who makes everyone feel at home. He’ll ask you how your days is, genuinely listen to your answer, and continue a delightful conversation about anything, even D&D. After every service he stands at the doors and individually thanks everyone who comes through for attending. You might not guess it at first, given his gentle and emotional way of talking, but he is a graduate of the University of California in Los Angeles with a degree in Civil Engineering. He worked for the LA County Department of Public Works in their management training program for a while, and after rotating through their various departments and learning the industry, he eventually learned that it just wasn’t a career that he wanted to pursue.
“They were great people and I still have a lot of respect for them, but the job just didn’t fit me” he said.
Instead, he approached the College Pastor at the church he was attending and asked if he could participate in the leadership of the group, tentatively exploring how God wanted to use him in ministry.
He said, “I loved it. It had meaning and purpose. I felt like we were accomplishing wonderful things, things that had eternal significance. When I taught the students, I sensed things happening that were beyond my abilities. I enjoyed very much the task of putting together a talk.”
With this newfound love of ministry, he quit engineering and entered Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, where he started his education as a pastor. Soon after he transferred to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and became ordained as a pastor. He travelled around and eventually found his place at Northminster Presbyterian Church.
Bob has two sons, Matt and John. He described his first time with Dungeons and Dragons like one would watching their child in a play, happy to see his kids passionately enjoying something and showing talent. Their son, Matt, had gotten into D&D with some friends. Bob and his wife Vicky, wanting to support each family member’s interests, bought him some D&D source books for Christmas. And soon they were convinced to give the game a try.
He said, “It was strange at first, I’ll say that. I was used to board games that had a beginning and an end, with a winner being declared at the end. It took me a bit to warm up to the idea that D&D was more about the adventure and having fun with your squad along the way. Sure, you still wanted to avoid death and to get through the various challenges, but it is so different from something like Monopoly. I really liked the idea of working with your party rather than against them… Going into the game, I didn’t realize that developing a character was such a big piece of it. It also helped us that our son John really got into it, even acting out his decisions/moves. It was a blast.”
And from then on, he loved the game. He’s played a few times when he was invited, and every time he praises the game on how creative and imaginative it is, how people work together, and its ability to foster community and shared experiences. Geeks like Bob have the freedom to, well, be geeks and not feel judged for it. He even joked that D&D helps teach math, albeit simple addition.
When asked on any advice he could give to new players or young kids wanting to play, he responded,
“Choose to be vulnerable. Not only is that a good lesson for relationships and life in general, it opens the door in the game to have a lot of fun. I’d also say, take risks. The thing that trips me up when I’ve played is my tendency to want to ‘win’ and therefore to figure out the winning strategy. It’s far better to get into your character and to partner with other players’ and play out the scenario.”
A great man of faith, a hater of the peas (he was comically adamant that the vegetable was from the dark side), and a believer in the creativity and socialization of D&D. Bob Jordan is a fantastic example of the beauty of games like Dungeons and Dragons, and a sign that role playing games are getting the recognition they deserve.
Don’t believe me this guy’s a pastor? Him liking D&D too good to be true? Here’s a clip of him teaching the good word of God!