Not a Christian Refugee

Nadia Bolz Weber“I come from a conservative/fundamentalist/strict Christian background,” was the common refrain at the Wild Goose Festival again this year.  Though, this year when I heard it, I was struck with the question of why I was at the Wild Goose since I don’t feel like I am a Christian refugee.

I come from neither a fundamentalist nor conservative background. Growing up in California and being United Methodist since I was 12, the God and religion I was introduced to was a caring, all encompassing, socially engaged faith. Despite what some of our more conservative United Methodist members would try to tell us, I grew up being told that that God would not exclude anyone based on race, sexuality, economics, or immigration status.

If I am already from a progressive movement, what draws me and what does this new progressive movement hold for my spiritual development. If, as religious historian Phyllis Tickle says the entirety of American Christianity is in a state of flux, what is pushing mainlines to rethink church? Is it just the push of evangelicals entering into “our” social justice space? Or is it something more? The cynic would say its the decline in numbers and loss of money that is primarily pushing at least the United Methodist national headquarters to “rethink” church. Perhaps it’s just a flashy media campaign to join the evangelical dissidents or to act as a refuge for those refugees from the more conservative movement and churches.

Numerous stories and publications from conservative refugees would have us believe that it is only the fundamentalist & evangelical movement, that is rethinking church.  I was able to engage in a good conversation with a conservative blogger who was there to critique the “progressive hot bed,” that is the Wild Goose Festival. He said that the progressives at the Wild Goose Festival were primarily, “reactionary to their conservative tradition,” like rebellious teenagers.  When I asked him why mainline churches, who may not have that history, are part of the new progressive movement? He said that their participation was more evolutionary, was “the next step.”

I’m not sure if I buy that, but it does have me question if, as I do believe Christianity is shifting, what is pushing people like me and my participation in these movements? And also what still rubs me wrong about the movement?  These are questions I want to explore in more depth, and therefore will take more than one post.  So for this time let’s focus on just one thought.

One of the things that I love about the Wild Goose is being able to hear and talk about the emerging theological conversations happening. While my historically progressive movement focused on academic arguments, we rarely engaged in debates with each other. As Brian McLaren said in one of his closing comments, in cross denominational conversations mainlines are unable to talk about difference.  He explained that within the mainline tradition people are so concerned with being rude, or isolating the “other” that rarely do people state what they actually believe.  Whereas, McLaren has had the experience of being welcomed as the evangelical into these communities. He noticed that it allows conversation to occur around theological differences, because you can come right out and say we don’t agree on ‘x’ but what do we agree on.

I would add that the difference’s between evangelical’s and mainline traditions are more broadly known. Whereas the differences within the mainline traditions is much more elusive, especially to non clergy, therefore making honest debate, much harder. We don’t even know our differences.

The Methodist church is engaged in a debate within itself about the future of the church and specifically our stance on LGBT issues.  I think that most of the debate is centered on the same arguments, and are therefore not making much movement, only continuing the polarization of our community. It reminds me of an app that came out a few years ago, that would allow the user to input the fundamentalist argument for homosexuality in the church. The app would then tell you what the counterpoint is to their comment, which would make for a funny, yet, uninteresting and unproductive debate.

The Wild Goose Festival as an expression of the broader cultural conversations happening within Christianity, represents a confluence of voices which are trying to engage these arguments in new ways, that truly bring reconciliation. They are joining the American conversations that are tired of the “us versus them” mentality.   The conversations that create the Purple state movement.  The movement that wishes to see the debate between Red and Blue states/people encompass more than the mere automatic exchange of party lines.

Denying our theological differences within our own mainline traditions, has denied us the ability to progress.  We have been caught in the us vs. them culture.  The Wild Goose invites me to speak with people, whom I would normally define as the “other” in theological debates.  We simply become a brother or sister trying to understand our deeper calling in this world of how to create and be the loving community of Christ.

11 thoughts on “Not a Christian Refugee

  1. This is way over my head. I guess the reason I became a Methodist after having been a Baptist and a Catholic was I believe I joined “a community of open hearts, open minds and open doors.” This is what I want and what I believe. I am thankful for people who point out other considerations, and I treasure their right to express their opinions. I am thankful for your blog, Cassandra.

  2. Pingback: Wild Goose Bloggers « Practicing Resurrection

  3. You truly put together quite a few outstanding ideas in ur posting, “Not
    a Christian Refugee | Contemplating Space”.
    I will be coming back again to ur web site soon.
    Thx ,Marta

  4. Thanks for your thoughts & experience, Cassandra. I reflect positively on my own upbringing in the Episcopal tradition, and am ordained 28 years now. I’ve had similar feelings as yours about my interactions with emergent communities. Sometimes I just feel my part is to welcome folks to the party – that is, to affirm for post-fundamentalists that there’s a thread of faith that is and has been more affirming & accepting than the one they’ve known. My own tradition is struggling mightily with its institutionalism, true, but it allowed me the room for questions & exploration that parallels the post-modern tent revival that I felt @ Wild Goose. I too am no refugee, but am glad for the company…

  5. Greetings Cassandra! Thank you for this post from inside Wild Goose. I have longed to go to this festival but a) did not want to go by myself, b) couldn’t find anyone who would take the risk of spending the money and not liking it and c) am also not a refugee from fundamentalist/evangelical teachings or abuse. I am an aspiring Episcopal priest who has been a youth leader for 12 years and am a Phyllis Tickle devotee. I’ve read Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones. But as with youth mission trips, I would be afraid there would be no one to continue the dialogue with when I returned home and I need that in order to continue to be creative and form new patterns of worship, fellowship, prayer, formation and service.

    Right now, I am planning to try and recruit a group to attend next summer. Any thoughts about follow up to the experience?

    Thanks and Godspeed,

    Kim

  6. Thanks for the shout out, Cassandra. I appreciate your perspective on the Wild Goose and what it can bring to mainline rethinking. I am in the curious position of having been brought up in Methodism and not really knowing what we believed then moving into a vibrant evangelicalism and now into whatever this new emerging hybrid space becomes. I find myself drawn to more liturgy than ever…

  7. Hi, Cassandra,
    You make me think! Life is not static. Living is dynamic. Christ directs a progressive, progressing path with trust in Omnipresent God. It’s all the expanding parts with unlimited growing in understanding and increasing knowledge.
    Make room for joy for all with no exclusion. in God’s grace and care, Doris

  8. The fight among the pews in mainline denominations is real. It is a fight between those who have held institutional power — and were happy to beat their fellow worshippers about the heads and shoulders with it — since the middle and end of the 20th century; and those who will be tasked to shepherd the Church into the next millennium. The old ways don’t work anymore. I don’t think they ever DID work particularly well, for any Christian who questioned whether local church authority meshed with what Jesus told us to do.

    Those in my own congregation who insisted that their way was the right way, and the only way, and that all must adhere strictly to it or be cast into the outer darkness, aren’t here anymore. They’ve betaken themselves to other congregations. Those in my own congregation who are trying our durnedest to follow The Jesus Way are talking theology in the pews, and welcoming strangers, and sitting in worship and working beside believers with whom we may disagree on many matters. The important thing is that we agree on the important things: All are welcome at the table of Jesus the Christ. All of us fall short of perfection. All of us need each other. No one can do this God thing in isolation.

  9. I felt very similarly about Wild Goose–it seemed that everybody there had some story of an abusive fundamentalist upbringing. I was certainly more conservative in my teenage years, and more evangelical, but I don’t think of myself as a “refugee” from that–just that I’ve evolved into a standard progressive mainline Christian (ordained DOC, worked in UMC and UCC contexts).

    I’ll be curious to see where the WGF goes after folks get that stuff said. Will it become a hotbed for justice work? A swap shop for theology? Just a fun get-together? As many of my mainline peers will tell you, the therapy phase can’t last forever. At some point you have to start saying what you *do* believe, and not just what you don’t believe.

    That said, it feels like a moment of great cross-pollenation in Christianity. So maybe that’s Wild Goose’s role–to provide an arena in which lots of different kinds of folks can share ideas.

  10. Lovely piece Cassandra. Enjoyed our conversations in Uganda and it was good to “hear your voice.” As someone who started out in a very fundamentalist southern church until my folks noticed some dangerous propensities in their five year old and made the shift to a more progressive and shall I say intellectual Presbyterian church, I’ve merged a number of philosophies and spiritual paths into a pretty wide ranging, eclectic spiritual base. I think in part what is happening is that with much of the research in quantum physics and spirituality we are seeing some interesting overlaps where science, religion and spirituality merge and we are beginning to move to a wider perspective about God in general. Perhaps what is happening in part relates to a growing discovery the God is so much bigger than denomination, dogma and type-casting and goes far beyond what the teachings of or youth conveyed.

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