The University’s Evangelical Christian Union (ECU) has been criticised for several homophobic acts on campus.
A visiting speaker’s comments on LGBTQ+ celibacy, as well as allegations of ECU members engaging in “dismissive” conversations with LGBTQ+ staff and students on a Forum stall, have provoked concern.
On Thursday 6 February, Christian speaker Dr Andrew Sach delivered a talk entitled “A Man Who Warned of Wasting your Life” as part of the ECU’s annual events week, Story 2020.
Dr Sach claimed that it is “plausible” to expect LGBTQ+ Christians to live celibately and remain unmarried
He was asked an audience question concerning what certain Christians, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, may be expected to “give up” for their faith.
Dr Sach claimed that it is “plausible” to expect LGBTQ+ Christians to live celibately and remain unmarried, likening this choice to sacrifices that all Christians must make: “There’s no person for whom self-denial and taking up your cross isn’t very costly.” A recorded livestream of the talk was later removed from the ECU’s Facebook page.
The LGBTQ+ Society responded stating that they “take real issue with the idea presented that Christianity is ‘equally restrictive’ to heterosexual and same-sex couples. That is hugely dismissive, and erases the decades of systematic abuse of LGBTQ+ people because of religious influence.
The ECU told Exeposé: “Dr Sach was asked a question at a lunch time event. His answer on marriage was consistent with the teaching of the Church of England, of which he is an ordained minister.”
One such report claims an ECU member told an academic they had a “very different opinion” on LGBTQ+ people, before inviting them to attend Dr Sach’s talk
However, Hannah Alderson, the University’s Anglican Chaplain Reverend, said: “Within the city of Exeter, there are many Churches which are positively inclusive of LGBTQ+ people and seek to affirm and celebrate their identity and relationships, not least the University Chapels, which are blessed to have many LGBTQ+ people as members of our community.
“The University of Exeter is a place of breadth and diversity, and as a Chaplaincy and Chapel we believe that God’s love for all creation is broad and inclusive of all.”
Following the event, students are worried about the welfare and safeguarding of LGBTQ+ students on campus. LGBTQ+ Society told Exeposé: “If there was no mention of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric mentioned when the ECU invited people to the talk, they were putting vulnerable people at risk and in a difficult situation, especially as we know some of our members belong to various faiths.”
The ECU responded: “The ECU believes all people have intrinsic dignity because they are made in the image of God. Therefore the accusations levelled against the ECU are deeply distressing since they go to the core of our identity as followers of Jesus Christ.
“Our STORY 2020 events were consistent with Exeter University and Guild policies. The ECU complied with all regulations regarding external speakers. The accusations of Exeposé, that Dr Sach ‘held or expresses bigoted views about the LGBTQ+ community’ are baseless and defamatory. Such comments threaten our fundamental right of freedom of speech.”
“ECU has every right to speak and exist on campus, but going out of their way to use dismissive and aggressive language regarding our staff and members’ identities is unacceptable”LGBTQ+ Society Spokesperson
A Students’ Guild spokesperson said: “With all events where an external speaker is invited on behalf of the Students’ Guild, a risk assessment is undertaken, as is our duty of care to all attendees. This includes information about the speaker, however speakers are not screened, accepted or rejected based on their views, but on the safety of the event going ahead.
“In the context of ECU and other affiliated religious groups, the Guild does not make decisions on invited speakers based on their religious beliefs – these are what they believe in their religion, and so protected by the Equalities Act. We completely adhere to the law when it comes to religious freedom. We are proactively working with the society to support them to deliver events with more understanding of the community in the future.
“At the Guild we respect freedom of speech and religion. However, the Guild also have a set of core values of inclusivity, collaboration and empowering students, and we will always defend these values with our student community.
“We always want to create an open and safe environment, free from harassment, free from intimidation, for students to discuss and debate.
“This open debate is an important part of our society and we hope that any views that seek to reduce the inclusivity of our community are sufficiently challenged and individuals are free to reach their own conclusions, which are then respected by all.”
Within the city of Exeter, there are many Churches which are positively inclusive of LGBTQ+ people and seek to affirm and celebrate their identity and relationshipsUniversity of Exeter Anglican Chaplain Rev. Hannah Alderson
A University of Exeter spokesperson said: “We require all students, staff and visitors to ensure freedom of speech is within the law. All speakers must demonstrate sensitivity to the diversity of our University community and show respect to all.”
The University’s freedom of speech policy ensures free speech for visiting speakers, apart from where it may infringe upon the freedoms of protected characteristics including sexual orientation, as per the Education Act 1986 and the Equality Act 2010.
Allegations have also circulated on social media suggesting that throughout the same week, various ECU members approached staff and students participating in an LGBTQ+ solidarity stall in the Forum and disagreed with its message. One such report claims an ECU member told an academic they had a “very different opinion” on LGBTQ+ people, before inviting them to attend Dr Sach’s talk.
In response to these reports, a LGBTQ+ Society spokesperson told Exeposé: “We find this extremely disrespectful. ECU has every right to speak and exist on campus, but going out of their way to use dismissive and aggressive language regarding our staff and members’ identities is unacceptable. Our identities are not up for debate.
“We take the implication that members of the ECU interacted in a way which was hurtful and insensitive very seriously and hold our members to high standards of integrity and respect towards those they meet”ECU Spokesperson
“In my experience, the actual chaplaincy has many members who are accepting and understanding of LGBTQ+ issues; members of the LGBT staff network have been working with some of them regarding events on the intersection of faith and sexuality.
“LGBTQ+ people shouldn’t have to choose between their faith and their gender/sexuality, especially since they can’t choose the latter, so having more clear representation in student faith societies would make sense to me in order to combat that issue.
“I ask that our LGBTQ+ students be recognized and respected, and especially that accountability be taken for any outward anti-LGBTQ+ dialogue non-consensually started with any LGBTQ + people on campus.”
The ECU stated: “The ECU, like any other society, uses the Forum and other public spaces on campus to interact with fellow students and to run and promote our events.
“We take the implication that members of the ECU interacted in a way which was hurtful and insensitive very seriously and hold our members to high standards of integrity and respect towards those they meet.
“Our aim is to engage in conversation in a positive and engaging way. When interacting with those we meet we do not intend to cause hurt, and sincerely apologise if this has ever been the case.”
The ECU chose not to comment on what specific measures are being taken to investigate and prevent a repeat of the Forum stall incident, nor on the possibility of introducing an LGBTQ+ officer on their committee.
Editor: Harry Caton