Greenbelt – Caught in the Storm

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.

Anyway it appears that my thoughts on this are a bit behind the times….Dave Walker has already talked about this on the Church Times blog site and Auntie Doris was talking about this on Monday.

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.


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Hi my name is Sally Rush: I'm a Christian, a mother, a community engagement officer, a listener, a dreamer, a partner, an experienced teacher, a friend, a daughter, a sister and so much more.

8 thoughts on “Greenbelt – Caught in the Storm

  1. When it comes down to it, Christians have a choice over what views they hold about homosexuality. Gay people don’t have a choice over whether they are gay. Christians should always be on the side of those with no choice, as Jesus was.

  2. Obviously I’m sufficiently out of Anglican discussions and Greenbelt for most of this to pass me by until now. I did however want to offer a different queer voice on Greenbelt.

    The first time I went to GB (2003) I felt distinctly uncomfortable and even went as far as complaining to GB about the implicit discrimination I felt. Subsequently, through my greater involvement in the festival I have come to understand the truth of much the their denial of responsibility. However, were I not obliged to go for several years I would have deemed Greenbelt a freak-show promoting homophobic event. I shall explain briefly.

    Due to events like Outerspace on the program, the festival seemed ghettoised – those pesky gay people were fine but still best left to antisocial hours and venues to keep them out of the way of “normal” people. That’s what it felt like from the program. That was GB’s fault. What wasn’t, was the bit that made me feel most uncomfortable. In the disabled camping area was a self-proclaimed gay camping area. It was right next to the main entrance to the site and everyone walked right past the excessive number of pink and rainbow things left outside the camp, along with signs informing everyone (if they hadn’t already guessed) that it was an LGBT area. It certainly offended me as a gay person, and someone I was camping with (in normal camping) as a disabled person. Whether intentional or not, the choice of venue and self-proclamation suggested an air of freakery that was on full show, and claimed sexuality a disability which warranted further ghettoisation on the campsite.

    On speaking to GB they informed me that a couple of same-sex disabled couples had set this area up around their camp site but it took a long time to find that out and the feeling of a freak show still prevailed. My comments at the time about the whole experience was that I’d rather go to Spring Harvest – at least I’d know I wasn’t welcome, than go back to GB where the offer of welcome was false.

    While my experiences of GB have never been as bad since, and their take on sexuality is not the reason I’m not going this year, if GB is a pro-gay festival then they still have a long way to go for me.

  3. So now Greenbelt have to police the camping area and it has to conform to certain standards of decency and taste… for goodness sake get over yourself… I’ve certainly noticed the area that is being described and so what, did I think it a ghetto, no, did i think it freakish, well I have little time for anything rainbow coloured, especially those guitar straps, Grrrr… just bad taste if you ask me… What you are saying seems to be that if you are gay and disabled you can’t be happy with these two facts and proclaim it in an arena that you feel safe to do so especially within a Church that is so generally hostile… Who exactly is creating a ghetto here? Your implication that Greenbelt engineered this is extremely wide of the mark and as long as people are safe and don’t leave their car’s on teh campsite you can decorate your site as you like… I don’t think Greenbelt either has ‘a’ take on sexuality per se it’s a Chrstian Arts Festival, which seeks to learn and explaore from all facets of the Church, not to direct but too open doors… Some who attend are homophobic, some not, some not sure or don’t particularly care… What Greenbelt does seek is to promote Social Justive and an inclusive Church… Did you even attempt to speak to the people who had set up the said camp?

  4. Adam, thank you for your comment. I appreciate that you are putting your view forward. I would ask though that you respect other commenters. Jo was, as you are, just putting her view forward.

  5. I don’t believe that I have said that Jo can’t put her view forward… Have I breached ‘Netiquette’ on commenting on someone else’s comment? How exactly is what has been written disrespectful? Jo set out a view which is perfectly in her right to do so… Is it not in mine to challenge and argue aspects that I believe are misconstrued? And also to seek some clarification… I accept my typing leaves a lot to be desired but I don’t hold that this should in anyway be taken as a slight?

  6. Adam, apologies if my comment came out the wrong way. No you haven’t breached “Netiquette” it was just the “for goodness sake get over yourself” bit of your comment is a bit less fluffy than I’m used to. Of course you can challenge and argue…that is fine and what discussion on the net is about.

    The typing is ok….no way I’d take typing issues as a slight in anyway.

  7. Adam, I’m sorry if my pov has caused offense and I would be happy to try and respond to any direct areas you feel I have misconstrued.

    I sought at the beginning to explain that my perceptions (and that’s all they were) were based on my interpretation of the festival as a gb virgin. At that time I did not nor could perceive the distinction between what was officially part of greenbelt and what wasn’t. I’ve subsequently gained that understanding and hoped in my earlier post to demonstrate that.

    My concern about viewing gb either as an accepting or even pro-gay festival is that for some, such as me, it wasn’t the case. Anything sexuality related will be far more acutely felt by those who are directly affected or most vulnerable in that area. As such it is important to respect the views of those who have strong feelings either way even if you vehemently disagree with them.

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