Liberal Christians Gather at Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina

A breakout session on “How to Become a Badass” meets during the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, N.C., on July 13, 2019. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

For years, liberals — even liberal people of faith — have been wary of fusions of faith and politics, careful not to pierce the boundary between church and state.

But at this year’s Wild Goose Festival, an annual Christian gathering that convened July 11-14 in a campground along the French Broad River, many attendees asked the same question: What if my beliefs are by implication political?

This year was Wild Goose’s eighth iteration since 2011, when the first gathering was organized as an American version of the Greenbelt festival in the United Kingdom. It is a curious blend of music festival, activist strategy session, and spiritual revival, all swirling below the Mason-Dixon Line in a mountain retreat where mud is plentiful and cell phone signal is not.

Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, right,
attends the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, N.C., on
July 13, 2019. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

The atmosphere may seem foreign to top Democratic Party operatives and even many liberal religious leaders. But as the religious left exerts an unaccustomed influence on political rhetoric, Wild Goose has begun to draw recognizable names, including presidential candidate Marianne Williamson.

It’s hard to miss the festival’s political bent. The dirt road from the entrance to the conference’s main stage was a gauntlet of booths belonging to liberal activist groups such as Sojourners, the Washington, D.C. liberal evangelical organization; Creation Care Alliance, a network dedicated to religious environmentalism; and NETWORK, a left-leaning Catholic social justice lobby whose leader, Sister Simone Campbell, spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Alongside them were other booths advocating for left-leaning, mainline Christian denominations such as the United Church of Christ or the Episcopal Church. Both are listed as partners of the gathering that ranges from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to the Human Rights Campaign.

The mostly white crowd was clad in shirts adorned with “Black Lives Matter,” “Make America Native Again,” and other leftist slogans. One man walked up and down the road wearing a sandwich board that read “Free White Ally Coaching.”

All the while, hymns and other religious music echoed from multiple stages.

On Saturday (July 13), the festival’s second day, the Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and another past speaker at the Democratic National Convention, delivered a lengthy speech to an enraptured crowd. Although he rejects the term religious left as “too puny,” Barber — who only weeks before attracted 10 Democratic presidential candidates to protests and forums he organized in Washington — didn’t shy away from the political.

The Rev. William Barber, top center, addresses attendees at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, N.C., on July 13, 2019. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

“We must have a moral Pentecost, and we must unite right here, right now,” Barber said. “(The Bible) says, the primary thing people of faith ought to be concerned about is how we treat the poor, the women, the children, the stranger and the least of these.

“But that’s not all that’s real,” he said from a stage that featured a “Black Lives Matter” sign, a rainbow flag and a makeshift cage as an apparent reminder of immigrant children being held in detention centers. “What’s also real is the possibility. Particularly if we have a moral Pentecost. How do I know? Well, I’ve seen the spirit.”

Barber then explained that he has seen “the spirit” in the various places where he’s organized as part of the Poor People’s Campaign, such as with rural teachers in West Virginia and with healthcare advocates in North Carolina.

Click here to read more.
Source: Religion News Service