The Student Christian Movement, a long-established organisation on university and college campuses across the UK, has joined calls for a positive, mediatory approach to disagreements between evangelical Christian Unions and Students Unions.
SCM has also expressed concern over some of the media coverage of the row, which it says has created a false impression that there is widespread tension between secularism and Christianity at universities.
In its independent report ‚ÄòUnited We Stand?‚Äô, published in November 2006, the UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia had suggested that the arguments between CUs and student guilds or unions, which revolve around equalities issues, should be resolved by mediation rather than legal action - a view endorsed by government.
However, some church leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have weighed into the row; often on the basis of what those close to the local situations believe is highly questionable information about what is going on.
Student Christian Movement national co-ordinator Liam Purcell commented today: ‚ÄúSCM was saddened to learn this week that the ECU in Exeter has rejected the offer of mediation and, despite the fact that its temporary suspension has been lifted, is bringing legal action against the students' union. We hope and pray that a resolution can be found for this situation which respects both the ECU's freedom of religion and the student union's democratic and inclusive principles. We also hope that similar situations on other campuses will be resolved without recourse to legal action.‚Äù
Purcell added: ‚ÄúSCM is worried that media coverage of these problems might give the impression that university campuses are the site of fierce struggles between aggressive secularism and persecuted faith groups. In our experience as a national movement, this simply isn't the case.‚Äù
He added: ‚ÄúSCM works closely with chaplaincies, students‚Äô unions and university authorities, and we know that conflicts like this are very unusual. On a national level, we meet regularly with all the major faith-based student organisations. NUS is involved in this process and has been highly supportive of inter-faith work, understanding the importance of faith groups for community cohesion. Our colleagues of other faiths have even gone so far as to say that there has never been a better time to be a faith group on campus.‚Äù
‚ÄúWe at SCM know that faith groups and secular university structures can work successfully together. Dialogue, openness and understanding are essential. Public confrontation and conflict like this only make things harder for other guilds, CUs and Christian groups around the country.‚Äù
The Student Christian Movement is now urging Christian Unions and guilds to pursue the option of mediation and to consider involving university chaplaincies in the process.
Liam Purcell told Ekklesia today that SCM wants to see conversation rather than confrontation between people of different faiths and world views in Britain‚Äôs universities.