I noted in a recent blog that emergent church leader Doug Pagitt, popular pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis and author of several books that challenge traditional thinking about church, has been dis-invited from speaking at the annual Wired2Grow event sponsored by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC).
Apparently, there was a fear that participants might be exposed to heresy.
The event, scheduled for Oct. 16 and designed for innovative church leaders, has previously drawn other speakers related to the emergent movement, including Brian McLaren. But, strong conservatives are increasingly characterizing the emergent movement as a “neo-liberal cult.”
Pagitt, in particular, was criticized following a recent CNN appearance in which he was asked about a Christian-oriented version of yoga that he practices. Several doctrinal-watchdog blogsites quickly criticized Pagitt — and the BSCNC for inviting him. Connecticut-based Ken Silva of “Apprising Ministries,” Dave and Deborah Dombrowski of Oregon who blog at Lighthouse Trails, and Bud Press of the no-physical-location-on-his-website “Christian Research Service” all took issue with Pagitt’s proposed appearance and rejoiced in his dis-invitation. In the process, Press wrongly described the event as a “Southern Baptist” conference. Though the BSCNC relates to the SBC and most of is affiliated churches are Southern Baptist, it is an autonomous organization.
Pagitt was also was criticized by Acts 29 Network leader Mark Driscoll during a recent conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Driscoll was originally involved in the emergent movement but later broke with it and went his own innovative way. At least some churches in the Acts 29 network approve of culture-friendly practices like Bible study sessions in a bar (beer included), but hold the fundamentalist line on other issues, such as women serving as pastors or elders (not allowed).
Driscoll lambasted “emergent village theology” during the conference and named Pagitt as one of several who hold “heretical” views on issues such as the penal substutionary view of the atonement (Pagitt thinks other views explain it better).
Driscoll also questioned why the BSCNC would invite Pagitt. Others picked up the drumbeat and BSC officials received e-mails and phone calls from people (including at least one who actually lives in North Carolina) who did not believe Pagitt should be on the program.
Soon, he wasn’t.
Lynn Sasser, executive leader for the Congregational Services group at the BSCNC, told me the decision was his, in concert with other leaders of the BSCNC’s Innovative Church Community network, based on additional information they had learned about Pagitt. Sasser expected the BSCNC to make no further comment, but Convention spokesperson Doug Baker apparently told Bud Press that information concerning Pagitt’s views “on homosexuality, Christology, (and) the innerancy of scripture had been provided to the BSCNC” after the initial invitation was extended.
Chad Hall, former leader of the Innovative Church Team for the BSC, said he had invited Pagitt because he thought he would offer a good counterpoint for dialogue with Rick McKinley, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Portland, Oregon, who is also scheduled to speak. In surveys, previous Wired2Grow participants had asked for Pagitt, he said.
Hall left the BSCNC during the past year and is now a consultant for SAS Institute in Cary.
In a phone call, Pagitt told me that criticism ramped up after the CNN appearance. But, he said, the yoga classes taught in his church are holistic and practiced in a completely Christian context. Though yoga was developed within the Hindu tradition, one does not have to be a universalist in order to practice it, he said.
Regarding the withdrawn invitation, Pagitt said “I have no sour grapes about it. My feelings aren’t hurt. I don’t blame them for making the decision if they believe their constituency would not be happy with my appearance.”
Pagitt said Sasser asked him about his beliefs regarding universalism, his view of scripture, and his views on homosexuality. He did not discuss the matters in detail, he said, because it seemed obvious that the dis-invitation was a foregone conclusion.
Pagitt affirmed that his views are likely to be different than the typical North Carolina Baptist. But, he said, “I was invited for a conference on innovation. What’s the point on having an event on innovation if you’re not willing to listen to the outsider at some level? If they’re not willing to be open to implications of ministry that we share, who are they willing to listen to?”
It’s hard to learn from others when “pre-screening the belief system” is needed “to find out first if you believe as we do, and then we’ll listen to you,” he said.
Aside from the locked door at the BSCNC, Pagitt expressed enthusiasm in that he is being asked to speak to many different denominational groups, and the emergent conversation is bringing many people together who ordinarily wouldn’t talk. “A special moment is going on in a cross-denominational expression of Christianity,” he said.
To hear more about it, however, you’ll have to look somewhere other than this year’s Wired2Grow.