Clarity: Shane Claiborne & The Wild Goose Festival

Emily Swan
Mar 25, 2019 · 5 min read

I was the first openly gay pastor in the Vineyard movement, and perhaps in the entirety of the evangelical orbit. I was fired in 2014, and my then-lead pastor, Ken Wilson, was fired for refusing to fire me. We now co-pastor a beautiful church called Blue Ocean Faith Ann Arbor (a2blue.org). We also co-wrote Solus Jesus: A Theology of Resistance.

Most of the time, I don’t spend my energy engaging “progressive evangelicals,” because it’s exhausting and, frankly, I see it as (mostly) ally work. But I feel allies are failing the queer Christian community here.

“Progressive evangelicals” come in two forms in relation to the queer community. The first type doesn’t believe the Bible condemns same-sex relationships and leadership, but they are unwilling to pay the cost of fighting for different policies regarding gay marriage and ordination and they are willing to enforce stigmatizing policies in the name of “slow change.” The second type believes the Bible condemns same-sex marriage, but covers the hard edge of their beliefs with soft language.

Shane Claiborne is the latter.

Shane Claiborne — Wikimedia Commons

The Wild Goose Festival is a progressive Christian outdoor conference that takes place in the hills of North Carolina each July. When I attended last year, it was awash in rainbow flags and affirming speakers. Everything about the festival says, “Queer people are fully accepted and celebrated here. You are safe.”

One thing that makes queer people unsafe in the Christian world is when there is a lack of clarity when churches/pastors/leaders/speakers are NOT affirming. The site, churchclarity.com, is doing the work of the Lord in helping queer Christians and their allies discern when churches are giving lip service to being “welcoming,” “inclusive,” and “loving” while enforcing policies that belie that language. Their slogan, “Clarity is reasonable,” is what I advocate in regards to Shane Claiborne’s presence at the Goose.

Barbara Brown Taylor, Brian McLaren, Jacqui Lewis, Diana Butler Bass, Shane Claiborne, and Ruby Sales

When the Goose places Shane’s picture alongside Barbara Brown Taylor, Brian McLaren, Jacqui Lewis, Diana Butler Bass, and Ruby Sales (Ruby Sales!), it sends the message that Shane’s work is the equivilent of these justice heroes. It is not. His understanding of intersectionality is shallow, at best. Which is what I both said and wrote to Jeff Clark, the president and producer of Wild Goose, last year. In 2018 I raised these concerns behind the scenes. Since they apparently weren’t heard, I raise them publicly now.

Here is an excerpt of what I wrote Jeff last year when he asked me how I would handle Shane at the Goose:

Per our discussion I’ve given thought to how I would handle Shane Claiborne speaking at the Goose.

I wouldn’t give him a microphone … About 1/3 of my congregation of 250 is LGBTQ. While I can hold people with conservative views on gay marriage within the faith, loving them and honoring their sincere commitment to their conscience, I wouldn’t give them a microphone to potentially air those views. It’s too harmful to my congregation, many of whom have been emotionally and spiritually battered by sincere conservatives.

If we were talking about a disputable matter like how we Christians celebrate the Eucharist, that would be one thing. But here we have a man who has emailed me admitting that he suspects “God’s ideal” is to have a man and a woman raise children. Who supports civil marriage for queers but denies us a church blessing. He places himself and other heterosexual people above LGBTQ folks as a fundamental given. It’s shaming, and to give him legitimacy in the peace and justice arena feels like we’re not keeping up with what the Spirit is doing. For goodness sake, can we not have a straight white conservative “lead” us in areas of peace and justice, esp. when his understanding of intersectionality is shallow at best? I think we can do better.

At the time, Shane was scheduled to speak from the main stage and help with some events with the teenagers. Via phone, I expressed my deep concern that queer teenagers would be potentially damaged by anything Shane said, esp. if he were asked about LGBTQ+ inclusion. Queer parents bring their kids to this festival. And — for crying out loud — Methodist queer kids are already hearing that their sexual orientation is a “big issue.” Can we not find someone else? Or, at the very least, ask Shane to be clear about his stance (he supports civil marriage for queer people, but not a church blessing; he does not support queer pastors). Then LGBTQ+ people can decide for themselves whether or not they want to attend his sessions. To Jeff’s credit, he pulled Shane from the main stage. But it seems he’s back on this year?

It’s the blurring of the lines that most concerns me. Shane gains an exceptional amount of progressive credibilty when he attends and speaks at the Goose. Credibility he does not deserve. I can appreciate his prophetic voice in helping the church deal with our consumerism and support for the American war machine. But his anti-war, anti-violence rhetoric covers over the very real violence his position toward LGBTQ+ people allows. It’s not enough to be anti-violence. It’s not enough to ask kids to literally beat guns into plowshares. We have to deal with the underlying fears and biases that lead to violence, and Shane has not gotten there with queers.

If you’re going to invite Shane Claiborne to speak and lead, you might as well invite the rest of the “progressive” evangelical sphere who don’t support queers, and give them the microphone. Why him?

You can do better.

And, for the record, I’m not the only progressive Christian to take issue with Shane. I am not a lone voice.

Kevin Garcia

George Mekhail of Church Clarity

Fred Clark

Tim Barnett

Matthew Vines, Eliel Cruz, Broderick Greer

How many of us have to waste our time and emotional energy raising this issue before we’re heard?

Emily Swan

Written by

Co-Author with Ken Wilson of Solus Jesus: A Theology of Resistance, and co-pastor of Blue Ocean Faith Ann Arbor, a progressive, fully-inclusive church. Queer.

Solus Jesus

Solus Jesus: A Theology of Resistance, is the place to explore a new approach to Christianity. Emily Swan & Ken Wilson are co-pastors of Blue Ocean Faith, Ann Arbor (a2blue.org).

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