Greenbelt, 'gay evangelicalism' and CMS: Summer 2009
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According to its website, ‘Greenbelt is an independent Christian charity working to express love, creativity and justice in the arts and contemporary culture in the light of the Christian gospel.’ It is the largest Christian festival in the UK, almost 20,000 strong, with a fascinating line-up of speakers, subjects, genres and modalities. It also appears strongly pro-gay. Gene Robinson, gay bishop poster boy (although oddly, that was not mentioned) and Giles Fraser, head of Inclusive Church (that was also not included) are on the rostrum, along with gay rights advocates Robert Beckford and Paula Gooder. Gay worship groups, OuterSpace and Journey, will be leading in worship. Read here and here, also here
This is rather worrying: it is called the gayification of the church. Almost more insidious is that it exists, cheek by jowl, with other worthwhile, important and solidly orthodox aspects, lulling those who might otherwise get upset into a false complacency that ‘things are not really that bad!’ I guess it all depends on what ‘bad’ means. That the Gay Pride flag was flown over London’s historic St Martin-in-the-Fields to celebrate Gay Pride days ago and that the Archbishop of Canterbury just met with a leading US LGBT group, although, oddly, there was no time to meet with the orthodox hounded out of their churches (which they have paid for and maintained) or those from ex/post-gay groups — two of the most recent examples — should speak volumes!
At some point we as a church will have to face the music. We have tacitly, incrementally forfeited an agreed-upon Christian sexual ethic (no sex outside heterosexual marriage) which had held for the past millennia. Now, in effect, we accept and some promote the ethic that as long as sexual ‘relationships’ are ‘loving’, ‘committed’ and ‘faithful’, they are blessed by God and if those in them wish to marry, they should be allowed to do so. Is this not so? Acclimatization moves on to acceptance. Acceptance moves on to normalization.
Neither we nor our churches talk up a clear alternative. By contrast, those promoting non-traditional views are constantly, energetically and often winsomely advancing their Brave New World. Perhaps the most recent example is TEC’s Chicago Consultation, Christian Holiness and Human Sexuality, Chapter 4. Also championing this view are individuals like Dr William Slayton (in more conservative moments), who is associated with the Indaba Listening Process. Read/listen here. In 2004, Changing Attitude published the report, Sexual Ethics, and recently claimed that it upheld a solid Christian sexual ethic. Please peruse pp 9 through 17 in the document and see if you can agree! Compare the blog enrry for 10 June 2009, ‘The answer to Lisa Noland [sic] is a categorical yes – Changing Attitude advocates lifelong fidelity’ for yet another view. Where are the responses?
Essentially, I believe we are dealing with two competing philosophic paradigms, aided by significant conceptual and linguistic slippage and some overlap: traditional marriage versus ‘relationships’. Though its practitioners interpret the relationship paradigm in various ways, it is unstable, subjective and self-referencing. For instance, what externally observable behaviour constitutes ‘commitment’ and ‘faithfulness’? Those in ‘open’ relationships insist theirs are committed and faithful; they just happen to have what for them is an added bonus of being sexually non-exclusive (or promiscuous). The relationship ethic also mandates the legitimization of non-binary (three or more) plural ‘committed’ relationships of a bisexual, gay or heterosexual nature. I have had close bisexual friends whose domestic situations include male and female lovers at the same time. Such situations, known as ‘V’s in polyamory-speak, are common in the literature. Liberal Democrat, Simon Hughes, is perhaps the best known British bisexual today, with his admission that his sexual history involved ‘both homosexual and heterosexual relationships’.
If people are more ‘traditional’ and binary, their relationship might mimic aspects of and even masquerade as marriage but at heart it is post-marital. It is really all about the needs, desires, aspirations and fantasies of the individual and her/his ‘partner/s’: they determine the rules of engagement. Anthony Giddens’ The Transformation of Intimacy has proved prophetic. The relationship ethic is thus post-orthodox, and not just post-evangelical (I had forgotten to mention post-evangelical Dave Tomlinson, another important gay advocate who is also speaking at Greenbelt). As Charles Raven observed, ‘The score may still be there, but many of the orchestra are making it up as they go along’.
Is this satisfactory? I do not believe it is. I am even more concerned because highly respected Christian organizations like Church Mission Society are sponsors of Greenbelt. Unless it means very little to be a sponsor, surely CMS must be deeply embarrassed at this situation. Please do contact:
Bishop Paul Butler, Chair of CMS: firstname.lastname@example.org and
Tim Dakin, General Secretary of CMS: email@example.com with your concerns.
Finally, perhaps most galling is the deeply discriminatory nature of the programme, which presents itself as the antithesis of discrimination. Given the resources and people which such recent events as Sex and the City, The Big Question, and the Moral Maze, showcased, there is no reason why Greenbelt should only push one ideological agenda and only grind one axe, unless it is wanting to slant the argument and deprive its audience of expert opinion on the other side. What about equal air time for it? What about poster boys or girls for the ex/post-gay movement being handed the microphone, instead of just Gene Robinson (again), with his sadly amaturish biblical hermeneutic? Given that Greenbelt has invited so many people who strongly promote a different sexual ethic to that of a traditional Christan sexual ethic, the least they could do is allow equal air time for traditional sexual views.
L S Nolland