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Oxford college apologizes for hosting Christian event

by Donna Birrell

The organisation Christian Concern has issued a warning over 'cancel culture' after an Oxford university college apologised to students for hosting a Christian conference.

In a statement to its student newspaper, The Tab, Worcester College said holding the Wilberforce Academy event earlier this month, had been a "serious failure that caused significant distress" and it has apologised unreservedly. It's vowed to use the profits for "diversity initiatives". 

Tim Dieppe from Christian Concern has been speaking to Premier about the course which is at the heart of the controversy: "It's a week-long academy for young people, an intensive crash course on the Christian world view, looking at some of the history, some of the challenges, some of the pressures, that Christians are facing in our country today. Just challenging Christians to be better informed and better equipped to really stand up for the gospel and our faith in a more and more anti-Christian or post Christian culture that we're living in. 

"It's always a highlight of the year, these young people get really enthused and fired up. We're really grateful for the teaching that we get from lots of different world class teachers. We had a great time, the staff had no complaints with us, we loved them, they loved us. They were saying things like, 'please come back again next year'." 

So he says he was surprised to hear that Worcester College had apologised for holding the event. 

"We just heard via the press and five of our student groups, saying that they've apologised for hosting it. They've not said anything to us about that and we're very surprised because all communication was very positive and very grateful."

Students are understood to have complained that the curriculum for the residential camp - which took place while the College was closed for the Summer - was Islamophobic as it included a discussion on the "nature of Islam" and that speakers, including Mike Davidson, were pro-conversion therapy. Tim Dieppe refutes this: "Mike Davidson does not himself say he practices conversion therapy. But what he does do, is if somebody wants help with unwanted sexual attractions of some kind, he'll talk to them about it. 

"That's what therapy is, it's a conversation. And what we had was two people, one, an ex gay person talking about how much he'd been helped by being able to talk about it with somebody in an open, honest way, or somebody else who's an ex trans person talking about all the issues that she had, having lived previously, as a man for some years. These are very powerful testimonies, we ought to be able to listen to them. 

"They've just got a thing out to try and stop people even talking about this. Now that's not right. In society, we've got to be able to talk about it and people should be able to have conversations about their sexuality if they want."

"I think there is a problem with free speech. I think particularly student unions are looking to shut down ideas which they don't agree with.

"There's a new bill coming up - the higher education free speech bill - which would actually guarantee stronger protections for this. There should be no apology for something like this or hosting an event that discuss things in a perfectly legal and perfectly normal way. And it seems like we need a law like that in order to protect free speech in our universities.

"It's about the ability to speak the truth, just preach the Gospel, we've got to tell the truth and speak the truth. And freedom of speech is very important, and something that all Christians just support, because we're not afraid of other people saying things. We know that the truth will win out in the end, and the gospel will win in the public debate.

"I think we're really into a kind of culture where people are afraid of what they want to say, which is actually increasingly totalitarian. In order to have a free and open democracy, people must be able to say what they think and debate it and discuss it. And when people are self-censoring what they really believe, then you can't have an open and free debate in a society.

"We should be welcoming to everyone. And show compassion and love to everyone, but at the same time, we shouldn't be afraid of what other people might think or how other people might react in terms of saying what is true."

Premier has contacted Worcester College, Oxford for comment.

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