Government backs report on Christian Union conflicts

By staff writers
January 18, 2007

A Government minister has given his backing to the recommendations of a report from the thinktank Ekklesia which proposes the resolution of conflicts between a number of Christian Unions and university Students' Unions, through mediation rather than court battles.

The news comes as Evangelical Students at Exeter University, backed by a number of Evangelical lobby groups, apparently rejected an offer of mediation and launched a court action against their Student Guild - despite claims that a temporary suspension imposed on the Christian students had been lifted.

Ekklesia's recommendation of mediation has now been accepted by the National Union of Students (NUS), many university chaplains, the Student Christian Movement, as well as individual Students' Unions and Guilds.

The University and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) to which Christian Unions are affiliated, and a number of Evangelical lobby groups - some of whom have been raising money for a court battle for a number of months - are not encouraging the ECU to accept the offers of mediation.

UCCF say that the CU will only enter into mediation if the Evangelical Christian Union at Exeter first receives an admission of unlawful conduct, a full and unreserved apology, and its legal costs to date paid.

One suggestion made by Ekklesia, that chaplains should mediate in the disputes at Exeter, Birmingham and Edinburgh has been ruled out as the chaplaincies are considered to "have taken the Equal Opportunities line of the Guild".

However, the Government has now given its backing to the strategy of mediation by trained mediators, outlined in Ekklesia's report.

The support came in a letter to NUS President Gemma Tumelty, from Education Minister Bill Rammell MP.

Ekklesia's report, published in November, suggests that the involvement of Evangelical lobby groups, some of whom see university campuses as a 'battleground' in a wider war against 'secularism', have raised the stakes by their involvement, and made an amicable resolution to local disputes in universities unlikely.

The Student Guild at Exeter university suspended the Evangelical Christian Union (ECU) and froze one of its bank accounts because it did not meet the Guild's equal opportunity code, in October. This suspension came to an end in December.

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