Students protest against Christian Concern conference at Exeter

Students protested last Sunday against Exeter College’s decision to hold a conference organised by the controversial group, Christian Concern.

The annual conference, called “The Wilberforce Academy”, whose website has a large picture of the Radcliffe Camera on its home page, began this week.

Christian Concern has been criticised in the past for supporting “corrective therapy” for homosexuals, and for attacking same-sex relations.

The protest began on Sunday morning, the day on which the conference began, and lasted several hours, with students demonstrating outside the college.

Lyman Gamberton, one of the organisers of the demonstration and a student at Brasenose, said: “Our job was to try and engage others, both conference attendees and passers-by, rather than drive them away.

“We had a lot of positive feedback from passers-by on Turl Street; several people came up unprompted to express support, having heard about the protest beforehand, while others asked for leaflets and information.

“Our interactions with the conference attendees were surprisingly positive overall, I think: there were a few heated exchanges, but we engaged several conference delegates in respectful theological debates, some of which lasted over an hour. I don’t think anyone’s fundamental views were changed, but both sides got an opportunity to put forward their views.

“All in all, I think the protest was extremely successful.”

Gail Bartlett, a student from St Hugh’s who attended the protest, agreed: “Throughout the afternoon we managed to get a wealth of messages of support from the passing public – and to my knowledge not a single expression of hostility was received from passers-by.

“I believe we presented ourselves honourably, made the attendees aware that this was not by any means an anti-Christian protest (many of the protesters were Christian themselves), and described our grievances well.

“Our primary aim – to make it known that we do not think that an Oxford University college should lend its reputation to a group such as Christian Concern – was achieved.”

But Reubs Walsh, a student at St Edmund Hall who was involved with the protest, said: “I was trying to engage in a conversation with the CEO [of Christian Concern] whose responses were brief and confrontational. She complained that we had made them feel unwelcome and the subject of hatred.”

Walsh added: “After my trying political arguments about the nature of incitement to hatred and the damage done to the targets of their ‘therapy’, biblical arguments pointing out how Jesus healed a gay man’s life-partner, and held the man up as an example of good faith…and the academic community’s uncertainty about the meaning of words often translated to mean homosexual, she started moving towards ideas of ‘protecting the family’.

“At this point I was forced by my emotions to remove myself from the discussion because I know how the ex-gay industry rips apart families and I knew I would lose my cool if I remained.

“These kinds of conferences are essentially indoctrination using techniques not so dissimilar from the Hitler Jugen, and therefore really rather hard to resist. It is clear to me that the CEO herself is indoctrinated into a state of non-engagement.

“As an organisation, they refused to engage with me either as a fellow Christian, a member of the university, or as a member of a community they target. As individuals, they were, on the whole, good-natured and willing to engage in discussion.

“It seems that the Wilberforce Academy is not nearly as dangerous or self-righteous as its parent organisation Christian Concern; however the fact of their association is indeed worrying.”

Sam Weinberg, President of the OU LGBTQ Society, said: “I fully supported the protest, I think it was a great idea.  It was a good way to remind people of why groups like OUSU’s LGBTQ Campaign exist—in spite of the rapid progress that has been made, we are still not treated equally.”

Many of those who attended the protest added that it was inappropriate for Exeter College to hold the conference.

Ross Brooks, author of the local LGBT guide ‘Queer Oxford’, and an alumnus of Oxford Brookes, said: “This event at Exeter is a disgrace to the whole of Oxford, gown and town. I am heartened that the whole community has pulled together to organise a formal protest against this dreadful situation. It is the first LGBT rights protest in Oxford for over a decade.

“It is inconceivable that members of the BNP would be welcomed to Oxford for a private event in the same way as these anti-LGBT lobbyists are being entertained.

“If, as we have been led to believe, this is a genuine mistake then Frances Cairncross, Rector of Exeter, should make it absolutely clear that these extremists will not be back in future years. So far, she has not done this.

“The Christian Concern people really are dreadful… I spoke to a couple of them who made some snide insinuations about homosexuality being akin to paedophilia. This upset me and others.

“It subsequently transpired that the group was using recording devices to document protesters’ outraged responses to their coercive statements. This, on Turl Street, in the name of Jesus!”

OU LGBTQ supported the protest, saying: “While we appreciate that speakers or conferences appearing at the University does not necessarily mean that their views are endorsed by the University or its colleges, the presence of a group that actively argues against the protection of freedom of sexual orientation is not conducive to the presentation of a university that welcomes LGBTQ members.

“One only need look at the website for the Wilberforce Academy to see that being hosted at Oxford University is a major draw for the event, and we do not feel that the University should, however indirectly, lend its prestige to such an event.

“While not one of us would argue that these people do not have a right to hold and speak these views, they hold no such right to hold this conference at our university.”

But representatives of Exeter’s LGBT community defended their college: “The fact that an organisation with homophobic views has rented the college premises does not reflect on the college’s own views on this issue.”

They added: “The presence of a very vibrant student LGBTQ society…is testament to the atmosphere in Exeter, buttressed further by the strong LGBTQ presence in the SCR.”

Frances Cairncross, Rector of Exeter College, declined to comment on the actual protest, but said of the conference: “As soon as it was raised as a potential issue, the Bursar wrote to the Wilberforce Academy to emphasise our position on equal rights, and sought and obtained reassurances that nothing in the meeting would be against our policies on basic rights and freedoms.”

Christian Concern CEO Andrea Williams said: “Our whole motivation is one of love for God and the individual. The Bible is quite clear that the only place for sexual expression is within marriage between a man and a woman.”

Access to Exeter College was limited, and security was increased, in response to the demonstration.

Gez Wells, Deputy Bursar at Exeter, said: “The College will remain open to its members during this time, but will restrict access to visitors and associates who do not have specific business within the College.”

Nobody from Wilberforce Academy was available to comment.



  1. Richard

    29th March 2012 at 09:53

    So to summarise – if you have traditional Christian sexual ethics and believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, you are entitled to be slandered and hounded out of town.


  2. Pen

    29th March 2012 at 10:40

    Yes, these people do have traditional Christian sexual ethics and should be supported. Now, where’s that stake? Matches anyone? Who’s gonna round up the sodomites?

  3. K

    30th March 2012 at 21:34

    The problem is not when people have “traditional Christian sexual ethics”, it’s when hey try to impose them on others, and this IS what they do, their explicit aim (from their website) is to put “hope of Christ at the heart of our nation”

  4. Dr Christopher Shell

    31st March 2012 at 10:58

    Everybody imposes things on others. Some try to impose the self-refuting ‘philosophy’ of relativism. They pretend everyone can have an opinion (correct) and in effect equate this with all opinions being equally worthy of respect and serious thought, equally based on evidence (totally incorrect). Others try to impose a laissez-faire lazy tolerance – which is just as bad news as the relativism option. Unless we are to have an anarchic free-for-all – and you would not enjoy that one bit – the only alternative is to impose the best option on the populace. It’s called law – and where laws are less good than they should be, we revise them in the direction of being better and more effective, more truthful, producing a happier populace etc.etc..

  5. O

    1st April 2012 at 22:07

    Who the hell are you, Dr Christopher Shell? You spend your time trawling through articles on a student newspaper adding these ridiculous little comments on all the Christian Concern stories. Just makes you look a bit…creepy. :S

  6. Dr Christopher Shell

    2nd April 2012 at 11:43

    So you think that people should leave inaccuracy as it is, and leave bad worldviews doing their harmful work? How would anyone defend such a view?

    That self-contradictory approach has nothing to do with what Oxford University is for. Oxford University is about the application of logic and research results, the rooting out of error, and the establishment of a worldview that is coherent and that delivers the statistical results.

  7. Alex

    7th April 2012 at 17:57

    I think my main problem with you, Dr Shell, is that you’re holding up these intrinsic values and defending Christian Concern when they’re doing precisely what you seem to despise- pontificating their views without giving serious thought to the evidence. A look at their website doesn’t show reams of citations for peer-reviewed studies on homosexuality, it shows reliance on a book put together two-thousand years ago, which was not peer-reviewed at the time, has not been since (as far as I’m aware) and whose authors are now all far too dead to be held accountable for any innaccuracies contained therein.

  8. D

    18th April 2012 at 16:06

    I don’t understand why “O” and “Alex” are being so HATEFUL in regards to the Dr. giving a rightful opinion on the subject. Do you have to ATTACK someone just because they have a high sense of morals than others do?

  9. Christopher Shell

    1st May 2012 at 10:43

    Untrue! There is a strong overlap of CC with Anglican Mainstream who give plenty of statistical studies. But that is not the point. The point is that even if CC never quoted stats, the stats would still be strongly on their side. On so many sub-issues. Promiscuity, STIs ,drug use, life expectancy, unhealthiness of sexual practices – the list just goes on and on.

  10. Chris R

    5th June 2012 at 17:43

    It is horrific that today’s students do not understand the importance of freedom of speech. They confuse (a) agreeing with somebody’s opinion and (b)consenting to their right to express it.
    What better evidence that education has been dumbed down?
    Undoubtedly the gay extremist movement is an attack on freedom. Gay extremists are trying to impose their values and ideology on the other 98% of society. These protestors should be ashamed of themselves. They are thugs, imposing a new Inquisition.

  11. Chris R

    5th June 2012 at 19:44
    Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM)1 represent approximately 2% of the US population, yet are the population most severely affected by HIV. In 2009, MSM accounted for 61% of all new HIV infections, and MSM with a history of injection drug use (MSM-IDU) accounted for an additional 3% of new infections. That same year, young MSM accounted for 69% of new HIV infections among persons aged 13–29 and 44% of infections among all MSM. At the end of 2009, an estimated 441,669 (56%) persons living with an HIV diagnosis in the US were MSM or MSM-IDU.
    THEREFORE those who encourage the homosexual lifestyle are the true enemies of homosexuals.

  12. Chris R

    5th June 2012 at 19:49

    HEALTH COSTS£1bn_UK_HIV_Care_Costs_
    UK is spending nearly £1 billion per year on HIV treatment and care, not counting the amounts paid in disability benefits to HIV-infected claimants . Jan 2011.

  13. David Skinner

    7th June 2012 at 18:27

    The students at Oxford are the most privileged generation to have ever walked the face of Britain. They are supposed to be the spearhead of progress and enlightenment, flattered and paid for by their admiring seniors, an elite who will happily carry the torch of progress into the glorious future opening before them. Speaking for myself, there is practically nothing that the Oxford students could do in a mood of rebelliousness or refusal to conform to the values of our morally, spiritually and economically bankrupt nation. Yet how infinitely sad; how, in a macabre sort of way,comic even,that the form their insubordination takes should be demand for drugs,the pill, condoms, sodomy, rimming, sado- masochism and kink; for the most tenth- rate escapism and self indulgence ever known to man! It is one of those situations a social historian with a sense of humour will find very much to his taste. All is prepared for a marvellous release of youthful creativity; we await the great works of art, the high- spirited venturing into new fields of perception and understanding – even bold self- sacrificial acts of social concern- and what do we get? The resort of any old slobbering debauched, deluded, deceived, denying, defiant, deviant, dysfunctional,depraved, decadent,degenerate, dehumanised, despairing and damned dominatrix.

    Clearly Oxford students are in the terminal stages of something that is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog: genetic, phobia and bigotry against all that is reasonable, rational and pure; for when it comes to inviting Dr Eric Anderson, Professor of Sociology from Winchester University to give a two hour lecture on lechery, they fall prostrate crying, “More, more!”

  14. David Skinner

    7th June 2012 at 18:35

    Thanks for links Chris R. But I am afraid reality means nothing to those are daft, deaf and damned.

  15. Chris R

    8th June 2012 at 20:46

    @ Pen. You allege that Christianity teaches people to burn homosexuals at the stake.
    A. Can you find me any textual support for that in the Bible?
    B. How many actual examples can you find of people being burnt at the stake for homosexuality (excluding child abuse)?

  16. Christopher Shell

    25th June 2012 at 11:37

    Secularist lack of ability to answer the above points is telling, all readers please note.

    The arguments won’t go away if one buries one’s head in the sand or uses diversionary tactics.

    It looks like their cupboard of arguments is bare. I wish they would prove me wrong.

  17. Chris R

    27th June 2012 at 14:25

    Yes, I thought so, there is no reply to my question. You can’t find any examples. It’s just another hysterical accusation against Christianity from those who want to degrade sex and love, and undermine the family.

  18. Gary

    19th July 2012 at 17:47

    Chris R, your earth-shattering ignorance about the Christian persecution of gay people is really quite worrying. Even the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who also campaigns against equal rights for LGBTs admits what you deny, recently stating that the Church had been “complicit” in discriminating against gay people in the past, “and sometimes worse”, and said there is still “much penance to be done before we can look our homosexual brothers and sisters in the eye.”

    There are plenty of good books about Christianity’s slaughter of people for engaging in same-sex sex. A basic search on Google books reveals lots (perhaps try that first next time?). Try Louis Crompton’s ‘Homosexuality and Civilization’, Helmut Puff’s ‘Sodomy in Reformation Germany and Switzerland, 1400-1600’, or Federico Garza Carvajal’s ‘Butterflies Will Burn’.

    Here’s a good Wiki web page on that which you are seeking to deny, complete with a fifteenth-century image of two men being burned at the stake for sodomy in Zurich:

    Btw, you come across as an idiot.

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