Saturday, January 28, 2006

Birmingham SU "Disfellowships" Birmingham CU.

P.C gone mad or Conservative Evangelicals Getting Their Just Desserts?

I've been following the story of my old Christian Union with some interest and concern. It's attracted international interest, even getting a comment from Al Mohler. BUECU (Birmingham University Evangelical Christian Union) has had it's bank accounts frozen - some £4, 000 - and been officially removed as a recognised body by the Student Union after some problems with their constitution. The Times puts the problem as this:

"Members claim the actions have been taken against them after they refused on religious grounds to make “politically correct” changes to their charitable constitution, including explicitly mentioning people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered".

The official UCCF website puts it slightly differently but essentially the same:

"The Students Union at Birmingham University wanted to impose one of their own leaders onto the CU executive, open membership to people of all faiths and beliefs, and instructed the Christian fellowship to change its constitution. The Guild raised concern at the words "men" and "women", as it could be seen as excluding transsexual/transgender persons."

The CU have been advised to take the SU to court unless their funds are released.

I have an interest in this story because I went to the CU during my nursing training (1997 to 2001) and was Prayer Secretary on the Exec in 1999 so when I heard about this story I read the constitution again. Clause 5.1.1 restricts membership of BUECU to those who; "declare their faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour, Lord and God. And understand and commit to the four aims of the CU". Those four aims are found in Clauses 3.1.1 to 3.1.4. Are they restrictive? Yes. But surely consistency has a place here. Would not Muslim societies, or Jewish societies or 'special interest' societies such as Jehovah's Witnesses demand similiar beliefs as part of their membership? (Although Guild President Richard Angell promises that all such groups have open membership criteria).

By the way - the PC-obsessed Student Union seem to anxious to protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students at Birmingham University - yet I wonder if they have made a visit to the LGBT website. THEY restrict membership to: "anyone who self-defines as LGBT". I don't think you can get more restrictive than that! Although I cannot imagine anyone from BUECU been overly keen to join their membership.

The other problem identified has been the electing of the Executive. It has been practice for the out-going Executive to nominate members of the CU and then an AGM elects them. Clause 12.2 allows the out-going Exec to invite nominations from the membership "if they wish to". I don't recall that ever happening!

So ...

What's the big fuss? Well on the one hand, this seems to me to be breathtaking authoritarian and outrageous behaviour by the Student Union. They are being totally inconsistent. They must either freeze the accounts of ALL student groups who do not conform to this "open" policy in all matters - or they should apologise to BUECU and for heaven's sake give them back their money before this hits the courts.

The other thing that bothered me IMMENSELY was that it seems from the Guild minutes that their meeting with BUECU was taken in GERMAN! When asked why, the individual concerned said it was done "to see if anyone would read them". Upon a show of hands, it seemed only 5 people were fluent in German and had read them. This seems in extremely poor taste and is nothing short of disgusting behaviour particularly as a large amount of money is at stake, to say nothing of the 100+ strong feelings of the Christian Union.

On the other hand this blog has been following the story as well and some of the comments it has attracted do present the other side of the coin. One chap pointed out that this is NOT a unique event. He said:

"Durham CU has been unafiliated with their SU for several years. Warwick CU is also starting some sort of a process to reafiliate with it's SU. Both of these were kicked out/forced to leave due to similar reasons that the Birmingham guild decided to suspend their Evangelical CU".

Someone else suggested the CU should sue for membership in the LGBT forcing the Student Union to see the stupid inconsistency of their actions. Another commentator said:

"The situation in Birmingham is regrettable, but from what I've been able to find out it doesn't seem as if either party had been particularly proactive about seeking out the core issues and explaining them articulately. Hopefully it'll be resolved soon, but both sides are going to have to be willing to listen carefully and consider compromise".

I do worry that BUECU shouldn't be so quick to take the matter to court. I fully appreciate that there is an amount of money that has been illegally frozen, but the Times religious reporter pointed out that normally there is often a lot of caution when giving interviews for fear of the generated headlines. She pointed out that interviewing the SU President was a "dream" because he had no such fears. I would guess that similarly they would have no such fears in combatting the action in court, with aid from Evangelical-hating lawyers I have no doubt.

Whatever the outcome, I suspect it will not benefit the Christian Union in the long term. I have signed a petition to the University authorities and don't regret it. I think this has been handled terribly. A number of commentators have questioned the suitability of such a close relationship between the SU and the CU. I realise that there are huge implications such as not being able to meet on campus as well as financial implications - but if Evangelicals are going to make their stand on orthodox doctrine, then I think we must be willing to pay the price. It seems UCCF are funding a number of loans to help BUECU through this disaster (I suspect they are the ones urging the CU to deal with it in the courts as well) - maybe their money and time would be more well spent in helping establish the CU outside of and apart from the SU. Just a thought.

PS: Apparantly it is not just BUECU falling foul of the PC-mad SU. The National Blood Service were banned from advertising at the Birmingham Freshers Fair because they won't allow homosexuals men to donate blood!


SJ said...

An interesting story. I think it highlights the dramatic inconsistencies between CU's and SU's. An uneasy relationship to be sure - but we were never promised by the Lord an easy time.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. Mind you I'm at UWE CU and we wouldnt allow a church to advertise at our Freshers Fair because of a hideous authoritarian view on women. So CU's can dish it out too.

Baxter's Boy said...

Interesting comment. Mind you - I'm aware of that event and the church involved!

ollie said...

I think I agree with your evalution of this unfortunate event. Should CU's have anything to do with the world? They would say they have no choice maybe. But this shows its either compromise or - this.

Anonymous said...

Oh really? Do you go to that church? *blushes*

Baxter's Boy said...

No I certainly don't. But if you investigate, they do have quite an extreme view on the place of women in the church. They exalt it to the status of primary importance.

Jules said...

Interesting use of the word: "Disfellowship". I didn't find that anywhere in any of the news scripts. As far as I can tell only the Mormons use that! Or am I wrong!?!

Mark Heath said...

IIRC, Southampton CU wasn't part of the SU for the same reasons. In many ways it made life a lot simpler, although it meant paying for the privilege of meeting in university rooms.

I wonder whether what is happening in CU's at the moment will start to happen in churches. How long before it is considered illegal to employ only evangelicals as your pastor? Perhaps a return to "tent-making" is the future for our pastors.

Luke Wood said...

Although regretable, my sympathy is not that far-reaching. Yes, if these restrictions were placed on the Church by the world that would be outrageous. But we are not talking about a church. It's a CU. Perhaps this is not the disastrous situation it seems.

My belief is that the Bible teaches the primary expression of God's manifold wisdom and glory is the Church, and His Word contains specific practical instructions as to how that should be worked out on a local level (ie. local churches). CUs in general don't fit this criteria.

Being involved in the student work in my church, a big passion of mine is to see the Church have her confidence restored in this regard, that we CAN and MUST take responsibility for reaching students, as local churches.

So, if these events in Birmingham provide a platform for the local church to start taking responsibility for reaching the student communities, it will be for the greater good. We mustn't fall into the trap of preserving a man-made institution for its own sake.

At a university like Sheffield, where there are now four different Christian societies (3 of which are evangelical), the fallibility of such man-made organisations is evident. None of the organisations unites the Christians of the university, just divides us up into boxes.

How is the Lavish Grace weekend going Dan?

Baxter's Boy said...

Thanks Mark and Luke for your helpful comments. I think this has been my thought-process. That we don't find CU's or para-church organisations in the Bible hence it's hard to find precidents for this sort of thing.

And v v good point - CU's first - when next are the churches? Are we taking full time pastors for granted?

Terry's been his usual outstanding self Luke - what an amazing awesome blessing!! I even snuck into the leaders meetings ...

Anonymous said...

Baxter's boy...
NO WAY you are 28 years old. *smile*

My name is Sheila. I live in the state of Tennessee, USA. My husband is sr. pastor of a "mini-mega church"...a church with under 100 members (the Lord told me years ago, "NEVER call this church 'small'..") a church that loves BIG, believes BIG, and serves a BIG God. We have four teenaged children.

Last weekend, my twin daughters (aged 18) and I attended a missions conference in Johnson City, Tennessee. We met a brother by the name of Joe Ewen, who has planted (I think) three or four churches in Scotland. We also met Peter McDermitt, a bivocational pastor who is struggling to plant a church on the Isle of Skye.

My daughters and I came away with such a burden for the UK. I also promptly came away with a bad lower back. (!) My lower back just began to go into a spasm that has never quite let up since. Spiritual connection? I do not know.

Anyhow...we have begun praying consistently for the UK, and most especially for Scotland. For various reasons I won't bore you with, this burden brings my life into a "full circle". I never, in my most unusual thoughts (and I read GK Chesteron sometimes, so my thoughts can get rather unusual) thought I'd be someone with a burden for Scotland. I mean...what about that "10/40 window"? What about naked natives? What about the horrible poverty in Haiti (which is where my husband has been many times - helping build churches there.)??

I'm reading snippets in the most recently published "missions books" purchased from our local Christian bookstore. They all say Scotland and England are "dry"...they say ya'll (excuse or delight in the southern drawl...) are hung up on etiquette...they say you don't wear striped ties there in the UK. That gives me very little to "go on" when I pray, but still I pray for Scotland. My children pray. My husband prays. Sometimes, I pray with tears. (Granted...this burden is not years long. It has been happening for a week. *grin* But I have walked with the Lord just long enough to know a *true* burden from a passing fancy.

I've read much of your blog with great joy and interest. (Our church here is charismatic, interdenominational) Keep posting.

In Him Who is Able,
Sheila in Tennessee

Baxter's Boy said...

Sheila ... thanks so much for leaving a comment! Great to read of you - I LOVE meeting new people and learning of them! Do you know - the fact that you are praying for us here in the UK just overwhealms me with blessing. Thank you! We need it! Because we are DESPERATELY dry!

God bless you tons!! D xxx

PS: Yep I am indeed 28!

thebluefish said...


You're right the main category is the local church, CU is not local church but is the united wing of the local churches...

Christian Union IS the local church taking responsibility for students by reaching them together, united in the gospel and laying aside the differences that would otherwise divide for the sake of united witness. You say that having three at Sheffield doesn't unite - I'd plead for a way to unite them, why settle for division.

It befuddles me why godly Christians who agree on the core of the gospel will stand against each other because they disagree about women's leadership or charismatic gifts or simply because one group thinks about what it believes and the other doesn't. Surely our priority is the living and preaching of the gospel.

On worldly influence, I don't think it will be all that long before churches aren't allowed to employ only Christians - if this SU- hyper-PC agenda persists. That said, I think the majority of the UK probably think that this hype-PC agenda is ridiculous, so we may not get to that,..yet.

Personally, I don't think CU's need to be part of SU's - though at Birmingham the SU does own all the public spaces that the CU might want to meet in, so its tricky not to be a member.