Thousands flock to Greenbelt festival despite criticism

By staff writers
30 Aug 2009

The Greenbelt Christian festival in Cheltenham has attracted over 15,000 participants, despite attacks from conservative campaigners opposed to the invitation of a gay bishop.

The event, which began on Friday, involves worship, talks, music, debates, performances and panel discussions. Particpants include Christians from a wide range of traditions as well as others interested in exploring Christianity.

Greenbelt has long been known for the centrality it gives to issues of social justice. The central Sunday morning service this year focused on controversies around Israel-Palestine, with Christian, Muslim and Jewish voices heard and biblical passages read in Hebrew and Arabic as well as English.

On Saturday, participants flocked to hear the Christian climate activist Tamsin Omond urge Chrsitians to tackle the "sin" of ignoring climate change and add to the "voices yelling for change".

However, it is the speaking invitation given to Gene Robinson - the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion - that has caused media controversy.

Anglican Mainstream - a group which opposes the inclusion of practising gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the Church - has attacked Greenbelt for inviting Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire in the USA. Although he will answer questions, they say that there are no prominent speakers putting a different view of homosexuality.

In reply, Greenbelt's director Beki Bateson has emphasised that debates around sexuality "have been addressed over a number of years [at Greenbelt] from varying perspectives."

However, Anglican Mainstream's Chris Sugden suggests that "The festival will be full of families with teenage children, a ready audience who might be persuaded by his sophisticated presentation technique."

Sugden called for organisations which say they can change same-sex attraction to be invited.

"There's a lot of evidence that trying to make somebody ex-gay doesn't work" replied Colin Coward of the pro-inclusion group Changing Attitude, who emphasised his willingness to debate homosexuality.

"It's abusive," he added, "And those organisations are on the fringe, whereas Gene Robinson is an elected bishop."

The controversy over Robinson's invitation appears to have passed most festivalgoers by. Evangelicals are present in large number and many people questioned by Ekklesia's reporter were unaware of Anglican Mainstream's criticisms.

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