Don’t get me wrong, I love Greenbelt. Its a fantastic creative space to explore faith, arts and justice, a place of inspiration, energy and inclusion – organised on a shoestring. What other Christian festival would kick of with a ‘Big Gay Friday Night Fabulous at Forty Quiz’?
But looking through an advance copy of the daily diary, amidst the plethora of music, worship, drama, talks, panels, films (and much more) there is a gaping hole. Where is the politics?
Where are the speakers or debates about the pressing political issues we are facing as a country – amidst the worst economic crisis, the biggest squeeze on household incomes, and the biggest cuts in public spending and welfare in living memory? Where are the panels about immigration, the economy, europe, the future of our childrens’ education, health, housing, fracking or even the future of the nation state itself?
Scouring the programme, I’ve managed to find just one politician – Lord Maurice Glasman. I’m glad he’s coming. In fact, I’m delighted to be sharing a panel with him (‘Whats the Point of the Welfare State’ – 7pm Monday in Hebron if you’re interested). But no sign of any elected politicians, of political parties, in fact no sign that we have a Government (or a democracy) in the UK at all.
Its as if Greenbelt has reached its middle age, put on its slippers, said to itself ‘do you know, I’m just a bit bored with this politics business’ and poured itself a pint of Redemption ale.
To be sure, I’m not seeking to blame Greenbelt – but it does raise some sharp questions about what does interest us as contemporary Christians (and Greenbelters) – and for that matter, for what passes for political debate in the UK.
Do Greenbelters actually not care about the burning political issues of the day? Is no one worried about the rise of xenophobia and UKIP? Are no Greenbelters affected by benefit cuts, cuts to public services or having to turn to food banks? Is no one upset that global corporations are still getting away without paying their fair share of tax? Have we nothing to say about or learn from anyone else about the UK’s future place in Europe (or even the future of Scotland in the UK?)? I very much doubt it.
Does the way political debate take place in this country make people feel like their views and voices don’t count? Are we bored with the same old politicians, platitudes and party politics? In fact has ‘politics’ become an observer sport, played out on our TV screens rather than something we have any right to (or interest) in taking part in? Well, maybe?
But if all this has just become a bit too boring for Greenbelt at 40, where are the next generation of politically engaged Christians going to cut their teeth, be given permission to get passionate about the real political issues affecting all our lives, an inspired to challenge injustice – at home as well as abroad?
Come on. Let’s put the passion and politics back into Greenbelt!