It appears that Greenbelt and CMS are the latest organisations to be caught up in the storm which is engulfing the Anglican church at the moment. This article in Ekklesia alerted me to the way that CMS are the latest organisation to be caught in the current Anglican storm which appears to have blown the fence away.
The blog post on the Anglican Mainstream site which caused all this to blow up was “Greenbelt, “Gay evangelicalism” and CMS: Summer 2009″ by L S Nolland. Besides outlining the different ways in which Greenbelt has become a queer friendly Christian festival and highlighting those on the speaking line up this year it regards as heretics it specifically questions CMS’s involvement in the festival. CMS in turn have replied with this statement which outlines their position as an evangelical organisation which is are “associates” of the event and therefore not involved in planning decisions, beyond their own venue in the marketplace.
Whilst not wishing to get embroiled in the politics within a denomination of which I am not a part as this ickle part of the debate relates to a festival close to my heart I am going to give my own opinion on this one.
The Anglican Mainstream writer appears to have two issues regarding Greenbelt, (i) CMS involvement and (ii) the fact that the Greenbelt programme is not balanced out by speakers from the ex/post gay movement.
With regards to CMS involvement, they are one of several explicitly evangelical organisations who seek to engage with people at Greenbelt, within the marketplace. A large part of what CMS has done over recent years has been, particularly through the emerging church stuff it has been involved in, is to help keep connection with and give a positive picture of established Christianity to church leavers aswell as seekers. Due to it’s focus on being an arts festival, rather than a “Christian conference” type thing, it becomes a space for many people who feel alienated by established church and the politics within them. It has also been a place where Christians who might have been cynical about the word “mission” have been encouraged to think again about mission in the contemporary society and how to engage in it with sensitivity and authenticity.
In terms of the 2nd point made by the AM writer I want to share my own opinion on this, not just as a regular Greenbelter but as a queer Christian who is not Anglican but does care about the whole church.
Over the years Greenbelt has been somewhere where LGBT Christians have been welcome in someway. It has also been somewhere where their views have been challenged. In the past there have been events where debate of the type described has occurred, I remember Elaine Storkey defending the traditional biblical position and promoting the True Freedom Trust at one point. Over recent years the LGBT presence at Greenbelt has changed. Rather than just being a fringe meeting of Safety Net in a back room, if you could find it, there have been more openly LGBT speakers and performers and their straight friends on the main programme. In recent years significant contributors have included James Alison and Peterson Toscano. The fringe type meetings still occur, now hosted by Outer Space , operating as a place for LGBT Christians and others to network. This does not mean that Greenbelt has become a pink festival or has begun to consciously descriminate against those who hold alternative views but it does mean that Greenbelt has become a clearly safe space for LGBT and most importantly questioning Christians. It has become a space where the carefully rehersed arguments given by both sides have been swapped for people sitting down sharing stories and worship. It is a place where articulate speakers have been able to express to those who may be unsure of what to think what the position of ordinary LGBT Christians is.
In my own experience Greenbelt is where my own coming out journey really started. In the days when I was trying to work out about how to handle my sexuality, and had questions I wanted to ask about how it related to my faith going to Greenbelt and slipping off to Safetynet was my first step forward. I will never forget slipping in and thankfully seeing one face I knew via mutual friends and then sharing communion with people like me….people who were wrestling with what it meant to be gay and a follower of Jesus. It was the first time I think that I realised I might be able to be all that I am.
Moving forward to a couple of years ago I remember what it felt like not having to slip off but sitting with a friend I had recently come out to, whose views I knew followed the more traditional line, in a performance by Peterson. Through his drama he explained far more about it all than I could in awkward words.
Then there was the time I sat with a group of people from my church listening to John Bell talking on the subject of human sexuality. There was a view given that I knew you wouldn’t get from the pulpit back home, but we were all able to sit together listening. It meant alot to know my straight friends were considering all the issues involved, even if they didn’t come to the same conclusions as me. This is something which couldn’t / wouldn’t have happened at any other Christian conference / festival.
So has all this meant that Greenbelt has, as is argued, become discrimatory against those who hold alternative views? I don’t think so…what it has meant is that Greenbelt has become somewhere that stories are told rather than arguments and debates held on these issues. Should the stories of those who have positive stories of the ex-gay movement be told? It’s difficult, having heard from far too many people about what the effects of the ex / post gay movement on their lives have been I would worry that vunerable, young, questioning Christians might get sucked into well meaning movements that would actually cause them more harm than good. It might also stop Greenbelt being a safe space.
So where do we go? Well, I would argue that perhaps rather than the ex / post gay movement there might be speakers – space given to those taking a side B approach. For those not aware side B is the position which advocates celibacy for gay Christians. Perhaps there should be a storytelling session with a variety of Christians, taking the different positions, could just tell their stories. No debate or questions….just a storytelling session and then a cake and coffee session afterwards if people wanted to chat on a more informal basis.
As for the decision for Gene Robinson to be invited to speak at Greenbelt this year….well, he is a good speaker. This is the post I wrote after hearing him in Kent last summer. However, I am not convinced by the timing. Had the FCA not just been formed and the American decision not be taken, that Tom Wright has written about in the Times today, it would have been wonderful. As it is it seems that Greenbelt are finding themselves embroiled in more politics than they need to be and rather than supporting the moves that have been going on in recent years this may actually end up meaning that Greenbelt becomes either (i) a ghetto for those who are affirming or (ii) somewhere where the aftermath means that the programming reverts back to where it was back about ten years ago. Perhaps they should have spent the money on a few less high profile LGBT speakers….like getting Peterson back to do his Transfigurations show.
However, in terms of why it is important for Greenbelt to carry on having LGBT people as part of the main programme I finish with this You Tube clip related to Through My Eyes, the GCN DVD I mentioned a couple of days ago. On the site for this DVD it says “The church is at war over homosexuality. Will our youth be the casualties?” This is the question that I think those on all sides of this debate have to ask themselves.