The Anglican Communion's first openly gay bishop has received a standing ovation at the Greenbelt festival in Cheltenham. Gene Robinson's call for a sexual ethic based on integrity and trust was greeted with prolonged applause by festivalgoers.
“What does it mean to be a sexual being and a fine Christian?” he asked, before urging Christians to focus less on what two people do “in their bedrooms” and more how each person is “a sexual being”.
Greenbelt's invitation to Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire in the USA, had triggered an attack on the festival from the conservative campaigning group Anglican Mainstream. But while Robinson faced challenging questions after his talk, it was interrupted by frequent applause rather than heckling.
The bishop suggested that “being made in the image of God has something to do with our hunger and our longing for relationship” and that “at least part of that image is the ability to choose to make ourselves vulnerable”.
He said that “appropriate vulnerability” should be central to sexual ethics, arguing that people need to have built up a level of trust before able to make themselves vulnerable without being hurt. His other criteria for “wholesome and holistic sexuality” include the equality of the lovers and and the need for relationships to be “enthused with authenticity”.
“I'm not arguing for 'anything goes'” he insisted, “I'm not arguing for 'if it feels good, do it'”.
This has not stopped the sniping from those opposed to the inclusion of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the Church.
Anglican Mainstream's Chris Sugden accused Greenbelt of “prejudice” for inviting a “controversial celebrity”. However, Greenbelt's director Beki Bateson pointed out that he was only one of 500 speakers at the festival.
“Although some people may have made the decision not to come this year based on the fact Gene was part of the the event, the great thing for me is that it has opened up the festival to an audience that wouldn't have come either” she added.
Meanwhile, the Outerspace network, which brings together lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Christians at Greenbelt, reported an exceptionally good response at its stand.
“Greenbelt is giving people a forum to explore the ideas for themselves before taking them back to their churches” explained Outerspace's Naomi Lawson.
She rejected Anglican Mainstream's assertion that only one view was being heard. “Over the years that I've been coming here, I've heard quite a range of views expressed at Greenbelt” she said.