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.