Wilberforce Academy alumna Libby Littlewood responds to recent criticism of the academy and news that Worcester College, Oxford, apologised for hosting it.
Daniel Dipper recently wrote an article entitled, Worcester College Recently Hosted an Event with a Speaker Linked to ‘Conversion Therapy’. I had the pleasure of reading his piece, in which he details the condemnation of Worcester College, in light of their hosting Christian Concern’s Wilberforce Academy.
Following a content warning of “discussions of homophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism,” Dipper describes the reaction of Worcester College students, particularly LGBTQ+ advocates, after finding a leaflet from the event on the college campus. After bringing their concerns to Worcester’s JCR President, LGBTQ+ Representative, and Ethnic and Religious Minorities Representative, the response from the Provost has allegedly been one of sincere remorse and notable shock concerning the contents of the conference. Wilberforce Academy is quoted as describing the incident as an example of ‘cancel culture’ and the article ends with Christian Concern’s chief executive Andrea Williams’ surprise and dismay at what appears to be a drastic shift in the opinion of the Provost, in regards to the event and its attendees.
As somebody privileged enough to be invited to attend the Wilberforce Academy as both a speaker and delegate, reading Dipper’s article was a sobering experience. I spent a week meeting with other Christians from around the world, developing friendships and exchanging phone numbers. As a theology student, I remember feeling so excited to hear from such esteemed voices as Dr Dan Strange and Ade Omooba MBE. Seeing the line-up of speakers, I couldn’t wait to hear what such diverse voices had to say about topics like “Cultural Apologetics” and “The Authority of Biblical Law”. The week was framed around examining cultural and political topics critically, from a Biblical perspective. It had been designed in order to enable discussion and equip us to speak about different perspectives from a well-researched and sensitive place. To hear terms like homophobic and Islamophobic being associated with this week of open and careful reflection, upon “a leaflet being left behind at breakfast” seems a great disservice to the point of the whole week.
Much of the criticism lies in the association with Dr Mike Davidson, who arrived on Thursday to introduce the topic of ‘LGBT and Change’. As somebody who often works with Mike, this came as no surprise to me, although the contempt appears to be somewhat assumptive. What the leaflet does not detail is that myself and another ex-LGBT individual took up the majority of Mike’s speaking time by telling our personal testimonies. As is in the spirit of a talk entitled ‘LGBT and Change’, we discussed the change which had taken place in our own lives. This was subtly bracketed by Mike’s explanation of the ‘conversion therapy’ ban, which threatens testimonies like ours, and his announcement of the new X-Out-Loud book, of which I was an editor and participant, among 43 other individuals from 22 different countries. Wilberforce Academy was, for me, an opportunity to share our experiences, which are so often silenced by one-sided politics and public intolerance.
The article notes, “Mike Davidson’s group also publicises their dissatisfaction with the “encroaching politico-religious identity of Islam’.” This is a very ambiguous way of writing that Mike Davidson spoke at and attended a conference which also hosted acclaimed speakers in the topic of Islam and culture. Two of the 24 timetabled lectures were titled ‘The nature of Islam’ and ‘Witnessing to Muslims’ respectively. The former focussed on study of the Qur’an and the latter was about how to facilitate an effective inter-faith dialogue between Christians and Muslims. These are topics any Theology degree program will explore. With an increasing Muslim population in Britain, they are pertinent topics to all faith communities, in need of critical discussion and reflection, which Sam Solomon and Beth Peltola gladly facilitated.
Dipper quotes students as saying they came to Worcester College “hoping to be [themselves].” For myself, and many other Wilberforce Academy delegates and speakers, this was also the case. We wanted to be accepted as ourselves: our Christian selves, our ex-LGBT selves, our academic and critical selves.
We also want rights for our religion: we want to be able to meet and worship God together and discuss how we interact with culture and politics in a society so different from what we see in our Holy Book.
We also want rights for our sexuality: we want to be able to live as our authentic selves, even if that means leaving homosexual practices and instead embracing the Gospel. We want to be able to discuss our morals and opinions, being received and respected, as we receive and respect others.
We are not aiming to persecute others but we are hoping to facilitate a dialogue. Are these the “values and policies [which] conflict with those of Worcester College”?