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In an increasingly uncivil environment, Christian Unions provide an unequalled safe space in which to proclaim a dangerous and life-transforming message.
We currently find ourselves at a tense moment in time in our universities and wider society as public discourse becomes increasingly uncivil.
Following last year’s US presidential election and the UK’s EU referendum result, unworthy motives have been imputed – on both sides – to those who voted the ‘wrong way’. This Manichean outlook is merely an extension of the corrosive identity-politics, which keeps being reinforced by the echo-chambers of our selected social media feeds.
Mainstream media barely does any better when it comes to ‘playing the man not the ball’. Liberal Democrat Tim Farron has recently been hounded out of the top tier of politics simply because of what he sincerely believes. The Scottish journalist, Stephen Daisley, recently lamented his profession’s treatment of Farron:
‘This is not journalism, it’s bloodsport for secularists. Farron is not proposing a single policy that would adversely impact LGBT people. He is not being asked to clarify his political principles so much as repudiate his faith. It is an ugly business and one that will be causing Farron acute anguish, something which his pursuers must know … He might ... acknowledge that a Christian can regard behaviour as sinful while deeply loving those who practise it. Whatever the case is, these are private views and none of our business. The hounding of Tim Farron reflects the metropolitan prejudices of so many journalists and the social and professional circles they move in.’ 1
University students are encouraged to show similar distain and hostility. Anyone who holds a view (typically on sexuality, gender or Islam) that might be considered harmful or distressing to others is quickly ‘no-platformed’ for daring to digress from the ‘accepted’ secular view. The phenomena of ‘safe-spaces’, ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘hate speech’ are increasingly part of student life and reflect the lack of appetite that the so-called ‘Snowflake Generation’ has for robust exchanges of views. There is growing concern, even within the Academy, that the corrosive effects of this attitude are threatening the future of society.
‘Even universities, which are supposed to foster knowledge-sharing and spirited debate, are now suppressing it, for example by spinelessly rescinding speaking invitations to almost anyone that some group or another considers objectionable. When we fail to engage in such debates – when people choose “safe spaces” over tough discussions – we lose our best chance of building consensus on how to solve at least some of our societies’ pressing problems.’ 2
The pleas from both libertarians and Christians to safeguard freedom of speech, conscience and association seem too lofty and impersonal to connect with a generation that takes these basic freedoms for granted.
If we are to be heard by this generation that prizes safety above free speech, we must surely work hard at grasping the enormity of our task and realise that for all sorts of reasons (including the use of selective Facebook and other social media feeds) there is more tribal and less common ground than ever.
If we are to be salt and light in society and challenge the chilling of public discourse in the name of safety, we must find ways to speak prophetically and engagingly into all this. But first, we have to really identify with these students and understand what they value.
The over-protective ‘helicopter’ parenting given to our current generation of students has impressed upon them that the greatest good that can be conferred on another human is protection from harm and this has in turn created a noticeable appetite for kindness, one that CUs instinctively want to meet. Christian students on campus, aware of how regressive, secular society finds orthodox Christian teaching, are instinctively humble about their faith and make a real effort to provide a creative and safe space in which to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The current student generation responds far less cynically to a safe and kind environment than any previous one did. Christian Unions provide an unequalled safe space in which to proclaim a dangerous and life-transforming message. The challenge is huge, but the opportunity is even greater. Thank you for your wonderful partnership.
Richard Cunningham, Director of UCCF: The Christian Unions.
This article is an adapted version of the “Director’s Message” in the Autumn 2017 UCCF Impact magazine.
1 Stephen Daisley, The Spectator, 25 April 2017
2 Michael J Boskin, The Guardian, 13 December 2016