Monday, November 20, 2006

Concern Over Christian Unions..

The CU I went to at Uni, well it was then, tended to be evangelical and conservative. I don't think any of us were that political, although those of us in the leadership did attend Student Union AGM's and, like all such groupings, there were different shades of opinion within the CU!
So I am a little concerned, to put it mildly, that there appear to be attempts to ostrasize Christian Unions! More can be found on the TimesOnline. (Hat tips to Cally's Kitchen , Iain Dale, and Archbishop Cramner)
Now I will agree to my shame, that some CU's are arrogant, stupid, and ignorant, but from first hand I can state that a lot of this comes from fear and defensiveness and this kind of action will only encourage that. To be fair though, a lot of Student Unions can equally be arrogant, intolerant, bigoted and ignorant, and I am sure a lot of that comes from fear and defensiveness as well. Some of this is down to a perception that Christian Unions are homophobic, so those who agree with these moves against University Christian Unions should ask themselves why someone like Iain Dale, who is gay and very comfortable with his sexuality, is quick to defend the right for a Christian Union to exist! Yes many evangelical christians do not agree with homosexuality and some of this is down to sheer ignorance about what it means to be gay. But many of those are simply trying to equate their experiences of life with Biblical teaching and, in spite of their tactlessness and ignorance, would be among the first to leap to the defence of any gay person they felt was being actively persecuted, because they have the maturity to tell the difference between inclination and practice even if they cannot understand how awful and difficult it is to be attracted to someone and not to act on those feelings! Wouldn't it be better to discuss these issues with them in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust, rather than each side trying to do the other down! When I was at University, Tammy and I developed this intruiging atmosphere of regard and trust for each other, where I could talk about what being a Christian meant to me and she could mention what being gay meant to her, and how we both felt about fitting in society, without fear of judgement and we both benefitted from that.
And Iain has a point about Islamic societies! When I was involved in an evangelism drive at University! I heard some of the most bigoted comments ever to come from a students mouth was from a radical muslim! It was so bad I wonder where he is now and whether he was one of those who went to help Al Qaeida! But of course, it's easier to pick on Christians who are well meaning, but crassly insensitive at times, opposed to those who might incite violence against you if you cross them!

UPDATE: Thanks to Gregg and Jonathan (see comments) for clarifying the situation

10 comments:

Adele said...

Paul, as a christian (I use the term fairly loosely), I would vociferously defend the right o0f anyone to prectise their faith. But; Christian unions are blatantly flouting equal opportunities policies. They have got to allow non Christians to attend and be on their commitees.

Paul Burgin said...

Okay, playing devil's advocate here (ironic I know), but would you allow a Conservative to sit on a Labour Party committee, because thats how a lot of CU's would see it!

Gregg said...

But that's not a comparable situation. In the Birmingham case (the only case where a CU has actualy been banned), the CU was being asked to abide by the rules of the SU in its constitution - something the Islamic and Jewish societies, as well as six denominational Christian societies, had already done. Most of the controversey centres around the name. In Exeter, after complaints from a former member who had been ostracised over doctrinal differences, the CU was required by the Students Guild to change its name to the Evangelical Christian Union. It refused and so its accounts were suspended. In Edinburgh, the CU was simply refused a venue on campus to hold a course which teaches that homosexuality is a disease that can (and needs to) be cured.

I remember at my University, both the Islamic and Christian Unions weren't affiliated with the Students Union because they didn't want to follow the SU's policies. There were smaller groups, like the Christian Socialist Group, that accepted those policies and so were affiliated.

As to your point about how CUs see it, that's much of the problem. CUs dominated by a particular doctrinal faction are fully or partially excluding Christians who do not subscribe to the same doctrine - gay Christians, liberal Chrisitians, non-Evangelicals. That they see these people as their opponents indicates that they shouldn't be allowed the blanket name "Christian Union", or membership of the relevant SU.

The membership demands are not about allowing non-Christians to join; the legal requirements on SUs to ensure all members have access to facilities means that is a simplistic requirement, but why would non-Chrisitians want to join? The demand is about those who don't subscribe to the same doctrine as the ruling elite within the CU, being allowed full and equitable membership. If you look at Dale's post, the commens from "Spooky" and "Dynamite" illustrate what this is really about. It isn't persecution, it's just asking CUs to abide by the same rules everyone else follows (including many Christian groups).

Anonymous said...

Gregg, I couldn't agree more. As a practising Christian from an Evangelical background I have very little sympathy for Christian Unions which refuse to adhere to Student Union equal opps guidelines. If members of CUs feel that strongly they either need to campaign to democratically change SU guidelines or work outside of the SU.

Christian Unions spend far too much time trying to defend their borders and keep some people in and some people out and miss the heart of Christian faith - that the life and death of Jesus is good news for everyone. If the heart of what Christians believe is true it will stand whatever is thrown at it - Christians don't need to spend their time creating artifical boundaries driven by fear.

And anyway, from a practical point of view if CUs made clear that they welcomed everyone and would hold democratic elections like other groups everyone would quickly forget the issue and CU committees would probably be very similar. Sometimes it's fine to create conflict and challenge people, but CUs are picking the wrong fights and making enemies they don't need to and then claiming they're under attack and standing up for what's 'right'.

Jonathan said...

Sorry, didn't mean to post that last comment as anonymous

Paul Burgin said...

Thanks for the clarification Gregg, much appreciated!

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

It should also be noted that a good number of CUs have traditionally chosen not to affiliate to the relevant SU precisely because of the issues over being open to all and democratically electing the society officers. Indeed UCCF used to have a policy against affiliating to SUs and apparently disbarred those CUs that did (which makes their complaints about other bodies having such conditions farcical).

Jonathan said...

Yes, I was never comfortable with CUs refusing to democratically elect committees. Many churches (I believe rightly) don't choose to elect their leaders although this should not debarr participation in decision making, holding leaders accountable and a transparent leadership style.

However a CU is not a church (it is the representation of a group of churches on campus) and 21 year old students who lead CU for a year do not have the wisdom, experience or support to take on this type of leadership or to choose new leaders. Therefore many CU committee members end up burned out and/or disillusioned.

Non-democratic selection is not only contrary to Student Union rules, but is bad for Christian Unions and those involved in running them. Unfortunately it takes a couple of years for proud students to accept all this (myself included) by which point it's almost time to leave.

Paul Burgin said...

Well talking from experience as a CU Officer, it is a bit of trial by fire. That said I was at Uni some ten to seven years ago and our CU was both affiliated to UCCF and the SU, but maybe this was during a brief period of calm as our CU exec tended tohave problems with each others style of doing things, rather than anything or anyone outside!

Man in a shed said...

The historic reason for the doctrinal basis was to prevent the activities of Christian Unions being in continual turmoil. The wider Church uses creeds for the same reason. (Now I know that Christianity is the new Fox Hunting in NuLabour circles - but the Church used to be an accepted and respected part of society).

Student Unions are anything but democratic. They are playgrounds for aspiring politcal activists to learn to claim mandates they don't have. Only a small minority of students take part in them and its a disgrace that all students are forced to be members.

The argument of equal opportiunities is bogus as how can a society go along with a policy that denys its right to believe and act in good conscience ?

Perhaps some of the other societies who pay lip service to these policies were just being economical with the truth ? Would the Islamic Society really be happy with a Christian committee ? The Christian Union is limited by its requirement to answer questions honestly ( if you have no faith then there really is no basis for your morality and you can lie at will. )

I too was on the CU exec at Uni, though what worried us was that the Real Ale Scoeity would all join and use the funds for their preferred activities !