Post-op on the “Wild Goose Festival”

Several weeks ago, I wrote about a conference that was to take place in North Carolina called the “Wild Goose Festival.” News reports and the advance promo material made it out to be a kind of would-be-Woodstock for Emergent church types. The speaker line-up was a list of progressive all-stars: Brian McLaren, Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, Tony Jones, and many others. Musicians included Derek Webb, Jennifer Knapp, and others.

I didn’t attend the conference, but someone from The Economist (of all magazines!) did. According to the report, about 1,500 people showed up, and they included “artists and musicians, nonconformists, post-Christians, non-Christians, disaffected evangelicals and a liberal evangelical subset known as the ’emergent’ church.” It looks like the event turned out to be just as radical as it was advertised—perhaps even more so. Here’s a brief description of what went on:

Instead of Bible studies, there were labyrinth walks. Instead of praise-and-worship music, there was hymn-singing in a beer garden and a bluegrass liturgy presided over by a tattooed female Lutheran minister. Visitors were greeted with buckets of water in which to baptise themselves, and tubs of mud to remind them that “dust thou art”I was . (In Britain, the mud is usually underfoot.) Lecture topics ranged from sex trafficking and social justice to authority in the church and interfaith relations. Visitors could learn from Tom Prasada-Rao, a singer, how to chant “Om” and “Hallelujah Hare Krishna”, or hear Paul Fromberg, a pastor from San Francisco, talking about his 2005 wedding to another man. “God is changing the church through the bodies of gay men,” Mr Fromberg told a packed session on human sexuality. Also under discussion was “religious multiple belonging”—in other words, belonging to a clutch of different faiths at once.

Brian McLaren linked to some pictures of the conference, and looking at them also gives you a good feel of what the conference was about. Frank Schaeffer wrote a piece for the Huffington Post describing what it was like to be there with the other conference goers:

We understood each other, understood why it was a big deal that some of us were gay, open and happy in spite of everything, understood why some of us still wanted to follow Jesus, even though the world we came from — far right, hate-and-fear-driven wacko religion — had done its best to turn Jesus into Attila the Hun and/or Michele Bachmann.

There were several open discussions of gender and sexuality at the meeting. Tony Jones describes the impact these discussions had on him:

Based on my experience on this blog and at the Wild Goose Festival, a lot of Christians really want to talk about sexuality; and… many Christians are ready for our conversations about sexuality to expand beyond “what to do with the gays,” and instead have a more fully-orbed dialogue about sexuality and human identity.  I also know that, for the first time in my life I’ve met Christians who are in “open” marriages or are practicing polyamory — and I’m committed that my theological/ethical response to them be both Christian and pragmatic/realistic.

I think that Tony Jones’ remarks may be the saddest of all. He has not only reaffirmed his support for gay relationships among Christians. He has also spoken of open marriages and polyamory as faithful expressions of what it means to follow Jesus.

I think these articles tell you everything you need to know about the “Wild Goose Festival.” It’s by and large former evangelicals leaving the evangelical faith for a mess of pottage known as theological liberalism. As Machen argued nearly 100 years ago, liberal Christianity is no Christianity at all. And therein is the tragedy.

UPDATE: I just found out that Christians for Biblical Equality planned to have a booth at the Wild Goose Festival (see here, here, and here). I can think of a number of CBE’ers who will not appreciate this association. What I am wondering is who at CBE thought this would be a good idea.

[Image Credit: Adam Moore]


  • Ranger

    Frank Schaeffer basically admitted his atheism in the article quoted. There were other atheist speakers like Peter Rollins along with speakers of various non-Christian faiths. Fortunately, most people see right through it (like the Economist). Also, I think it’s fortunate that the turnout wasn’t so great.

    Unsurprisingly the musicians included the agnostic David Bazan, lesbian Jennifer Knapp and provocateur, Derek Webb.

    I can’t see this festival appealing to anyonebut post-evangelicals. Your typical mainliners weren’t there, only your former evangelical ones (McLaren, Jones, etc).

  • Dillon

    Yuck. Where was Rob Bell?

    About the only thing, to me, that would have been remotely worth this would be seeing David Wilcox. Rusty old American dream and Eye of the hurricane are longtime favorite songs of mine. Otherwise though..whew.

  • Darius

    I don’t even know why this event gets mentioned… attended by a handful of people, many of them perverts or just plain crazy… doesn’t sound particularly newsworthy to me. It’s definitely not new.

  • yankeegospelgirl

    How saddening and sickening. “God is nowhere?”

    Darius, I sympathize with your point, but I think Denny and others have mentioned it because it really encapsulates where the evangelical church is going. It gathers all the bad influences you can think of all in one place.

  • JohnnyM

    yankeegirl it could also read “God is Now Here”.

    My heart breaks when I read how they believe these lies and deceptions.

  • yankeegospelgirl

    Oh, okay. It was all run together so I couldn’t tell. That’s a little better I guess… still doesn’t change the horribly twisted and deceptive nature of the gathering.

    Oh yes, and I’m not at all surprised to see Frankie Schaeffer making an appearance. He sure is doing a great job of trampling on his parents’ memory.

  • Darius

    The evangelical Church, YGG? Do you mean the Emergent church? The evangelical Church is doing fine… I don’t think many of those who attended this event would consider themselves evangelical. Many of them openly hate the term.

  • yankeegospelgirl

    Well I paused a little over the right descriptive term, because you’re right that there are still solid evangelical churches out there. At the same time, I know of people who would definitely describe themselves as evangelicals, yet are fans of Rob Bell, just because they don’t know better. So in the sense that some evangelicals are gradually become more emergentist, that’s where I was going with the thought. But you are right that the leaders in the emergent movement would despise the term “evangelical.”

  • Donald Johnson

    It looks like it was a total mishmash.

    The sign in the post can be read in 2 ways. Which way did you read it first?

    My first was God is nowhere; my second was God is now here.

  • Kevin C

    I guess D Webb has decided to no longer “say words that rattle our nerves like sin”…..wonder if he would still say “faith alone now?”

  • Ryan K

    Truly sad. What is really ironic though is that so much of this is reactionary and has made the group of attenders quite Pharisaical while claiming to rebel against such mentalities. Self-righteousness by hating of conservative politics. Self-righteousness by approving and participating in un-biblical sexual behaviors. Self-righteousness by dismissing traditional doctrine or even God’s existence.

    My heart breaks for these people because I am sure they have been hurt by Christians and Christian cultures that preached law and moralism instead of grace and the Gospel. I have some friends that swim in this circle and I have found they are harder to reach then most secular people, but I know that what still is most attractive and compelling to them is robust theology that is saturated by grace and Gospel-freedom.

  • CG

    The sign is *intended* to be ambiguous and read both ways.

    The entire movement is the “seeds that fell among thorns”. The cares of the world have choked the word.

    Tony Jones’ praise for polyamory came after he was accused earlier in the month of not being sufficiently pro-gay. His reaction? To prove how open-minded he is by agreeing with the gay atheist, Dan Savage, that monogamy is unrealistic.

    I can only wonder what his wife (whom he married last Wednesday) thinks about this sentiment.

    Lord, open their eyes.

  • Kelley Kimble

    For every Frankie Schaeffer who has run away from the church, I wonder how many of us who grew up in non-churched homes have run to the church (me, for instance). It’s understandable why Bakker has turned out as he has, since his parents troubles were so public and so criminal. But with Schaeffer, I don’t get it. He alleged that his father could be “abusive” but others who knew the family well said that was an exaggeration. I feel sorry for people, also, who give in to sin. Knapp’s music was much more theological when she was still fighting it. I wonder if there is any way to bring these people back, or if they never were part of the Body in the first place. This event sounds like a breeding ground for depression; a kind of netherworld straddling a fence between faith and atheism. A random wind could blow it either way, but not likely in the direction of faith.

  • Kelley Kimble

    Yes, Darius – what a powerful passage. They don’t seem to acknowledge that many of us have been in the shoes they are in and made it past the struggle against sexual sin. When I committed to follow Christ, I asked Him to help me overcome some sinful patterns that I had allowed to take control of my life and He has been faithful to do just that. It wasn’t easy but it was so worth the struggle.

  • Ryan K

    I am one of those also Kelly. No exposure to church growing up and when I became a Christian in high school, I feel in love with the church.

    I do find it interesting that most of the people attending these POMO type gatherings are filled with kids from religious upbringings and not those of us who grew up in the world of secularism and no church.

  • Laura

    Thanks for the link to my blog. I am getting lots of hits. I hope some might kindly read my perspective. Not everyone who attended Wild Goose is “a former evangelical leaving the evangelical faith for a mess of pottage known as theological liberalism.” It is hard to get much more conservative than me, yet I attended Wild Goose and am still glad that I did. Yes, some things were clearly outside of theological orthodoxy or violated biblical morality. But not all. And is it right to completely isolate ourselves from people with views we disagree with?? Can we reach people with the true Gospel if we shun them, and label them?? Shouldn’t we have the humility to learn from others or at least try to understand where they are coming from? We can learn from those we disagree with. They aren’t wrong about everything. AND WE AREN’T RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING.

    Although I am a conservative Evangelical, I feel increasingly rejected by traditional evangelicals for a variety of reasons. The Neo-Reformed camp in particular seems OBSESSED with “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood” and forcing people to fit into strictly defined roles.

    By the way, at Wild Goose I encountered much grace and kindness. I heard one speaker emphasize that we need to show grace to all including conservative Evangelicals who believe in Biblical inerrancy. This is how you build bridges. Why is that so many conservative Evangelicals seem gifted at building walls, ostracizing, calling names, and marginalizing people??? We are driving people away from the Savior.

  • Kelley Kimble

    Good points, Laura, and I will gladly visit your blog. I am all for bridges and dialogue, but it’s been my experience that the ostracizing, name-calling and marginalizing goes both ways. I recently made a post on my own blog about theological differences that probably will not be resolved until The Lord returns, but I am weary of explaining why I eat shellfish to people who are convinced that Biblical sexual morality is outdated or based on “ignorance”, comparing it to the OT dietary codes.

  • Kamilla


    I’m sorry you are so deeply mislead. Anyone who makes common cause with CBE is, by definition, not conservative. They dance around the edges of calling God “mother”, one of their bloggers (who I believe has commented above on thus thread) denies the Trinity as well as espousing a gnostic view of Christ. Others involved with CBE hold similar views, including one of the leaders of the Denver chapter who is also a speaker at their conference this summer.

    I could go on, but I think that’s enough to prove my point that CBE is far from conservative.

  • Darius

    Thanks for the comment, Laura, and I agree. However, I’ve seen much more personal vitriol from the Emergent folks than directed toward them. Tony Jones ran me off of his blog because I didn’t agree with him in my comments. He called me lots of names. The hatred comes from those who hate Christ, which are many in the Emergent church.

  • Ryan K

    I don’t think anyone on here is against building bridges Laura. Nor is there a bunch of name calling going on here.

    I would love to hear your thoughts about what this festival was all about? What exactly did they unite around? Was there any defining values, or just the value of valuing whatever it is that you value?

  • Laura

    Kamilla, Please go to the CBE site and read their official statements. I am sorry, but you seem deeply mislead about the organization CBE. Certainly CBE can not police and control all their members. I am sure there are some members with aberrant views. (Probably every organization or group has some “off” members.) But it is unfair to malign CBE based on a handful of exceptions. For the record, I fully believe in the Nicene Creed and the Council of Chalcedon. I am not gnostic. And I definitely do NOT think of God as mother.

  • paul


    Some folks from my church went. They actually were quite fond of the hymn-sing in the beer garden, and had good things to say about it. Then again, our church has VIP parking for hybrids, and the college that my wife went to is catching grief for refusing to play the National Anthem at sporting events. So, there you go.

    All said, though, reading that report made me sad. Labyrinths are pagan and have no use in a Christian setting, no matter how open. Saying that Christians should be open to other religions isn’t just a slap in the face to Christianity, it’s a slap in the face to the other religions, too. We have a holy book, and we should use it. I can get with the assumption that Paul was talking directly to the church at Corinth when he said that women shouldn’t speak in church. But there’s a big difference between questioning the role that women should have in the modern church and calling Christianity “bronze age mythology.” I am all for building bridges, and wish that conservatives and liberals would stop bashing each other and appreciate the fact that we’re all Christians, first and foremost. But this was a bridge too far. WAY too far.

    And, Denny, finally…if you wanted a more conservative push there, you should have gone. Take yourself out of the conversation and the conversation cannot turn in your direction. And, really, if the conservatives were not there to call out the blasphemy that sounds like it went on there, they have ABSOLUTELY no right to complain about it. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, right?

  • Kamilla


    I am extraordinarily familiar with CBE and am not the one who is mistaken. I am not here referring to a few individuals that might not reflect the organization. I am talking about people like Mimi Haddad and Vaun Swanson who is an invited speaker at their conference this year as well as their official bloggers – you know the writers they publish on The Scroll?

    If you doubt me, and I beg Denny’s forbearance here, you are welcome to contact me through my blog.

  • Laura

    Darius states “The hatred comes from those who hate Christ, which are many in the Emergent church.” – I am certainly not Emergent, and in no way defend Emergent beliefs. Yet, to say that Emergents “hate Christ”?? This does not seem quite fair nor quite accurate.

    For anyone interested…As someone who attended Wild Goose… I heard Jim Wallis of Sojourners speak twice. He is certainly not a heretic. Some may disagree with his political approach. But his talks were mainly about helping the poor from a biblical perspective. God does care about the poor you know. (Something I rarely hear from more traditional Evangelicals.) I also heard Shane Claiborne give a challenging talk on the life of Jesus and God’s grace. Nothing was heretical about this talk. I participated in a hymn singing event – where we sang all very traditional, older hymns from Fanny Crosby to Martin Luther to Isaac Watts. I also heard Lynn Hybels (wife of Bill Hybels of Willow Creek) speak – she shared her testimony of how she went through a period of doubting her faith and returned to Christ. Hardly is Lynne Hybels a heretic.

    But, yes, there were speakers or singers (and attendees) with heretical views or views that contradicted biblical sexual morality. I listened to some of these talks. I interacted with some of these people. Taking the time to actually listen to someone else can be a helpful experience. It can help us understand where they are coming from. Sometimes the “enemy” is actually a nice person. Their perspective can help us see our weak spots. We do have weak spots. We are not perfect and right about everything.

    People who disagree with us are people too, for whom Christ died. If we only have stereotypes, and don’t see people as people and instead label them…we will never reach them for Christ. Christ interacted with many people during His life on earth…many were considered questionable and inappropriate to be seen with. Yet, Christ risked his reputation to reach out to them. I aim to do the same.

  • Jim W

    Paul and Laura, You both make statements that sound like conservative Christians were not in attendance at this silliness. You both claim there is not enough bridge-building and too much name calling. You are both wrong. There was at least one conservative Christian group there who were escorted off the premises and told not to come back. They were not picketing or doing anything obnoxious (think Fred Phelps, etc). All they were doing was preaching the gospel. Quietly and peacefully. No drama. No histrionics. No fanfare. Told to leave. Such a wonderful, “christian” group, that Wild Goose bunch. A group of supposed christians who don’t want to hear the gospel. So much for bridge-building. Sorry I don’t have links to prove this, but try Ken Silva’s blog. I think that’s where I first saw this article.

  • Darius

    Laura, I don’t put Wallis and Hybels under the “Emergent” label since I’ve never seen them claim that for themselves. Claiborne is kinda, but barely. I’m primarily talking about the Emergent leadership (Pagitt, McLaren, Jones). They despise evangelical Christians because, deep down, they despise Christ as He truly is.

    Wallis promotes an unbiblical approach to the poor and economics. I agree that evangelicals don’t “talk” about the poor enough, but they DO more for the poor than most liberal Christians (see charitable giving data for more on this). Evangelicals should talk about the poor more, but this is how they should talk about the issue:

    Claiborne promotes a new monasticism that is equal parts Christianity and works righteousness. His grasp of economics also leaves much to be desired. This interview of him reveals his poor grasp of Biblical truth as well:

  • Laura

    Ryan, you are definitely not “name calling” – but unfortunately I do see it in this thread of responses. I appreciate your comment that “My heart breaks for these people because I am sure they have been hurt by Christians and Christian cultures that preached law and moralism instead of grace and the Gospel.” Me too. Well said.

  • Laura

    Hey Darius! I appreciate your response and clarification. I also don’t completely agree with Wallis’ approach either. And I agree there are problems with some aspects of the new monasticism movement.

    By the way, I was not implying that the people I mentioned were Emergent, but was just giving an overview of my time at the festival. I probably should have split the post into two.

    I did hear McLaren speak as well, twice. As said, I am not emergent. I did agree with about 75% of what he said in these particular talks. We can learn from the Emergent folks in my opinion. They do have some valid points. But I took issue with the other 25% or so! He also maligned and mis-characterized an establishment I am involved with, which I did not appreciate.

  • Ryan K

    Laura says:

    “But his talks were mainly about helping the poor from a biblical perspective. God does care about the poor you know. (Something I rarely hear from more traditional Evangelicals.)”

    This is one of the longest running misnomers out there.
    Conservatives give more to charity and the poor than any other demographic in America. The percentages only go up when you look specifically at religious middle to lower class conservatives.

    Liberals on the other hand give the lowest percentage of their incomes. So if you are saying that “talk” is more important than actions than yes, maybe conservatives lose, but they certainly don’t on the action front.

    Besides, conservative Christians fund millions of kids through compassion, send out tens of thousands of missionaries, pay for thousands of rescue missions around the USA, and give billions away in benevolence every year.

    I could go on and on, but the truth is that conservative Christians DO a lot in this area that no one gives them credit for. I am not trying to be confrontational Laura, but look at the Passion movement with Louie Giglio, Rick Warren’s church in Africa, Bill Hybels in the city of Chicago, and David Platt and Francis Chan’s recent writings, and you find this complaint is pretty hollow.

    Also, Christianes, people can share without attending something. I can tell people my thoughts about D-Day but never attended… This is always a red herring argument that really is not logically valid in anyway.

  • Laura

    Ryan,I feel like my thoughts are being taken out of context. The blog post and some of the responses imply, indicate, or out rightly say that everything at Wild Goose was heresy. I was just giving examples of some of the speakers I heard at Wild Goose (such as Wallis and Hybels) who are clearly not heretics. In addition, a talk on helping the poor is not heretical either. That was my point.

    I was NOT intending to make a point about Evangelicals and the poor. I agree that Evangelicals help the poor more than they are given credit for. You give excellent examples of Evangelical leaders who are doing just that. Yet, among “everyday” Evangelicals (not certain key leaders) I still think there is a significant lack of concern and involvement with helping the poor! Evangelicals also give way less than they could be. Charitable giving stats do show that Christians give more than non-Christians, but even the amount Christians give is WAY below a tithe (10%) level. (Not making a point about tithing nor implying it is obligatory.)

  • Darius

    Fair enough, Laura, thanks for the comments. For my part, I tend toward more of a 2 Peter 2 approach for those like McLaren and his ilk. He may have some good things to say, but where he is wrong, he is terribly wrong and leading people to hell. When that’s the case, I don’t really care if he has anything good to say, and the Bible warns us to stay away from such people. The reason is people can be enticed into believing their lies.

  • Ryan K

    Good stuff Laura, and I am sure not everyone there was a “heretic.”

    I have no interest in being a heresy-hunter or anything like that.

    Though I am still curious what the objective of this festival was supposed to be? What was the theme of the people gathering there? I ask sincerely and would love to hear your thoughts.

    Also, what was CBE wanting to do there?

  • Kamilla


    That’s the direction CBE is taking. They’ve been involved with Cornerstone for some years now and Mimi Haddad blogs with Jim Wallis’s God’s Politics Blog for several years now.

  • The Seeking Disciple

    I wish I would have known about this event. I would have went and preached the gospel to these pagans in the parking lot. I would have loved to take the Word of God and stand in the fields and preach that Jesus is Lord in that place. I know I would have been attacked perhaps even physically and viewed as a nut case but how these people need to hear the Law of God preached to them (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

  • Sam

    An absurd gathering of silly hippies and hipsters. Hardly worthy of such attention. Give them their hookah and let reasonable people do the talking.

  • Paul

    @Sam and YGG –

    Darn those people that don’t think just like us! We can’t wait til we’re older so we can tell those darned kids to get off of our lawns!

  • Sam

    @Paul…it has nothing to do with those who think or do not think like I do. I routinely dialogue with atheists and secularists for whom I have more respect than the people who put on the “Wild Goose Festival.” Out right unbelief can have impressive intellectual foundations. This is just an Emergent Woodstock, where the emperor clearly has no clothes on.

  • Paul

    And the problem with hippies is?

    I will agree that from the Economist’s report, it sounded like a mish-mash for the sake of mish-mashing, which sounds like a waste of time to me (see my post above). However, my problem is that the conservatives don’t make room at the table for a McLaren, a Jones or a Claiborne. And they certainly have nothing but disdain for someone like Jim Wallis, who will tell you he’s quite the evangelical. So, they go off and they do their own thing…TO THE DETRIMENT OF EVERYONE. Not only is it bad for liberals who are not at all checked and balanced (why do you think I read sites like this?) but it’s bad for the conservatives, too. Even as Darius said above, someone like Shane Claiborne might put too much faith in works, but then again, those works might just be a very zealous manifestation of a well grounded faith too. And the problem is, conservatives don’t know, because they’re so busy shunning the folk that aren’t JUST LIKE THEM that no dialogue is ever pursued. And that’s a huge tragedy. At least to me.

    Now, if Jim W is right and some conservatives were driven off the reservation at Wild Goose, then the liberals are no better than the conservatives that they strive to be different from. If I’d seen that, I’d have raised a massive stink, I can tell you that much.

    And as for calling it an Emergent Woodstock…the original was a cultural icon that introduced the music world to Santana and Crosby Stills Nash and Young. If Wild Goose ends up having even 1/10 of the cultural cache that Woodstock has had, then that’s not something to mock, that’s something to take note of. That said, what made Woodstock such a big thing was the fact that it was 600K people that were all gathered for one purpose, and that doesn’t at all seem like what went down at Wild Goose in the slightest. So, that needing to take note of might have to wait a year or two.

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