Oxford University canceled Christian conference booking, group says

Free Speech Union criticizes college’s ‘wholehearted acceptance’ of student complaints

Worcester College in Oxford, England |

A college in Oxford, England, has canceled an upcoming Christian conference after student activists complained that pamphlets and lecturers advocated gay conversion therapy, an evangelical group sponsoring the event has claimed.

Wilberforce Academy, an affiliate of the evangelical advocacy group Christian Concern, has for more than a decade held a week-long conference for university students and young professionals at Worcester College to guide them in applying the Christian faith. to their vocations.

After last September’s lecture, some university students pressured the school to take action against the group, saying the speakers’ beliefs were “hateful and disabling” towards the LGBT community. The school issued an apology to those offended by the lecture.

Preliminary booking for this year’s Wilberforce Academy conference scheduled for september was canceled by Worcester College, according to a statement from Christian Concern.

Student activists allege that leaflets promoting the conference’s Christian worldview were distributed “aggressively” “without consent”, according to a statement from Christian Concern.

Conversion therapy is defined as an attempt to alter sexual orientation or gender identity through therapy. However, some Christian organizations, such as Christian Concern, argue that the term “conversion therapy” is misleading. Some say outrage over “exaggerated accusations” of electroshock torture treatment is being used to criminalize counseling for people dealing with unwanted same-sex attraction. Some Christian counselors claim that conversion therapy bans are attempts by governments to censor advice provided by licensed professionals.

Upon hearing news of Worcester’s public apology after last year’s conference, Christian Concern launched an independent investigation.

The group said in a statement Monday that there was “no evidence” found to support the college apologizing last year and canceling the event booking this year.

“After thoroughly reviewing all available evidence provided by 114 participants, the conclusion is that the complaints against the Wilberforce Academy delegates are ‘without merit,'” Christian Concern stressed in its statement.

The Christian Post has contacted Worcester College to comment on Christian Concern’s claims. A response is pending.

In a statement sent to the Daily Mail, a Worcester spokesperson refuted claims the school had canceled the group’s booking and revealed officials planned to discuss the concerns with Christian Concern.

“Worcester College would like to clarify that, contrary to media reports, no conference bookings have been cancelled,” the spokesperson said. “The college does not accept many of the conclusions of Christian Concern’s own report, and we are disappointed that this report has been published without our having had the opportunity to discuss it in advance.”

“The college looks forward to a constructive meeting with Christian Concern and the opportunity to properly discuss the issues raised,” the college spokesperson added. “We support freedom of expression and it remains one of the core values ​​of the college.”

Christian Concern reported that the topics that were covered by the “expert” international speakers at the conference were teachings of “biblical” beliefs that the Church has held for some 2,000 years.

The legal group confirmed that topics covered by Wilberforce Academy at the conferences include “the role of Christianity in shaping law and culture; understand today’s context; biblical ethics on human identity and sexuality and comparative religion, including examination of the nature of Islam.

Worcester College is led by the former chairman of the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and former leader of the LGBT organization Stonewall, Provost David Isaac.

Christian Concern said in its Monday statement that it was informed by the college last November that Wilberforce Academy’s preliminary booking for September 2021 had been canceled because the college planned to conduct an internal review of the matter.

“As you know, the University of Oxford and Worcester College seek to establish an inclusive culture that promotes equality, values ​​diversity and maintains a working, learning and social environment in which the rights and dignity of all members of the college and university community (including believers) are respected,” the college said in a statement.

Worcester College says it received several complaints from students about leaflets distributed on campus last September.

“Unsolicited approaches by your conference delegates to staff and students on College grounds regarding various issues, particularly LGBT conversion therapy, which they found upsetting,” the college told Chrisitan Concern. “This was particularly the case for new students taking part in a side event, Opportunity Oxford, which prepares young people for their imminent admission to the University of Oxford.”

When asked to show details of alleged complaints and leaflets distributed on campus, Christian Concern was told the school could not provide such information.

“The information provided does not allow me to identify any of your delegates,” a Worcester College official told Christian Concern. “I was unable to obtain a copy of the leaflets that were allegedly distributed.”

Christian Concern’s independent investigation was led by Michael Stewart, a charity lawyer with previous experience in similar investigations.

Of the 124 attendees at the 2021 conference, 114 provided witness statements responding to the allegations. Worcester College did not participate in the investigation, according to Christian Concern.

“Allegations that have been made of inappropriate behavior do not match my own experiences with delegates with whom I have had the pleasure of teaching and interacting. I found them unerringly courteous and, in their debates with each other, mature and respectful,” one of the attendees quoted in a witness statement as saying.

“I find it very sad that people are spreading lies when it’s been a very positive week where many of today’s issues could be discussed with love and respect,” said another participant.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said she expected the inquiry would find no evidence that delegates had done anything to justify “apologizing, being canceled or being victimized”. discrimination for their Christian beliefs”.

“Worcester College has capitulated to complaints from a handful of students who appear to have been offended following a debate on some of the most important social issues of our time. It is disappointing that a university and such a prestigious college nullifies Christian beliefs, debate and free speech,” Williams wrote.

Williams thinks Oxford University should uphold ‘freedom’ of speech and expression and allow its students to have the ‘intellectual’ ability to decide whether they want to attend outside events and make up their minds about what they hear.

“We will continue to speak of Jesus Christ who himself was an outsider and by his words and actions demonstrated his commitment to reaching the marginalized, excluded and vulnerable so that they may experience true hope and love. eternal through him, even sacrificing his own life to do so,” she added.

The Free Speech Union, a UK-based advocacy group, sent a letter to Provost Issac last week expressing concern about the school’s handling of allegations against Wilberforce Academy.

“The College’s unqualified acceptance of claims that the conference harmed students was a serious mistake,” FSU General Secretary Toby Young wrote. “Consistent, as you yourself have said, with your own and the College’s commitment to freedom of expression, the College should have investigated and dealt with unsubstantiated student complaints. No higher education institution should apologize for free speech.

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