An Oxford college is in hot water for hosting a conference for a religious group with controversial views about homosexuality.
Trinity College has been heavily criticised for agreeing to host a conference organised by Christian Concern, a lobby group which has previously come under fire for what some people have interpreted as homophobia.
The ‘Wilberforce Academy’ conference also caused controversy last year, when it was held at Exeter College, resulting in the profits of the conference being donated to LGBTQ organisations. Nevertheless, the event began yesterday in Trinity with a seminar on ‘How To Engage with Secular Culture’. The conference, which has paid to be hosted, lasts three days and is expected to end tomorrow, aims to prepare delegates for ‘servant-hearted, Christ-centred leadership in public life’, according to their website.
The lobby group lists sexual orientation as one of its ‘concerns’ on its website, also mentioning Islam and religious freedom. The CEO of Christian Concern has previously been reported as saying: “It is time to stand up to a militant homosexual lobby who are unable to tolerate difference of opinion and who seek to coerce behaviour and thought.”
Meanwhile an article posted on the Christian Concern website yesterday encourages people to ‘support traditional marriage while you’re allowed to’, stating that ‘if gender is taken out of the definition of marriage through these proposals, marriage will cease to be marriage.’
Olivia Ouwehand, a third-year English student at Trinity College, described Christian Concern as a “homophobic, anti-muslim and anti-tolerant body of extremists and politically active Christians.”
Olivia hopes that Trinity College follows Exeter College’s precedent last year by “paying all profits of the conference to an LGBTQ charity, of issuing an apology to Trinity and the Oxford community more widely for their mistake, and making sure that they have a system in place which ensures against repeat mistakes being made in the future.”
History student Tom Lowman added that he is “sad for gay students and Christian students in Trinity because they’ve both been hard done by” as a result of the college hosting the conference.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, disputed the claim that they are a homophobic organisation, saying ‘nothing could be further from the truth, we have immense love for every human being’.
“It is wrong to portray us as an organisation that is motivated by any hatred,” she added.
Ivor Roberts, the president of Trinity, told the Independent that he hadn’t heard of Christian Concern before this morning, and that he had ‘no idea there was anything controversial about them’.
“Christian Concern is a neutral name,” he said, and in seeing that the organisation had the support of former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, ‘the conference people booked it accordingly’.
He confirmed that he already set up a review into how the college selects its conference partners, to make sure that its ‘policies of equality’ are followed in the future, but would not be drawn on donating the proceeds to charity, noting that the college itself has charitable status.
A representative from Trinity College’s Christian Union, Andrew Bennison, said that Christian Concern ‘concentrates on a very narrow range of social issues which are not at all central to spreading what Christianity is really about’.
“The Christian perspective that Christian Concern offers probably wouldn’t be recognised by Christians in Trinity or across Oxford… we’re much more about celebrating the inclusiveness of Christianity.”