The programme of the Greenbelt Christian festival this weekend declares that disagreement is “essential to discovery”. This is an inspiring sentiment to hear in Christian circles, all the more so when it appears to be said with sincerity.
It was in this spirit that I approached the debate this morning on Christian attitudes to the armed forces. Coming from a broadly pacifist position, I was debating with Mike Elliot, a chaplain to the RAF. Mike and I disagreed significantly, while recognising that we were both sincerely seeking to discern Christ's truth. I was delighted with the turnout, the challenging and encouraging questions and the level of debate.
Disagreement can so easily turn into a slanging match. It can also be a motivation for avoiding important issues. In some liberal Christian circles, there is a show of inclusivity and open-mindedness accompanied by little disagreement in reality. Liberals agreeing with each other is no more inclusive than conservatives agreeing with each.
This is one of the reasons why I love Greenbelt. It's not always comfortable. I've heard lots that I've agreed with since arriving yesterday. But I've also heard things that have challenged and troubled me – and one or two that have disgusted or outraged me. It's true that some sessions can have too much agreement. It's also true that the social and political emphases here are mostly fairly left-wing (but not exclusively so). But on the whole, Greenbelt still appears as an inclusive Christian festival rather than a specifically liberal one.
It is this difficult inclusivity, rather than bitter infighting or fluffy agreement, that marks the way forward for Christianity in Britain.