Left-leaning Christians to rally around 'Wild Goose'

June 17, 2011

DURHAM, N.C. (RNS) It's summer. It's hot. It's the South.
That must mean it's time for an old-fashioned camp meeting.

Next week (June 23-26), the bygone staple of the tent revival will
be reincarnated on a bucolic North Carolina farm as The Wild Goose
Festival. Nearly 10 years in the making, the festival is an attempt to
reimagine Christianity for the 21st century under a bigger, wider more
inclusive tent.

The four-day festival is expected to draw thousands of young campers
and some of the leading lights of the so-called Emergent Christianity
movement.

With musicians such as David Wilcox and Michelle Shocked, and
speakers such as Brian McLaren, Jay Bakker, and Shane Claiborne,
festival leaders hope to establish the premier venue for 20-somethings
who love God but aren't thrilled with institutional Christianity,
particularly the religious right.

"We want to look each other in the eye and say, `We may not agree on
everything but we're going to recognize our essential humanity,"' said
Mike Morrell, a blogger in Raleigh, N.C., and festival spokesman.

Festival planners are a diverse bunch. They include more traditional
evangelicals alongside emergent church leaders, neo-monastics and
progressive Christians. Organizers want to distance themselves from the
politicized versions of Christianity, and re-engage in social justice
work -- particularly prison reform, a topic of some of the sessions.
They will converge on Shakori Hills, a 72-acre tract of forest and
meadows in North Carolina's Piedmont region, better known as the site of
an annual roots music festival.

Wild Goose leaders share a conviction that there are multiple
streams of Christianity flowing into one river.

"We gather to learn what Jesus came to teach us, which is not how to
be a Christian, but how to be human," said festival organizer Gareth
Higgins, a writer and film critic based in Durham, N.C.

Unlike other high-profile Christian events, the Wild Goose Festival
will try to reverse the traditional dynamic between speakers and their
audience. At least 20 of the speakers will frame questions for the
audience and then sit among them as they listen to possible answers.
The festival is modeled on Greenbelt, a British Christian rock
festival now in its 37th year. The term "wild goose" is a Celtic
metaphor for the Holy Spirit: noisy, passionate, not easily tamed and
tending to flock together.

Already, the festival has drawn the ire of more conventional
evangelical bloggers who don't like its inclusive nature or openness to
gays and lesbians, though festival leaders have not taken any formal
positions on such issues.

"The wise Christian will have nothing to do with these neo-Gnostic
fools who've unbuckled themselves from the Word of God and have embarked
upon their Wild Goose Chase of subjective experience," wrote Southern
Baptist blogger Ken Silva of New Hampshire-based Apprising Ministries.

Although there are several other annual U.S.-based Christian music
festivals -- Creation, Cornerstone, Fishnet, to name a few -- Wild Goose
is pitching bigger theological stakes. Franciscan friar Richard Rohr
will lead a workshop; as will "recovering evangelical" writer Frank
Schaeffer, son of the 1970s evangelical icon Francis Schaeffer.

Unlike other Christian music festivals, the musicians invited to
perform at Wild Goose are not members of the praise-and-worship music
pantheon or even crossover artists. They are mainstream secular
musicians who happen to be Christian.

The festival's most impressive feat may be that all the speakers and
performers have waived their fees, essentially appearing for free.

"There's something moving here," said David LaMotte, a Raleigh
songwriter who works on peace issues for the North Carolina Council of
Churches, a co-sponsor of the event. "We've created a vision. I hope it
comes to pass."