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!
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!