Brian McLaren, noted writer and speaker, featured prominently at the 2013 Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina. Since the August 7-10 event is marketed towards the Evangelical Left, it is no surprise that the leading voice of emergence Christianity would share his opinions and insights during the conference. McLaren enjoyed the festival spotlight more than ever thanks to a live, on-stage interview by Krista Tippett of the public radio program On Being. In his comments, McLaren expressed great scorn for the evangelical establishment as well as traditionalists in general, especially when such groups enter the political arena.
Recalling his Plymouth Brethren upbringing, McLaren contended, “Fundamentalism wasn’t as ugly 50 years ago as it is now.” Tippett sympathized, declaring that the 1980s evangelical re-entrance into public life brought “trauma” that Christians still suffer from today. “There was a silent majority that was so embarrassed,” she wistfully remembered. “Evangelicals became a mouthpiece for a certain kind of Republicanism,” McLaren grumbled, “And they changed Republicanism for the worse.”
In his interview, McLaren concerned himself with modernism, a “colonized…European form of Christianity.” He blamed European missionaries and settlers for asserting to natives, “You all have a story; we have a system [that is universal].” “We’re probably at our worst when we present our faith not as a story but a system,” he surmised. The emergent guru finds solace in a postmodern Christianity, which rejects both a nationalism with a post-colonialist perspective and “this crazy European idea of monoreligious cultures…a Christian country” thanks to post-Holocaust concerns.
The Wild Goose regular hopes that postmodern Christianity will usher in a new era of interreligious dialogue. “God votes against sameness and for diversity,” he enthused. “Religious hostility is one of the greatest threats to human survival,” he concluded, “A different kind of interfaith dialogue happens when you’re not an imperial military player.”
Nevertheless, stubborn holdouts remain, embarrassing McLaren and his fellow postmodern believers. “We have a Catholic priesthood more concerned with keeping women out of the priesthood as the world is destroyed by carbon gases,” the speaker complained, “We have evangelicals with the audacity to say that homosexual people are ruining marriage. I think anyone who says that should be laughed off the stage. Heterosexual people do that on their own, thanks.”
Later on in the interview, Tippett asked McLaren about his officiating at his gay son’s same-sex commitment ceremony. The author warned that, in conservative evangelical circles, “a certain way of interpreting the Bible is what [gives] you power.” He likened biblical arguments against same-sex marriage to the infamous “curse of Ham” case for race-based chattel slavery. McLaren empathized with many Christians who reason, “If I accept my son, I reject my father.” On the other hand, the response against the commitment ceremony from the conservative evangelical community was anemic. The emergent leader reasoned, “I was already out of the camp by then and didn’t experience much blow-back.”
Strangely, when Tippett inquired whether McLaren identified himself as evangelical or not, he answered in the affirmative. The Wild Goose favorite explained that he still believes the Bible matters, God is speaking, there is Good News, and it is worth sharing. How this answer fits with his hermeneutic of textual suspicion and his hyper-inclusive approach to religion remains unknown. While some may strongly affirm McLaren’s response, many others will probably scratch their heads in confusion.