Christians back Tatchell after call for Greenbelt boycott

By staff writers
25 May 2010

The Christian thinktank Ekklesia is among those who have expressed the hope that Christians will reject calls for a boycott of the Greenbelt festival.

The boycott calls have come from a group who object to the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell being amongst the speakers.

Tatchell has defended himself against allegations made by the socially conservative group Anglican Mainstream, who suggest that his presence at Greenbelt will put children at risk of abuse.

Greenbelt, which takes place in Cheltenham on the August bank holiday weekend, is one of Britain's largest Christian festivals.

"The suggestion that my guest lecture at Greenbelt will leave children vulnerable to sexual abuse is a sordid slur, unworthy of a Christian,” insisted Tatchell. He accused Anglican Mainstream's Lisa Nolland of “bearing false witness”.

In a letter to Greenbelt organisers, Anglican Mainstream argued that the invitation to Tatchell is “damaging to both Christian witness and the health of the nation”. Lisa Nolland, who last year criticised Greenbelt's invitation to the gay Anglican bishop Gene Robinson, said that once gay campaigners were accepted they would lead Christians “further astray”.

Tatchell angrily denied the allegation that his views promote child abuse, saying that his critics were ignoring “my advocacy of a sexual moral framework of mutual consent, respect and fulfilment, and my proposals to help protect young people against sex abuse”. He added that teenage sexuality will not be the theme of his talk.

"I will be highlighting rising homophobic victimisation and praising the inspiring defence of gay human rights by African Christian leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bishop Christopher Senyonjo of Uganda,” he explained.

He urged Christians to recognise his work on human rights and peace, including his opposition to the persecution of Christians in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Greenbelt organisers insisted that, "Each year Greenbelt hosts speakers with varying and sometimes contrasting views on a whole range of subjects. At any one time, we also ensure there are a range of line-up items which they feel comfortable with."

Anglican Mainstream criticised Greenbelt for declining their request for a meeting. But Tatchell said, “I am happy to debate with anyone from Anglican Mainstream. I await their invitation.”

The call for a boycott seems to have made little impact, with Greenbelt reporting record booking figures. The Methodist Church has decided to become a major Greenbelt sponsor.

Symon Hill, co-director of Ekklesia, commented: “It is sad that a small number of Christians should wish to boycott Greenbelt, a festival which helps thousands of people to deepen their faith and relate it to politics, the arts and social justice”.

Hill, who will himself be speaking at Greenbelt, added, “Peter Tatchell has worked alongside Christians on issues such as poverty, peace and democracy. Many Christians may disagree with him on some issues while agreeing with him on others. It is to be hoped that the vast majority of people will reject the scurrilous suggestion that he promotes child abuse. This is simply not the case.”

He went on, “Jesus constantly surprised his listeners by paying more attention to those outside the mainstream of society than he did to religious figures and the apparently righteous. It is to be hoped that Christians, whatever their views on sexuality or other issues, will go to Greenbelt, listen to Peter Tatchell's talk, and judge it for themselves”.

[Ekk/1]

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