“Even apart from the same thing happening in the US and the UK, it’s not too difficult to imagine a human rights tribunal with time on its hands finding against a Christian school, or even a church, that has the bigoted temerity to require of its members, staff, and clergy that they actually believe the doctrines they are there to teach.”
One of the most gratuitously ideological aspects of American and British campus politics has finally come to Australia.
After years of pointless discussions, the University of Sydney Union (USU) for students has now given the Evangelical Union (EU) until March 31 to change its constitution to allow non-Christians to be members, or face deregistration.
This would mean the evangelical students’ group is no longer sanctioned as an official university society, and cannot receive USU subsidies or participate in O-Week.
The EU has been a presence on campus since 1930, encouraging Christian students, evangelising pagan students, and earning a generally good reputation in the process.
Among unbelievers, EU and its 600 or so members are regarded as generous, friendly, honest, and good-humoured, even as they are mocked, derided, and debated.
Theirs is a clear message of the Christ of the Bible, which some embrace, many ignore, and an increasing number seem to take gross offence at.
It must be said, however, this latter response is hardly exclusive to Christian preaching — having a traumatic reaction to an idea is now a sine qua non of a genuine campus experience.
And the USU seems intent on facilitating such harrowing participation in student life. The threat is not that the EU would be excluded from campus — on the contrary, the visiting preachers and awkward first-year student-evangelists will still be able to say what they want (as long as there is an appropriate safe space nearby, which of course there would be).
The thing that the USU finds most offensive about EU is that it is not inclusive. Of course, anyone is welcome to attend EU events, but voting members, office bearers, and staff must subscribe to a nine-point doctrinal statement, including such Christian staples as “the conception of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit and His birth by the Virgin Mary … the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”, and “redemption from the guilt, penalty and power of sin, only through the sacrificial death … of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God”.
And why shouldn’t an evangelical Christian group expect its members and leaders to hold to the most basic tenets of historical Christianity?
These ideas may sound unbelievable or even offensive (someone point me to the nearest safe space!) to both members of the Sydney Uni atheist club, but they would be familiar to anyone who’s ever been to a church service where, say, the Nicene Creed was recited.
But the question cuts to the heart of the matter.