Oxford college apologizes for hosting Christian conference after students complain

Worcester College in Oxford, England
Worcester College in Oxford, England | Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

An Oxford college in England has apologized after the school hosted a conference sponsored by an evangelical conservative advocacy organization, which students claimed was "hateful and invalidating." 

Worcester College in Oxford, England, has issued a public apology after the school hosted a Christian Concern training camp on its campus from Sep. 6 to Sept. 10.

The Christian Concern conference featured many guest speakers, including Mike Davidson, the CEO of Core Issues Trust and X-Out Loud. Core Issues Trust seeks to support individuals experiencing unwanted same-sex attractions "voluntarily seeking to leave homosexual behaviours and feelings."

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Davidson was one of many guest speakers with Wilberforce Academy, an initiative of Christian Concern. The Academy is a weeklong "intensive residential programme aimed at students and young professionals with a passion to serve Jesus Christ in a variety of vocations."

Davidson has called for "professional assistance" to "leave behind unwanted homosexual practices," according to the college's student news publication, The Oxford Tab

Davidson is recognized for being outspoken about his stance against bans on conversion therapy. His organization has also been vocal about its "dissatisfaction with the encroaching politico-religious identity of Islam."

One session at the conference was titled "The nature of Islam."

Multiple students who found out about the conference reportedly said the event used language that was "inflammatory," and others claimed the event was "hateful and invalidating." 

An email written by a group of students was sent to Worcester's JCR President, LGBT representative and ethnic and religious minorities representative. 

"Many of us come to uni hoping to be allowed to be ourselves and know we can trust our new community and home," the email stated, according to The Tab. "But how are we expected to place our trust in somewhere that, if it weren't for a leaflet being left behind at breakfast, would have left us unaware that they had hosted a group that has consistently aimed to persecute and strip us of our rights for our sexuality, gender and or religion?"

A co-chair of the SU LGBTQ+ Campaign reportedly responded to the email: "We stand in full solidarity with you and will do our best to take the necessary action to prevent this from being an issue again in the future."

A school spokesperson issued an apology on behalf of the school.

"We deeply regret the distress caused to students, staff and other members of the college community by the presence of the Wilberforce Academy conference," the spokesperson saidin the public apology published by The Tab. 

The chief executive of the Christian Concern, Andrea Minichiello Williams, called the school's apology an example of "cancel culture."

Despite reaching out to Worcester College on multiple occasions to discuss what has been "alleged," Williams said the school has not responded to the organization for comment.

"But if the college has turned its back on us, it seems that cancel culture has once again demonstrated the power of its grip in one of our top universities, fuelled by a small group of activists who won't tolerate any view that departs from their own narrow ideology and who will resort to tactics of misrepresentation and sweeping allegations to get their way, seemingly frightening nearly everyone into submission," Williams said in a statement

Provost David Isaac, who has been the head of Worcester College since July 2021, was previously the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in England and Wales. Under his leadership, the commission posted guidance in 2019 calling for free speech to be protected on college campuses, stating that "The free expression and exchange of different views without persecution or interference." 

"That a college now led by someone who has so often claimed to be a defender of freedom of expression in higher education is rumoured to have capitulated to this aggressive movement is even more concerning," Williams added.

"We very much enjoyed our week at the college, were very warmly welcomed, including by the Provost, received many compliments from the staff and were not aware of any complaints or concerns being raised with us at the time. Yet now we hear it alleged that the college has 'apologised' for hosting us."

The Christian Concern website states that the organization's mission is to accomplish the goals of preparing others for "servant-hearted, Christ-centred leadership in public life, by equipping people with a robust biblical framework that guides thinking, prayers and activity in addressing the issues facing society."

"We will be seeking urgent clarification," Williams concluded in her statement. "Whatever happens, we will continue to speak of Jesus Christ who was himself an 'outsider' and by his words and actions demonstrated his commitment to reaching the marginalised, excluded and vulnerable so that they could discover true hope and everlasting love through him, even sacrificing his own life to do so."

Williams calls on Oxford 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."

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