Oxford college apologizes for 'misleading' claims about Christian group after LGBT outcry

Group invited back on campus

Worcester College in Oxford, England
Worcester College in Oxford, England | Public Domain

A college in Oxford, England, has apologized for tarnishing the name of a Christian organization with misleading claims in a letter to students after it allegedly canceled a conference booking in response to outcry from student activists alleging the conference's content was "hateful."

For over a decade, the Wilberforce Academy, an affiliate of the Evangelical advocacy group Christian Concern, has held a one-week conference at Worcester College for university students and young professionals to offer guidance on applying the Christian faith to their vocations.

In March, after students complained about the conference — which Christian Concern says "includes teaching of biblical beliefs that have been recognised by the Christian Church globally for the past 2,000 years" — Worcester College apologized for causing the students "significant distress" and canceled the 2022 event scheduled for September.

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Following an independent review launched by Christian Concern that found "no evidence" for the move, Worcester now says the school stands for "the right to freedom of speech and religious belief and the dignity of all people. " 

In a joint statement released Tuesday, Christian Concern and Worcester College announced the dispute was resolved and that it was "misleading" for Worcester to suggest anything improper had occurred at the conference.

The statement read in part:

"After detailed examination of the circumstances of Christian Concern's conference in September 2021, Worcester College acknowledges that notwithstanding various accounts of events it was misleading to suggest that Conference delegates or representatives of Christian Concern acted improperly in an email to students in September 2021 which was subsequently leaked to the Cherwell Student newspaper."

According to the statement, Worcester has invited Christian Concern back on campus to speak at a later date, "which will take place as soon as can be arranged."

"In a world where differing views are strongly and sincerely held, it is important to come together and listen to each other," the statement read.

The controversy began shortly after David Isaac, the former chair of the LGBTQ charity Stonewall and the United Kingdom Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), was tapped as provost of Worcester College.

Worcester says the college first received several complaints from students about leaflets being passed out on campus last September.

"Unsolicited approaches by your conference delegates to staff and students within the confines of the College in respect of various issues, especially LGBT conversion therapy, which they found upsetting," the college was quoted as telling Chrisitan Concern. "This was especially the case for new students attending a parallel event, Opportunity Oxford, which prepares young people for their impending admission to Oxford University."

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

"The information provided does not enable me to identify any of your delegates," a Worcester College official told Christian Concern. "I have not been able to obtain a copy of the leaflets that were alleged to have been distributed."

Christian Concern's independent inquiry was conducted by Michael Stewart, a charity lawyer with prior experience in similar investigations.

Of the 124 attendees at the 2021 conference, 114 provided witness statements responding to the allegations. Worcester College didn't engage with the inquiry, according to Christian Concern.

"The allegations that have been made regarding inappropriate behavior are not in keeping with my own experiences with the delegates with whom I had the pleasure of teaching and interacting. I found them unfailingly courteous and, in their debates with each other, mature and respectful," one of the attendees was quoted as saying in a witness statement.

"I find it very sad that people are spreading lies when the week was a very positive week where many of today's issues could be discussed in love and respect," said another attendee. 

Andrea Williams, the chief executive of Christian Concern, said she anticipated that the inquiry would find no evidence that any delegates have done anything to warrant "apologizing for, being canceled or discriminated against for their Christian beliefs." 

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

Williams believes Oxford University should stand for "free" speech and expression and allow its students to have the "intellectual" ability to decide whether they wish to attend external events and make up their minds on what they hear.

"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 marginalized, excluded and vulnerable so that they could discover true hope and everlasting love through Him, even sacrificing His own life to do so," she added.

In March, the advocacy group Free Speech Union wrote a letter to Provost Isaac asking him to retract his apology for allowing the Wilberforce Academy to use the college's facilities, saying the school uncritically accepted the student activists' claims without investigation.

In a statement provided to The Christian Post in March, Worcester College claimed that "no conference booking has been canceled" and that it didn't accept many findings in the report.

The college expressed disappointment that the report was "published without us having the opportunity to discuss it in advance" and looked forward to "a constructive meeting with Christian Concern and the chance to discuss properly the issues."

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