Friday, January 05, 2007

A Christian Union looking for persecution

Since my previous posts (On Christian Unions and Students' Unions and Bishops jump on a bandwagon) the row between some Students' Unions and Christian Unions has reached ridiculous proportions with the announcement that Exeter's Evangelical Christian Union is going to court to force the Students' Guild to allow it to have public sourced money despite not being open to all. (BBC News: Christian students in legal fight) If the ECU thinks that it's being persecuted because it isn't able to both discriminate and access Guild funds (there's nothing stopping it existing outside the Guild) then it is trivialising the meaning of religious persecution.

BBC News has statements by representatives of both the Students' Guild and the Evangelical Christian Union and the latter is somewhat curious:

Ben Martin, Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union:
We ask members to sign a simple statement that says they declare Jesus Christ to be their Lord, Saviour and God. And to lead the society we ask people to agree to a 10-point doctrinal basis which states the core political beliefs of the Christian faith.
If it really is just "the core political beliefs of the Christian faith" why does this statement include a clause asserting Biblical literalism, denying the role of tradition and interpretation that most Christian Churches have?

And if, as some reports have commented, the issue of homophobia is tied up in this, why has the ECU forgotten that the only people Jesus condemned weren't gays but religious fundamentalists.

Some such as Ben are asserting that there are "at other universities other faith groups... [which] have a simple statement of faith". If they are existing and receiving students' union funds through affiliation (the crucial point that a lot are overlooking) then they too should be looked at.

Ben Martin:
We believe that our fundamental rights of belief, association and freedom of expression have been violated and infringed so we are quite prepared to stand up for these freedoms.
Just what is stopping the ECU existing outside the Students' Guild? As has been often pointed out, this is the position that the Universities and Colleges' Christian Fellowship advocated for years. Indeed they made it a condition of membership so it's a big cheek for them to start whining about other organisations having and enforcing requirements for affiliations.

Truly this whole affair is reflecting badly on the ECU.

8 comments:

cim said...

"If they are existing and receiving students' union funds through affiliation"

Well, there's no requirement that an SU forces affiliated societies to be open to all SU members, though it is such a standard thing I don't know of a counter-example.

Gene said...

You think the ECU is trivialising Christian persecution? Well I think you are belittling their efforts to ensure that persecution against Christians does not escalate to the kind that organisations like the Barnabas Fund works hard to stop.

MP Nadine Dorries expressed her support of CUs across the UK and said:

"This House notes the valuable work and support provided to students by Christian Unions on university and college campuses across the United Kingdom; notes the constructive dialogue that exists between the majority of Christian Union Societies and Student Guilds/Associations on campuses across the country; believes a tolerant society should respect the rights of Christian Unions to their beliefs; believes Christian Unions are entitled to the rights of freedom of expression, freedom of belief and freedom of association; believes the leadership of Christian Unions should not be imposed with people who do not share their core beliefs". She is also one of 68 MPs to have signed EDM 422: Support for Christian Unions.

I especially agree with the latter part of her statement and am suprised that you don't appear to, considering you are a Christian. The Guild wanted to govern the way in which the ECU was run (such as imposing a change of name) which is ridiculous - would you have a member of the golf club running the surfing club? I know nothing about, say, Hinduism and wouldn't presume that I could legitimately to tell a Hindu society how to run their organisation and cannot understand the logic behind such a presumption.

I also have friends at the university and am hoping to attend in September and am concerned about not having the support I need as a Christian at university which is very hard, as I wouldn't want the excitement of being young and at university to get the better of me.

Yes, the CU can exist outside of the Guild but it is suspended from the official list of student societies on campus and cannot advertise events within Guild facilities - meaning that a lot of students will be unaware of its existence as the CU cannot even advertise during Freshers Week. It has had its Student Union bank account frozen, and has been banned from free use of Student Guild premises and will be charged the going rate for rooms or facilities within the Guild's jurisdiction for events or advertising - before you state that they can simply just pay, please note that ECU attendees are students & generally not "flash for cash".

I hope that others are more sympathetic to the position of the ECU and other Christian unions across the country.

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Okay first off I don't believe the ECU is in any way like religious groups that suffered under oppresive regimes. Calling this "persecution" devalues the term.

Nadine Dorries's statement is somewhat wishy washy and doesn't get at the heart of the matter. It's not about "imposing" leadershps on CUs. It's about a body being able to have reasonable regulations for those who access its funds. It's not a matter of having "a member of the golf club running the surfing club" (although if someone is in both clubs and the surfing club elect them to run it why not?). It's a matter of a society that wishes to access funds provided for the benefit of all students to be open to all students and to be run by the choice of those students who are members.

With regards the name, these issues often come up when societies wish to affiliate to students' unions and sometimes afterwards. My own (QMSU) has on several occassions requested a name change for clarity (usually because of the autonomy and semi-separate identity of the School of Medicine and Dentistry and its Students' Association) so that it's clear what the society is. A students' union is also right to say that it will deal with and give funds to a clearly defined and chosen leadership. Democratic election ensures that said leadership is the will of the members of the society.

I see you've swallowed a lot of the myths on this one. As for the ECU existing outside the Guild, why do you assume it has an automatic right to cheap or free room bookings? If I opt to join an organisation that provides benefits such as cheap or easy access to facilities I have to meet the obligations of membership. I can't just demand my right to have my cake and eat it.

I also think the notion that a Christian attending university needs a CU for support is fundamentally flawed. When I was an undergraduate I never joined the CU very much because it was not some all Christian embracing body but a very evangelical organisation preaching a particularly narrow doctrine. Many, many, many others at universities across the country did not and have not either.

From what I've seen on the ECU messageboard it appears that many of them do agree with the confrontationalist approach that has been adopted (with, it seems, encouragement from above). I think there is a reasonable solution in all this and no-one has yet explained what is wrong with CUs being open to all who wish to join and having their leadership elected by their members. I don't think those are in anyway unreasonable requirements for being able to access students' union funds.

Contemplative Activist said...

This is persecutionof Christians

The ECU are just whinging and enjoying it! The SU are just enjoying a bit of a fight, I do wish they'd put their efforts into something more worthwhile!

el tom said...

What an utter disgrace. On the upside, your analysis makes it look like htey have no chance of winning!

Gene said...

I am beginning to think (and hope) that you have completely misunderstood the particulars of the Exeter CU situation, exactly how is beyond my comprehension, but your comments indicate a misunderstanding - "I think there is a reasonable solution in all this and no-one has yet explained what is wrong with CUs being open to all who wish to join and having their leadership elected by their members. I don't think those are in anyway unreasonable requirements for being able to access students' union funds" and "It's a matter of a society that wishes to access funds provided for the benefit of all students to be open to all students and to be run by the choice of those students who are members." The ECU is open to ALL students and its primary concern is to communicate the vital message of God's love and gift of life to as many people as possible and that is surely to the benefit of all students, do you not agree? It should also be run by those students who are members of the ECU and are prepared uphold orthodox Christian teaching and so you and I and the ECU agree! So why are you not supporting the ECU in pushing for what you evidently see as being "reasonable requirements"?

You seem to be hung up on the word "persecution" and its use in connection with the ECU and yet the ECU itself has not used the word when discussing their dealings with the Students' Guild, so why are you pressing this term upon them? Surely, it cannot be the ECUs fault if the media and others like yourself decide to carelessly throw that word around and then complain about the association of persecution with the ECU and further claim that it is this state that they are seeking? I myself do not believe that "persecution" is the wrong word to use as there can be different levels of persecution and not only life threatening but by your seeming argument, persecution can only be used in extreme circumstances and that is not the case, to persecute someone can be to treat them unfairly in which I case I believe this stands with the ECU – your connotation of the word is simply different so do not try to impose your perception of the word on others or expect theirs to mirror yours.

Andrea Minichiello Williams noted that “Christian Unions are facing increasing difficulties in being allowed to function on campus, but they have a fundamental right to speak and to associate around a creed, in this case a Christian creed and Christian beliefs.” After 76 years, Birmingham CU was suspended by the Students' Guild after it refused to allow its meetings to be led or addressed by anyone not prepared to sign up to its ten-point statement of beliefs. It also refused to alter its constitution to include references to people who were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The Guild wanted Exeter CU to stop its practice of asking people who come to speak at the CU from assenting to their Declaration of Belief, which list the orthodox teachings of historic Christianity. The Bible is God's Word given to us and should not be altered, watered down or ignored partially when it does not sit well with some people. The Bible is clear about where it stands on sin and for the sake for those wilfully indulging in sin, it cannot be suppressed or reworded in a way to appease their consciences.

UCCF states that "The ECU has not changed its views, constitution or position, and yet, suddenly, we are told, in a brief mobile telephone call, one day before legal action commences, and with no explanation, apology or compensation offered, that the ECU could be reinstated, in the view of the Guild chair." No official letter has been issued to cement this statement and let me assure you that stopping and recommencing legal proceedings is no easy feat which is why a warning letter was issued to the Guild to advise them of the ECU's intention, thereby giving them an opportunity to resolve the matter. An informal telephone conversation is simply not good enough and is not an assurance that the Guild will not revert to its former position, if it in fact did change its stance.

As for your thinking the importance of having CU support as a student being "fundamentally flawed", I ask you to rethink your position. You thought your faith strong enough to withstand being separated from one's home church, family and Christian friends; well others are not as seemingly secure in their faith. The Bible states that fellowship with other Christians is necessary for spiritual growth and I have found that it is important to have positive influences such as a CU and UCCF in your life as they can encourage and build you up in faith as it is so find to get immersed in the pleasures of the world and do as everyone else does, working with a university I'm sure you've noticed that for a lot of students, education is not their primary objective of being in university, they're there for the 'experience' and these often involve excessive drinking and sex both of which are temptations. I know that I would certainly benefit from being able to converse with other Christians about my faith and turn to them for encouragement, prayer and support. Youth is a good time to develop a relationship with God. Ecclesiastes 12:1, TLB says "Don't let the excitement of being young cause you to forget about your Creator: Honour Him in your youth before the evil years come - when you'll no longer enjoy living."

If I find that my CU is preaching a "particularly narrow doctrine" which either does not preach the full gospel or is biblically incorrect then I will have no qualms about addressing them on this point and challenging them as they may not even realise what they are doing and by pointing them back to the Bible then there can be no argument as God's Word is clear and who can argue with God?

I hope it will not be your response to get angry with what I have said and immediately seek a way to refute my above points as if you are a Christian, surely you and I are united in Christ and should seek to reconcile. I strongly urge you to look at www.twowaystolive.com as that sets out the fundamental Christian message and see if you agree with it. I would be interested to know your thoughts on two ways to live.

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Okay let's take this point by point.

The ECU is open to ALL students

No - only those who will sign the statement. And let's kill this myuth once and for all - the UCCF statement is not "what all Christians believe" or "mainstream orthodox Christianity". Take a look at What Should Christian Students Believe? by an Anglican priest for a breakdown of this.

It should also be run by those students who are members of the ECU

That is standard that only members are eligible to stand for positions. But why should they not be the democratic choice of the ECU membership, only the ECU membership and no-one but the ECU membership?

So why are you not supporting the ECU in pushing for what you evidently see as being "reasonable requirements"?

I don't see why the ECU is getting hung up on this when even members and former committee members think there's little wrong with making the changes to meet the Guild requirements - I would link to the messageboard connected to the ECU's own site but at the moment the top relevant Google hit is a statement by the Guild.

You seem to be hung up on the word "persecution" and its use in connection with the ECU and yet the ECU itself has not used the word when discussing their dealings with the Students' Guild, so why are you pressing this term upon them? Surely, it cannot be the ECUs fault if the media and others like yourself decide to carelessly throw that word around and then complain about the association of persecution with the ECU and further claim that it is this state that they are seeking?

"Persecution" is a term being used by many ECU supporters in the blogosphere and elsewhere. Reread my post and you'll note I did not say the ECU themselves are saying this.

After 76 years, Birmingham CU was suspended by the Students' Guild after it refused to allow its meetings to be led or addressed by anyone not prepared to sign up to its ten-point statement of beliefs.

Read the Ekklesia report which has further details on the Birmingham situation; suffice it to say that it arose from an audit of societies. Also it wasn't the only society found to be non compliant but the other hasn't gone crying to the media.

As for your thinking the importance of having CU support as a student being "fundamentally flawed", I ask you to rethink your position. You thought your faith strong enough to withstand being separated from one's home church, family and Christian friends; well others are not as seemingly secure in their faith.

Again you are confusing CUs with bodies for all Christians. I, like many, many others, joined Christian groups that were honest about their position. And most CU members I've met were not staunch Christians when they came to university. Many ex CU members have similar accounts of how they were recruited.

I strongly urge you to look at www.twowaystolive.com as that sets out the fundamental Christian message and see if you agree with it. I would be interested to know your thoughts on two ways to live.

I'll take a look.

Gene said...

Do you not agree with the UCCF Doctrinal Basis and disagree that "The Bible as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour."?

I believe the largest problem producing schisms within the Anglican Church is that a growing proportion of Anglicans are not promoting or standing by true biblical teaching which is what the above statement is setting out to endorse. 2 Timothy 3:15 says "…you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. ALL Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." As the Bible is from God and His character is behind it, it must be inerrant and infallible. Anything said contradictory to that truth would be blasphemous.

The Bible can be turned to for every circumstance and condition in life for although thousands of years have passed, the one thing on earth that remains the same is the human heart. Do not depend upon the conjectures and opinions of men, but upon the infallible decision of the word of God. The word of the infinite God is true, and should not be distorted to suit men's pleasure, or be turned aside to suit the inclinations of man's sinful heart.

2 Timothy 4:1 says "the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." Does this sound familiar? Take a look around: that is exactly what is going on today with lots of people, even within the church, trying to condone or justify sin despite the Bible being very clear about where it stands on sin. Some people don't want to change from the sinful lives they lead and so would prefer to pretend that their sin is not as big a deal as it says in the Bible but the only people they're hurting are themselves. Stick to the Bible and there will be no need for turning aside to myths.

There is a great danger in directly going against God's word and wilfully sinning, encouraging others to do so and opposing those who are carrying out God's commandments. The Pharisees heard the word of God and were viewed by society as holy men but they did not take it to heart and there is certainly the danger that there are many others who are in the same position today who are hypocrites whose actions do not mirror their fine words or who directly go against God's word when He is very clear on what is good and what is evil. The word of God is not a pick and mix where you can just hear what you want and ignore what you're not comfortable with – being a Christian is very hard because it goes directly against our self-centred hearts.

Have you had a look at the site I mentioned?

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