Last month I commented on the ongoing disagreement between the Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union and the Student Guild. At that point they were still arguing over being forced to change their name, however since then the story has moved on somewhat, with the Guild having partially suspended the ECU under their equal opportunities policy, since all members were required to sign up to the doctrinal basis, and this contravened the policies of the Student Guild. The ECU are now talking about taking legal action under human rights legislation.
Unfortunately the news items don’t help with clarification by simplifying it down to a disagreement between Christian and non-Christian, whilst in actual fact a number of Christians object to the doctrinal basis – take this discussion of the document by the Anglican Chaplain of Kent University. This quite clearly explains why many Christians take issue with the document, particularly clauses three and six. More importantly that same document explains how those clauses of the doctrinal basis especially diverge from Biblical teaching.
Not surprisingly, the Heaven and Earth show picked it as their panel discussion, so alongside representatives of the Student Guild and the ECU they had Nick Ferrari an outspoken radio presenter on LBC, and Jonathan Bartley, founder and director of Ekklesia, a Christian Think Tank.
What was quite a surprise considering his usual theological positions on a number of matters, and is rather important for the discussion this morning though was that whilst he was a student, Jonathan Bartley was president of the Christian Union at his University. Whilst you can find the same doctrinal basis as all the others on their current site, Bartley didn’t sign the basis, and whose vision of a Christian Union is that it should be broad based and welcoming to all Christians.
It has to be said, during the discussion was not helped in the least by the presence of Nick Ferrari who fairly obviously didn’t have a clue about the underlying basis of the discussion, but as would be expected of someone of his reputation, still waded in with an opinion. The sole basis of his contribution seemed to be that the ECU representative ‘seemed like a nice bloke’ and the rest of them should leave him alone. It has to be said that the ECU did come over as a generally nice bloke, and made a lot of noises about everybody being welcome at their meetings. Again, the discussion didn’t get into much detail of the subtleties, and since Ferrari decided to harangue Bartley when he was trying to make a point querying how the ECU would treat, for example a member of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, it didn’t go much further. In general though I don’t think that there is enough time in this sort of slot to discuss the issues, and all that results is a significant simplification of the issues, and in the end confusion for the viewer. I mean unless they knew more detail, I doubt a viewer would understand why Bartley was backing the Student Guild position.
Interestingly, whilst I can see the point of view of the Student Guild, the ultimate result of the process is going to be even more of a quagmire, as the ECU opinion that this will affect other societies is absolutely right. Looking at the religious societies the same arguments being used against the ECU could equally apply to other religious societies, indeed even political societies would run into problems. To my mind the equal opportunities and anti-discrimination policies have to be operated at a student guild level, but as long as their is balance across the whole guild. For example it should be acceptable for the Conservative Society to insist that all members must be Conservative, and not allow Labour party supporters to join, but there should be a Labour Society to balance it. In terms of the situation with the ECU, as long as they are not denying the rights of other Christian societies to exist, then they should be left to get on with it. Rather than trying to remove the ECU by legal means, those against it should be arguing against what the ECU is representing through arguments such as those in the document from Kent University. Certainly so far they have done so, shown by the fact that the student body has twice voted for the name change to Evangelical Christian Union. Unfortunately if the ECU looses their legal proceedings I suspect that it will be the end for certainly any religious, and probably many political University societies.