Balliol College Oxford recently prevented their Christian Union from having a stall at the college Fresher’s Fayre, because the JCR (equivalent to the Student Union) voted that they wanted the Fayre to be a “secular space.” Part of their reasoning was that Christianity can be an “excuse for homophobia and neo-colonialism.” Having read several articles on this, I am very confused.
For one thing, I do not see how Christianity could really be accused of favouring neo-colonialism – like most religions, it emphasises a universal kinship of equality of people of all races under God, and is widely practised in many former colonial countries. Christians did indeed colonise – but I do not understand what role the modern Balliol College CU played in this. On homophobia, I would agree that bullying and harassment are indeed terrible things; but non-malicious disagreement is always going to be a part of society.
Another problem is the word “secular.” As a Christian, I think a lot of things can and even should be secular. But by “secular,” I mean to show no particular favour to any one religion, or lack thereof. Secular in that sense would mean allowing all religious organisations from within Oxford University a stall – be they Jewish, Muslim or even atheist societies.
But this was banning a religious organisation – or even all of them – from an environment they have traditionally been welcome and very present in. Christian Unions are a significant part of almost every modern British university – especially in St Andrews. For Balliol College to then ban their CU from the Fresher’s Fayre is not “secular” in what I argue is the “good” sense: it is not non-religious but anti-religious.
The key thing about a safe space is who we are making it safe for. If the answer is everyone, then no views or beliefs can be expressed. How can anyone be truly comfortable? That may have its time and place, but not all the time, across an entire campus. The problem so many have with safe spaces is not the concept, but the way they tend to choose certain groups or ideologies over others – often with divisive or authoritarian consequences.
I am proud that such things are very unlikely to happen in St Andrews. This university seems to be better with disagreement and diversity of opinion than most modern British or American counterparts. There is great free speech and little consensus of opinion. Also, Christianity plays an important role in The Bubble – I have enjoyed Toastie Bar both as a customer and working there, for instance.
I hope that we continue to be a university of genuine diversity of opinion and beliefs, and healthy mutual respect for opinions and each other, as human beings who can listen to and reason with each other as friends or strangers.