An annual progressive Christian gathering that fretted for years about remaining in North Carolina is staying put for now outside of Asheville.
Muddy camp sites, sporadic thunderstorms and sweltering heat haven’t dissuaded participants at the Wild Goose Festival since its 2011 debut, but the sight of a Confederate battle flag has been almost too much to bear.
Loosely modeled after the Greenbelt Festival in the United Kingdom, Wild Goose describes itself as centered upon “spirit, justice, music, art”. A mix of older liberal Mainline Protestants and younger disaffected post-Evangelicals flock to the annual festival of workshops, performances and lectures in Hot Springs, North Carolina.
In past years the festival has featured a drag gospel performance, “neo-pagan” cosmic mass, and a chili cornbread Eucharist, among other spiritual innovations. But organizers are concerned that the setting may be unwelcoming.
North Carolina liberal political activist and perennial Wild Goose speaker Pastor William Barber proposed a boycott of the state during the 2016 “bathroom bill” controversy. Wild Goose organizers say that they considered relocating or placing the festival on hiatus, but there was no suitable alternate location “without equal or greater problems of its own.”
“We face some real challenges in rural North Carolina,” Wild Goose board members wrote this week in a letter to festival participants addressing “safety concerns”. “The presence of Confederate flags is very disturbing for many of us, making us wonder if these flags are intended as a ‘not welcome’ sign.”
The letter also noted that “spotty cell coverage adds to a sense of vulnerability”.
Cue dueling banjos from the 1972 film “Deliverance”.
“These drawbacks cause us real concern because our starting point is that the Wild Goose is committed to safe, hospitable, and welcoming spaces for all people in all of our gatherings, including and especially at our Hot Springs Festival,” the board wrote.
Never mind that the likelihood of being victimized by either a property crime or violent crime in rural Madison County – where Hot Springs is located – is significantly lower than in most of North Carolina.
Last year there were 1.83 violent crimes per 1,000 residents in Madison County, far lower than the North Carolina median of 3.72 violent crimes, or the U.S. national median of four violent crimes per 1,000 people.
At no point does the board address any actual public safety concerns such as crimes committed, verbal threats, or inability to access emergency services. But the Wild Goose board is ready to boldly stand in the face of an occasional sighting of a flag draped from a fencepost or pickup truck.
“We don’t feel right about letting Confederate flag-wavers succeed in intimidating us,” the board declares. “We believe that people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and the spiritually non-traditional have as much a right to be there as anyone else. So we’ve decided to stay in Hot Springs in 2018 and perhaps beyond as a voice and presence for change.”
While I haven’t had opportunity to personally survey the residents of Hot Springs or Madison County about their views concerning “the spiritually non-traditional,” nearby Asheville’s reputation as a progressive mecca makes it likely that residents here regularly encounter people with differing backgrounds and viewpoints.
With the Wild Goose Festival set to resume this coming July, it looks like the residents of Hot Springs will have plenty of opportunities to engage with the Religious Left.