I’ll be part of the Big Tent Christianity gathering coming up in a few weeks in North Carolina. I hope you’ll consider being part of it. The line-up of speakers is tremendous, and the term “big tent” is evocative.
A lot of bloggers are responding this week to this prompt:

What does “big tent Christianity” mean to you? What does it look like in your context? What are your hopes and dreams for the Church?
It’s our hope that this Synchroblog will jumpstart a new national conversation about what a “big tent Christianity” might look like and how we can build a roadmap together to get there. We hope you’ll be a part of this invigorating conversation!

There’s a lot I could say about the term “big tent,” but I’ll boil it down to one brief comment … (after the jump)

There’s a new ethos emerging. It’s a Christian identity that hasn’t fully discovered itself yet, but knows it doesn’t fit in a lot of the standard categories:

Neo-Fundamentalism – that has affiliated either with the Religious Right or an angry neo-Calvinism, both supported by the radio-orthodoxy of a few powerful broadcasting networks
Mainstream Evangelicalism – that seems to live in some degree of fear of alienating its fundamentalist wing (or base?), and so becomes harder and harder to distinguish from it
Institutional Mainline Protestantism – that seems to be trying to keep the institutions alive, often in nostalgia for the good old days which tend to be before 1970 or so.
Conservative American Catholicism – that has formed a strange alliance with Protestant Fundamentalism over abortion and gay marriage, often minimizing historic Catholic commitments to Catholic social teaching as a result
Elite Eastern Orthodoxy – that can’t be in dialogue without reminding the rest of us that we aren’t in the only true and legitimate church.

What happens if you’re a fundamentalist who starts asking questions, or an Evangelical who is tired of having to defend yourself from a fractious right flank, or a mainliner who dreams of a faith that is more mission-driven than institution-bound, or a Catholic who has more affinity with St. Francis and Mother Teresa than Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, or an Eastern Orthodox who wants to share their ancient treasures and receive gifts from other newer traditions too?
I think some folks – not all, of course – who know they don’t fit in with these established spaces are seeking a more expansive and open space – to think and dream together, pray and worship together, serve and reach out together. The “big tent” image works beautifully for this because it evokes both the American revivalist phenomenon of the Pentecostal tent meeting and the more “liberal” sense of hospitality and welcome. As well, a tent suggests something portable – more suitable to a movement of the Spirit. It’s more of an Exodus-in-the-wilderness thing than a Solomon’s-opulent-temple thing.
This ethos has been emerging from many different quarters … and a lot of us have been describing it from many different angles:

Philip Clayton – Big Tent Christianity
Diana Butler Bass – Christianity for the Rest of Us
Phyllis Tickle – The Great Emergence
Doug Pagitt – A Christianity Worth Believing
Tony Jones – The Next Christianity
Harvey Cox – The Future of Faith/Age of the Spirit
Rob Bell and Don Golden – Jesus Wants to Save Christians
yours truly – A New Kind of Christianity

I don’t think this new ethos poses a threat to the established identities I mentioned earlier. People who like those identities will stay there happily. But for those who don’t and can’t fit there, I think this big tent offers space … a tabernacle for a new journey of faith.