Recently, I supped with a young, hipster evangelical leader. Someone you would know. Someone who runs large conferences. We had a nice time, but toward the end of our time together, I asked her a question that I figured I knew the answer to:
“You won’t have me or Doug or Brian speak at your events, will you?”
The answer, after some hemming and hawing, was “No.”
Here’s why I asked: Her conference, like many other evangelical conferences, has two categories of speakers: evangelical speakers and non-Christian speakers.
In other words, they’ll have Christians like Rick Warren and Mark Driscoll and Jo Saxton and Dave Kinnaman. They’ll have evangelicals who are disappointed in evangelicals, like Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo.
And they’ll have non-Christians like Malcolm Gladwell and Charlene Li and Seth Godin. They’ll bring in an executive from Nike or Apple or Southwest Airlines. They’ll interview activists and artists and actors.
These people in the second group can have whatever position they want on gays or marriage or abortion or the Bible. It doesn’t matter what they think about any social or theological issue, because hipster evangelicals feel that they can learn how to be “cutting edge” and to “think outside the box” from these “cultural creatives.”
(Interestingly, it’s more likely that one of these “cultural creatives” will drop out of an evangelical speaking engagement, as when Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz canceled a gig with megachurch Willow Creek last year.)
But these evangelical conference planners will not have a progressive Christian leader, no matter how creative, smart, relevant, or hip.
“Why?” I asked my friend. “Why will you not have us?”
“Because,” she replied, “Then everyone would say, ‘See, they’re going liberal, just like I suspected.’”
So the upshot is that no matter how thin or stupid the theology of a cultural speaker, they’re welcome. And no matter how astute the contributions of a progressive Christian, they’re not welcome.
Is that any way to run a religion? Do you think it’s the same with progressive Christian events, like Wild Goose? If it is, it’s surely not for the same reason that she told me.