Left-Leaning 'Wild Goose' Festival Draws Ire of Evangelicals

The Wild Goose Festival, an ongoing four-day revival camp in North Carolina featuring music, yoga, liberal talk and embracing of gays and lesbians, is facing heat from evangelicals who say it is aimed at selling gnostic beliefs to the youth.

“Most Religious Left groups that advocated leftist policies in past generations are now in severe decline, and their activists are now targeting evangelical youth,” said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, which works to reaffirm the church’s biblical and historical teachings.

The Wild Goose, a Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit, is a “festival of justice, spirituality, music and the arts” to discover where justice and spirituality intersect, according to organizers, mostly from the Emerging Church Movement, who inaugurated the event on Shakori Hills in North Carolina’s Piedmont region Thursday.

But it is influenced by “gnostic beliefs that Christianity has repeatedly rejected,” the head of the Washington, D.C.-based institute said in a statement Friday. “Many ‘Wild Goose’ voices flatter themselves with fanciful dreams of sophistication and praise from secular elites. Their 1960s-style hoopla is supposedly updated for the 21st century. But ultimately this featherless old Wild Goose won’t fly.”

Modeled on a British Christian rock festival, Greenbelt, and nearly 10 years in the making, The Wild Goose Festival is an attempt to reimagine Christianity for the 21st century under a bigger, wider, more inclusive tent “to establish the premier venue for 20-somethings who love God but aren’t thrilled with institutional Christianity, particularly the religious right,” Washington, D.C.-based Religion News Service said.

Ken Silva, a Southern Baptist blogger from New Hampshire-based Apprising Ministries, agrees with Tooley. “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,” he said on his blog.

Those attending the conference are young tattooed evangelicals, musicians with instruments slung over their shoulders, gay Christians of all stripes and seasoned members of the Christian Left, most carrying backpacks, water bottles and sleeping bags, according to National Catholic Reporter.

The festival is open to all regardless of belief, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, denomination or religious affiliation, say members of the organizing committee, which includes: Mike King, CEO of the Youthfront ministry and executive editor of Immerse: A Journal of Faith, Life and Youth Ministry; Ian Cron, a speaker, retreat leader, Episcopal priest and author; and Joy Wallis, first women to be ordained as a priest in England.

Festival speakers include emergent Church leader Brian McLaren, pacifist activist Shane Claiborne, and author Jay Bakker, the pastor son of former televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. And the musicians invited to perform at Wild Goose are mainstream secular musicians who are Christian.

“Combining ‘justice’ issues with a vague ‘spirituality,’ the festival is also showcasing ‘evangelical progressives’ like Tony Campolo, a spiritual advisor to former President Bill Clinton during his impeachment scandal, and Sojourners chief Jim Wallis,” Tooley mentioned.

“In a melding of spirituality, music, story-telling and fellowship, Wild Goose began with a request that those gathered sprinkle water on each other as a form of baptismal renewal, and smear mud on each other as a reminder that all come from dust and to dust they shall return – and as a reminder that ‘we are all connected to the earth, and we are connected to one another,’ Wild Goose founder Gareth Higgins was quoted as saying.

Originating in the late 20th and early 21st century, the Emerging Church Movement has invited criticism from mainstream Christians.

In "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church," theologian D.A. Carson says the movement, which arose as a protest against the institutional church, modernism and seeker-sensitive churches, comprises those who believe the modes of expressing the Gospel should appeal to a postmodern mindset.

Many of the movement’s thinkers take a reductionistic view of modernism, are dismissive of confessional Christianity, and are reluctant to assert that Christianity is true and authoritative, the Carson says.

While evangelicals say the attempt to revive the Emerging Church Movement is doomed to yet another failure, Wild Goose proponents think it is “unstoppable.”

“In the spirit of vibrant, category-defying Celtic Christianity, we saw our desire embodied in the Celtic Church’s way of speaking about the enigmatic Holy Spirit: The Wild Goose, who wanders where she will. Who can tame her? No one. Far better it is to embark on a Wild Goose Chase, and see the terrain of our faith be transformed,” the organizers say on the festival’s website.

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