The news that human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell is to speak at this year’s Greenbelt Arts Festival, was met by a small number of conservative Christians with a call for a boycott, on the grounds that the Christian event is being ‘gayified’. Others have expressed puzzlement  as to why an atheist like Tatchell would want to speak, when he has previously attacked the church’s unjust practices.
A clue as to why Tatchell might want to speak at Greenbelt comes with the news that he has just come to the defence of a Christian street preacher . Whilst Tatchell considered the preacher’s views abhorrent and homophobic, his commitment to justice led him to offer to defend the Christian nevertheless, and defend his right to free speech.
In terms of the Christian Gospel, this demonstrates the kind of ‘love of enemies’ that Jesus urged his followers to pursue. It is supposed to be the hallmark of what the church is about. But it is something that some sections of the church have also consistently failed to demonstrate.
Where for example, are the conservative Christians who speak out and take action against homophobia? The answer of course is that there don’t seem to be any. There are, meanwhile, many who very publicly have campaigned for the legal right to refuse hospitality to LGBT people in bed and breakfast accommodation.
Why would Peter Tatchell want to speak at Greenbelt? Possibly because he has, like many at the festival, a commitment to justice. Maybe he wants to encourage Christians to love their enemies, and explore with them how they can be more just, and what real love is all about. As someone who has been repeatedly condemned by certain sections of the church, his willingness to come and speak at a Christian festival alone speaks volumes. In short, he will show many Christians how they can be more like the Jesus they profess to follow.