Trinity College has apologised for hosting a Christian Concern conference over the Easter vacation, in a continuing row over the college’s affiliations with a group with allegedly homophobic campaigns.
In a statement on the college’s website, Trinity’s President Sir Ivor Roberts said that the college “regrets that any current or old members were upset by the fact that we gave houseroom unwittingly to Christian Concern”, promising to allocate any profit from the conference to an appropriate charity.
In response to the issue, the College has set up a review of the procedures for college use by outside agencies.
Roberts emphasised that the College was unaware of the organisation’s background, saying that “the name rang no bells”.
In response to criticisms from current and former students over the college’s involvement with the fringe group, Roberts stated that: “Like any other college, but not obviously the Permanent Private Halls, we don’t claim any political or religious stance. Our morals as far as this matter is concerned are set out in our equality and diversity policies which are an exact mirror of those of the University.”
The row follows a similar debate last year, after Christian Concern was hosted by Exeter over Easter 2012. Following a public protest outside the college, and the submission of a petition to the college authorities, Exeter donated profits from the conference to LGBTQ causes.
The conference, known as ‘The Wilberforce Academy’, is described on its website as a programme for “students and young professionals with a passion to serve Jesus Christ”, preparing them for “servant-hearted, Christ-centred leadership in public life, having been equipped with a robust biblical framework that guides their thinking, prayers and activity”.
Trinity Diversity Rep Priya Manwaring commented: “I personally feel it was extremely inappropriate for the College to host Christian Concern, but understand that the mistake lay in administrative error rather than an informed decision to host what is essentially a homophobic, anti-Muslim extremist group. However, I still find it worrying that the name “rang no bells” when they were booked in, after what happened at Exeter only last year – I assume this will be considered in the review of the booking system.”
She added: ”Many Trinity students were, of course, extremely upset and angered by the College hosting Christian Concern. Actions such as these can only serve to counter attempts to make our College’s still quite small LGBTQ community feel as accepted and supported as possible, and Trinity’s (and more generally, Oxford’s) reputation of conservatism is already problematic, and we ought to be taking active measures to counter this.”
Christian Concern has been widely criticised for its allegedly homophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric, with ‘Islam‘ and ‘Sexual Orientation’ listed as under the ‘Our Concerns’ section of their website.
A document published by the group entitled ‘The truth about Same-Sex ‘Marriage’’ states that “introducing same-sex marriage would legitimise sinful behaviour”. It also claims that homosexual relationships “are not nearly as stable as heterosexual relationships, since ‘open’ relationships and a high degree of promiscuity are often the norm for homosexuals”.
Despite this, Andrea Minichiello Williams, barrister and Founder of Christian Concern, maintained that,“the views held by Christian Concern are not ‘radical’ in any way,” observing that “they are the view held historically by the Christian Church for the past 2,000 years and should therefore come as no shock to anyone.”
She condemned the outrage of students the start of “mind control”, arguing that, “Oxford University should continue to stand for free speech and free expression and allow its students to have the intellectual ability to decide whether they wish to attend external events, and to make up their own minds on what they hear.”
Nevertheless, Trinity student Crawford Jamieson commented, “Many people in Trinity felt, myself included, that hosting Christian Concern was a slap in the face to LGBTQ members of College. However, it does appear to have been a genuine mistake, and Trinity were swift to apologize and take the appropriate course of action.”
Meanwhile, JCR president Andy Butler said: “[I] was very disappointed that a group holding prejudiced views had been facilitated within our College. However, I think Trinity’s response has been very good and has demonstrated clearly the accidental nature of hosting the event and a commitment to supporting equality and diversity.
“The JCR Committee and I will keep an eye on these [charitable] pledges and continue to relay student feedback to the College.”
A representative of Trinity Christian Union, who have attempted to distance themselves from Christian Concern, commented, “The Christian Union in Trinity were not involved in the conference or the decision by college to host it. The CU is committed to sharing the love of God with all people in our college and in the wider University.”