Tag Archives: Exeter University

Simplification and Confusion

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.

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? 🙂