DENVER, Colorado (RNS) — The Evolving Faith 2019 conference, the second annual gathering of progressive Christians (most of them with evangelical backgrounds), opened this weekend with a song-prayer, offered by Melaney Gleeson-Lyall, a member of the Musqueam and Snawnawas indigenous people groups located near Vancouver.
“We are all one, one heart, one mind, one spirit,” Gleeson-Lyall said to the nearly 2,500 people gathered for Evolving Faith 2019 at the University of Denver’s Ritchie Center hockey arena, before breaking into the Musqueam tribe’s language, accompanied by her drum.
The brainchild of two Christian authors and bloggers, Sarah Bessey and the late Rachel Held Evans, Evolving Faith is aimed at “wanderers, wonderers, and spiritual refugees,” according to its website, though most of the weekend’s attendees had come to hear refugees specifically from traditional (mostly white) evangelicalism discuss how to remake its image.
In practice that meant making “inclusion” an oft-referenced goal for the conference. The speaker list alone made that clear — a Christian who’s-who of black, brown, LGBTQ and female voices. At a time when many Christian conferences have come under fire for having primarily cis-gender, straight white men on stage, Evolving Faith featured only one: Pete Enns, who, during the “Evolving Faith & Bible/Theology” session, described his own journey toward becoming an “agnostic Christian.”
During the opening session, Christian author and journalist Jeff Chu, who joined Bessey and Held Evans on the Evolving Faith team after the 2018 conference, welcomed a long list of groups ranging from introverts to the disabled, from the “frozen chosen” to the pansexual, from “you who do sex work to pay the bills,” Chu said, “and (to you) who are clutching your pearls because I just said ‘sex work.’”