This post is part of the Big Tent Christianity Synchroblog.
I’ll be emceeing the Big Tent Christianity event next month, along with my partner-in-crime, Doug Pagitt. And, I’ve gotta say, this event is rife with potential — potential to be great, or to suck.
The potential has everything to do with the amazing roster of people scheduled to participate — leading lights in from center to the left of contemporary American Protestantism. Each of them could probably carry the stage for a couple hours in their own right, but we’re putting them on panels, asking them to speak passionately about something for 5-10 minutes, and then mix it up in an hour long discussion/conversation/argument.
But here’s what worries me. When it comes to spending time with progressive, intellectual Christians, I tend to see three common missteps in dialogue, any of which could derail BTX.
- Endless talk about who’s not there. Progressives rightly desire robust diversity in their ranks. Flip through Christianity Today, and you’ll see ad after ad for pastors’ conferences in which the speaking roster is unashamedly full of white men. This is not acceptable among progressives. Good. Yes. I agree. However, one does what one can and then one lives with the consequences. So Philip, Brian, and Tripp cast the net and the invitations far and wide, and got as many acceptances as they could, and the line-up of speakers is still too male and too white. Having said that, there’s nothing more we can do about that now. If we all sit around an bemoan our failures at diversity, we won’t advance the ball down the field.
- A Mutual Admiration Society. I don’t think this is unique to progressive Christian leaders, but there’s a tendency for the conversation to devolve into a bunch of back-slapping and high-fiving. The fact is, whenever a group like this convenes, there are politics: Person A used to work for Person B; Person C once served on a foundation board with Person D; Person E is hoping to be hired at the university where Person F is the dean. Those personal connections can stymie robust conversation if everyone is trying to be on their best behavior.
- Unwillingness to talk about something far afield. Evangelical leaders, it seems to me, are wont to spew their opinions far and wide, regardless of their expertise in a particular subject. Progressives, on the other hand, tend to stick to their category of expertise and defer to those in other fields. But in order to advance the conversation, we’ll all need to become polymaths. We’ll all need to talk about the Bible and politics and sexuality and justice…and everything.
I don’t mean to sound overly negative here. In fact, I think that this event really is going to great. But I just figured that my contribution to the synchroblog would be show up some pitfalls that I’d like us to avoid…
My $.02. What say you?