Tag Archives: Christian Union

Bishops Try to Stir Up the Christian Union Row

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

The Christian Union Row that I’ve previously discussed rumbles on, with Ekklesia reporting that a number of Bishops have intervened.

As I’ve said before, it will be interesting to see where this ends, as some of the same arguments that could be applied to Christian Unions can be applied to a number of other potential university societies.

Having said that, the Bishops letter does seem to be exaggerating the issue somewhat, particularly with the statement:

“Christian students at many of our universities are facing considerable opposition and discrimination in violation of their rights of freedom of expression, freedom of belief and freedom of association”

Firstly, it’s not ‘Christian Students’ as a whole – bear in mind that at Exeter a key element in the story were other Christians who were not allowed to be part of the Christian Union because they wouldn’t sign the doctrinal basis that helped get the name change through. Secondly, there also isn’t any effort to stop the Christian Unions meeting, banning their beliefs or anything like that, it is primarily that the Student Unions are withdrawing support as they believe the CU’s are contravening the Student Union rules, which state that the union ‘shall not harass, intimidate or threaten any member or group’. The issue is one of a conflict between the rules of the Student Union, and the way the Christian Unions want to operate – if they were operating independently of the Student Union, there wouldn’t be a problem.

Ironically, this is exactly what the UCCF has previously done, having pursued a policy to discourage Christian Unions from becoming University Societies. I suspect that this will be the ultimate result of the latest round of arguments. I’m sure there would be local Churches willing to support the groups and provide meeting rooms and the like instead of using the Student Union. Assuming good relations with them (which a number of Universities don’t have), they could even affiliate with the University Chaplaincy, as suggested by the Anglican Chaplain of Southampton University – although I suspect that may cause problems as they’d probably require the Chaplain to sign their doctrinal statement…

Update: Not surprisingly there is a load of comment on this across the blogsphere – Dave has a growing list which I won’t bother to repeat. The text of the actual letter is available online here, and having read the whole thing, it certainly re-enforces my opinion that they don’t really understand the issue. For example the comment about the SU imposing leaders on the CU is wrong – one of the current issues is that some CU’s operate by each committee appointing the next years committee contrary to the democratic principles of the SU, the SU’s are requiring that the CU committees be appointed democratically under the same rules as other societies, free and open elections. The bishops also seem to have confused meeting attendance with joining the CU – for example as happened at Exeter, some CU’s are excluding Christians from joining who won’t sign their doctrinal basis. Also, whilst some invite a range of speakers to meetings there are apparently others that won’t allow anyone who hasn’t signed their doctrinal basis from speaking. Really there is a lot more going on, and I suspect a number of people who have signed their names to the letter haven’t really taken the time to investigate, and have just listened to the hype.

Anyway, on a happier note I was quite pleased to see a couple of postings on the subject reporting that a while ago Reading University Student Union and Christian Union managed to sort things out without resorting to the courts. See also words of explanation from the RUSU President. It is interesting to note that at Reading the two organisations are quite happily co-existing, and the Christian Union is not affiliated with the Student Union for exactly the reasons that Exeter and others are de-affiliating their Student Unions. More to the point, both sides seem happy, and understand the situation. The CU can run their own affairs how they wish, and because they are separate the SU don’t have issues over their discrimination policy, indeed relations are so good that the RUSU President has even hosted an event for the CU.

“That process allowed us to agree that for the CU membership in the SU was not vital, and that the SU could nevertheless provide some facilities to the CU because of the two organisations’ friendship (given certain provisos).”

Perhaps a lesson for those CU’s resorting to the courts, over hyping media, and the letter writing bishops?

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Christian News Stories

A few Christian News Stories from the pages of Ekklesia to get you thinking…

The first that caught my eye was this one about a controversial new Bible from the Western Bible Foundation that cuts out all the passages that are difficult for Western Society to handle relating to economic justice, possessions and money.

Says the chairman of the foundation, Mr De Rijke:

“Jesus was very inspiring for our inner health, but we don’t need to take his naïve remarks about money seriously. He didn’t study economics, obviously.â€?

“What if all Christians stopped being anxious, for example, and started expecting everything from God? Or gave their possessions to the poor, for that matter. Our economy would be lost. The truth is quite the contrary: a strong economy and a healthy work ethic is a gift from God.�

However all is not as it seems, for Dutch speakers at least – ‘De Rijke’ means ‘the rich’ in Dutch. The book is making a serious point, but not the point that it seems. Mr De Rijke doesn’t really exist, and the book is actually published by a network of Christian Students and young adults called Time to Turn, and is making a point about the parts of the Bible often ignored:

“Many Christians accept the Western lifestyle, including the degradation of creation and the injustice of our trade, and they only take the easy parts of the gospel. But it isn’t until we publish this gospel with holes, that they get confused!â€?

They are soon to follow up the Western Bible with a set of bible studies looking at what was left out, thereby examining the issues that western Christians have so much difficulty with. Unfortunately the book is currently only published in Dutch – I’m sure an English version would be popular.

Secondly, today there was also news that the UK Christian Handbook from Christian Research are being selective about who they include. After previously offering the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) valuable advertising space, the offer has suddenly been withdrawn, with the editor of the handbook citing purely ‘commercial concerns’, although of course those commercial concerns are that they believe that certain elements of the UK Christian community would not buy the handbook if it had such an advert. Having said that it is sad that yet again, one particular branch of UK Christianity is, in this case succeeding in dictating what the rest of us read, watch or listen too.

That leads neatly on to a third story that caught my attention, the recent vote by the student Guild at Exeter University to rename their Christian Union back to being the Christian Union, after they had earlier been forced to change it to the ‘Evangelical Christian Union’.

To some extent at it’s core this is not a new problem, and precisely the reason that I avoided the Reading University Christian Union, that they are very narrow in their Christianity – indeed you only need look at the doctrinal basis for both Exeter and Reading. Like many of the other Christian Unions at universities they are part of the national Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, which provides the doctrinal basis, and only people who sign up to that basis can be members. In the case of Reading, as in other universities there were other Christian groups that operated separately from the Christian Union, that covered the broad range of Christian denominations and groupings.

What has happened at Exeter, as has happened previously in Birmingham and Hull, is that the student body as a whole has objected to the narrow view of Christianity as espoused by the Christian Union holding a monopoly of the term Christian. Following a complaint made to the student guild in May, the student guild forced them to change their name to the ‘Evangelical Christian Union’ to reflect their actual position. They have now, unsuccessfully tried to revert to the original name, but have been beaten by a vote amongst the students. The report on the Exeter web site quotes the leader of the campaign to retain the ‘Evangelical Christian Union’ name:

“The referendum result is a significant victory for democracy and human rights, and a hammerblow against religious bigotry and intolerance. For years, this society has deceptively marketed itself as the �Christian Union“ while systematically silencing and discriminating against Christians who are not evangelical.�

“Today, this cynical ruse has finally come to an end. The result of the referendum and the GSA motion passed yesterday represent the first two steps towards a future in which every Exeter student will have their beliefs accepted and welcomed. We sincerely hope that all religious societies –including the ECU – will be willing to work together to achieve this goal.�

Both the LGCM/Christian Handbook story, and Exeter story have a lot in common with my favourite Christian pressure group Christian Voice as they represent one group of Christians trying to portray their particular brand of Christianity as representing all Christians. What is pleasing is that at a University level at least, there are increasing indications that the term Christian is being reclaimed from the fundamentalists – unfortunately in the wider world they are still doing things like dictating the contents of the UK Christian Handbook, and still periodically appearing on TV and radio claiming to represent the whole of Christianity.

Anyway, if all this Christian Fundamentalism is getting you down, a couple of links to make you smile – how about Christian Voice: The Opera, or this quite terrifying new vicar from Mitchell and Webb? 🙂