Our debate was censored this week. Here’s our side of the story

 

My introductory comments to this reblog are not brief – and they are not brief because this is a matter that is very close to my heart. It concerns an instance of political freedom of speech being institutionally suppressed by my alma mater, Christ Church, Oxford University, and I speak as an alumnus with a strong affection for the place I came to know as my intellectual home. As a student I had felt welcome and safe to make my voice heard no matter how esoteric or controversial my views were. From French and Italian literature tutorials to ad hoc discussions with friends and acquaintances in the Junior Common Room in the early hours in the morning, no matter how sharply we disagreed there was usually an abiding bond of respect for each other’s right to hold their perspective. It was a bond that I treasured, because it gave me the room and the freedom to grow into what I am today, and it pains me to see in light of recent events that it is the ones who would see that bond dissolved who are holding the greatest sway over the college’s powers that be.

I found out few days ago about a high profile abortion debate that was to be hosted within the grounds of my old college, and was cancelled by the college authorities on spurious grounds of ‘security’. This was after a radical feminist group within the college had threatened a disruptive protest over Facebook in their insistence that male pro-life voices had no right to a public platform in the college and expressed their aim to have the event shut down at all costs and by all means. Sympathisers roused support from the undergraduate democratic body to the effect that their representatives should convince the authorities to terminate the debate in view of potential ‘welfare issues’ and ‘security risks’. The college authorities, in spite of possessing the power to act against the student body, granted their request on the rationale that had been presented to them by the representatives, and shut down the event before the protests could take place. The high profile debate was to be held between two prominent male journalists, one pro-choice and one pro-life, and was organised by Oxford Students for Life. The story has been covered in student, national, international and transnational media and the institutional suppression of discussion that it constitutes, as well as effective success of what was a deliberate plot by the radical feminist group to institutionally suppress the right to freedom of political expression in a university setting, has outraged many individuals, Christian and non-Christian, students and non-students, left-wing and right-wing, and of pro-choice and pro-life persuasions.

I was appalled by the way my alma mater used its power to silence voices rather than to nurture them, and to censor thought rather than promote it. It was to a large extent Oxford that taught me how to think, and how to express myself through my thinking. It shaped me – like a nourishing mother – by growing and liberating my mind and my voice, and it did so especially when it engaged with that voice by disagreeing with it and challenging it. For this, I have the deepest respect and a warmth of regard towards all who personally taught me, and it would be irrational – let alone unfair – to tar them with the brush of the institution.

But in a broader sense I feel betrayed by her. By using paltry excuses to shut down discussion between these two male journalists at the bidding of the politically protected pro-choice feminist party that wanted to ensure the suppression of pro-life voices, I feel that she has by extension illegitimized the voices of all those who differ from the liberal orthodoxy by signalling that our time is up, our toleration as dissenting voices is over, by sheer force of majoritarian muscle the door to the debating platform has been slammed in our faces to force a close on the negotiations, our voices are no longer worthy of being heard, and we are no longer welcome to live and move and have our being in the context of this forum of intellectual life. These are voices that were still being developed and shaped within her walls by the internal instruments and organs that had been ordained to do so – voices like mine, who sing similar songs as mine, who had trusted in the sustenance she provided for our minds, and the space to grow into what we were destined to be. By removing this sustenance, shutting down this space and giving in to the pressure to silence, censor, cancel, abort, she has struck out at her own progeny rather than equipping it for its eventual carriage into a world that would strike out at it for her. The title of the debate would have been “This House Believes that Britain’s Abortion Culture Hurts Us All”. Whether Britain’s abortion culture hurts us all is evidently still be up for debate – but I will lend my voice to say that even in the meagre form of my alma mater’s intellectual termination, it has hurt me, and hurt me deeply.

For the original story I’ll just post a few news links – a piece by each of the guests of the debate, one righty and one lefty, an apparent insider scoop from Buzzfeed with a lot of primary material, a further break-down of the arguments from later after the outbreak of the news, and a broader politico-ideological commentary from First Things from a more US-centric perspective.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11239437/Oxford-students-shut-down-abortion-debate.-Free-speech-is-under-assault-on-campus.html

http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9376232/free-speech-is-so-last-century-todays-students-want-the-right-to-be-comfortable/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/alanwhite/heres-what-happened-when-two-men-decided-to-debate-abortion

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2014/11/the-top-students-who-are-too-lazy-to-argue/

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/11/when-does-the-left-like-sexism

Image credit: Tom Quad, Christ Church 2004-01-21.jpg, photograph by Toby Ord, taken from Wikimedia Commons

 

Oxford Students for Life

quadaugust360

We didn’t ask to be in the middle of a free speech controversy. But free speech does matter, and we’d like to set out why we think Tuesday’s planned debate – between Tim Stanley and Brendan O’Neill  on ‘This House Believes Britain’s Abortion Culture Hurts Us All’ – should have gone ahead.

While we have hosted two all-women panel debates over the past year, this motion was about the wider social questions raised by abortion, and Tim and Brendan were invited as well-known commentators who have something to contribute to the discussion. But last weekend, a Facebook page was set up by OxrevFems denouncing us for our choice of two male speakers and threatening to sabotage the event by using ‘oh so disruptive instruments’.

In one exchange on the page, a student of Christ Church – where the debate was to be held – asked a campaigner from Abortion…

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Fellowshipping the healing process

I’ve said that I pray laptop closed… but I want to fellowship my healing today. This is new to me. Enter, dear reader: you, the one sitting there in your chair, behind the fourth wall. Come and sit with me as I try to connect with God. If you can’t bring yourself to accept his reality, feel free to eavesdrop anyway if you can stand the heat. Whoever you are, I know that you are there. Accompany me in my isolation; keep watch over me lest I turn back to my imaginaries as I pursue God. I cannot see you and I do not know who you are, but I know that, whoever you are, you are real and you are there; more real and more there than any known, familiar figure I could conjure into my imagination and pretend were there instead. Hopefully you are emoting with me as I pour my heart out right now, rather than wondering if I’m some kind of lunatic, but you are what you are, and that’s not something I can dictate. Here is a song for the ride. I apologise for any awkward associations it might have with you. It just captures my emotive state right now, and I invite you to share in that if you want to.

For God alone my soul waits in silence.
Why should I invite imaginary ghosts from my past into that sacred space?
From him comes my salvation.
Why should I draw back from him in my need and run to my mind’s pantheon of expired greats?
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
Why should I keep lying to myself that they will do anything but shackle me here while the walls of the vault crumble all around, when I have seen it with my own eyes – when I experience it over and over?

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is found in him.
Speak to them no more. Leave them. Forsake them and come into the light. Believe. Trust.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge, is God.

O you who hear prayer,
to you all flesh shall come.
When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
Let that blood, that rich, glorious blood, ever atone for me, precious one. I feel I need it more than any soul on earth. Teach me the height and depth and breadth of its spread. Teach me how foetid the dirt it can cleanse, how ingrained the disease it can excoriate, and still leave its subject alive.
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
Heavenly Father, in your mercy, let me see how richly I have been blessed, that you chose me to bring me near!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!
Heavenly Father, in your mercy, I am ungrateful and blind. Grant me that I may be satisfied with the goodness and holiness of all that you are. Enough to make me leave my past behind and make you alone my salvation, my glory, my mighty rock, my refuge.

All quotations taken from the Bible, ESV.

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Editors commentary: Nursing care

Thank you, John Benton, for this testimony. What a reassurance to know that it is not too late, even for a dementia-sufferer of 82, to acquire a simple faith that will endure for ten years and infinitely longer.

Evangelicals Now

Nursing Care

(view original article here)

Recently doctors explained that sadly they think my mother will die soon.

She is 92, suffering from advanced dementia, and has had pneumonia. During a busy pastoral day I found time to get to the hospital, as we have been doing every day. I walked into the ward but my mother was not to be seen. I asked a nurse where she was. ‘Didn’t you know?’ she said, ‘She was moved to a nursing home this morning’. I was stunned. She was very apologetic.

What was going on?

It wasn’t quite as bad as it might first appear. We were indeed working on getting mum to a nursing home. But there were legal forms to sign and it was taking us some days to track down our situation on enduring power of attorney. The letter from NHS Continuing Care clearly stated that nothing could…

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7 Days of Thankfulness – Day 7

It was a long time coming. God – the Holy Spirit and the Father – helped me to lay part of my old self aside today. I wanted to proclaim his greatness to you all today, for that. It was a part that was causing me to fall into sin every day. And I am really, really thankful that he helped me to lay it aside. My relationship with him may take a little while to repair. But the offending part is gone. The gaping hole is going to smart and feel a bit chilly for a while until he fills it with something wholesome. But I feel so safe now. It’s finally over. I can learn how to be free again. Thank you, God. Thank you for freeing me from that gangrenous limb. Thank you for amputating it from me and letting me live.

I am thankful for the fact that Christ keeps holding onto me even when I’m struggling to meet his touch. When I struggled, there he was. I kept looking up to him, he kept looking down on me. He still did, even when I looked away.

I am thankful for the fact that Christ in God works with me in the mess I’m in and can still construct anything out of it that might glorify him in the eyes of someone else.

Thank you God. Take me back again. Teach me how to live. I’ve crucified you over and over and I’m sorry. Please help me to make good this repentance in the things that I go on to do.

If you can muster it, dear reader, please utter a prayer for me in the name of Jesus. That my rehabilitation will be good, and that I can be strengthened again in my love of God, and meet his gaze more fully, so that I can serve him more completely.

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7 Days of Thankfulness – Day 6

Today my thankfulness has been grounded in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It is a book overflowing with thankfulness, care, kindness and joy. It was a balm to the eyes of my battle-wearied mind today; a mind that hated the sin it committed even as it committed it; sick of the mechanical pattern of being beaten down again and again by the same thought patterns and weakened and waylaid as if being battered repeatedly with the turning paddles of a water wheel; wasting hours of my time chasing the winds of some adolescent disappointment and lying there trapped in my fanciful, godless world of reanimated, decomposing dream-corpses.

Sin paralysed me and left me gasping for the Word today, and when I could remove myself from my stupor, he delivered – and what a balm; what a mind-freeing ointment to deliver me from my bonds. As I turned my eyes away from the text to search for a pen, and the footsteps pacing downstairs gathered speed and force, and the anxiety began to blossom in my mind once more, I wrote the following before the peace of Christ gave way to the banal, chilly dread, lest I should be walked in on with a Bible open instead of a job application by those who would mistake the divine doctor for the one who was keeping my mind in chains.

O love of Christ that keeps on giving, what should I offer to your name?

Yearning for us through and with your saints down the ages.

All you want is to see us grow and flourish in you.

That wasted body of Paul exulting in its throes, that they might prove the Son of their Father, holding very life as cheap, but that he might be your visage to us.

O Fount of Love, like a Mother Hen, you delight in your own little chicklings, hastening them in to grow that they might meet death with the same aplomb.

What can I give you for all that you gave? What can ransom the life of a man, even a God-man? Were I to give my deepest-seated loves, my shelves full of sin-records and old memories, it would still be a cheap offering for the blood and love of such a God.

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7 Days of Thankfulness – Day 5

Thank you God…
That you’re there helping me to say ‘no’ to the things I need to say no to.

Thank you God…
For libraries. When the surrounds of my room with its souvenirs, memoirs and shelves full of books that I can’t bear to get rid of lure me back to that cushy, imaginary, godless world which I built in my teens on nostaliga and broken dreams, I’m just so thankful that you provide libraries. I’m thankful that you’ve provided an alternative to that room, where nearly every other object I touch is an invitation to haunt and distort my own memories like a poltergeist. Thank you for these clear, functional, public spaces; ‘neutral’ worlds where nothing, neither the furniture, nor the books, nor the décor, nor the ambient aroma of the building, can serve as a cognitive hook onto my old, futile longings for the never-materialised past wants that were absorbed into my pillow, my bed, my books, my bedroom floor. No, the library is far removed from these ambiental triggers. These are houses of ‘otherness’ and unfamiliarity, where every object is a blank slate, an artefact without any history that could lock me back inside the dream-world that I haunt. In the library, hand-in-hand with you, I can try and pave a way for myself in your far less saccharine world of the real, the concrete and the social, which you intended me to inhabit. My brave new world is Planet Earth, which you made for me to live in with you. Though more savage, more prickly and more raw, the world of the Cross is a more beautiful place to be.

Thank you God…
That you gave me a job to go to tomorrow. After so long unemployed, it is such a privilege to be able to say that I do the humblest of things, even if only part-time. Please bless my work, and let my co-workers witness you through me.

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Here is Love – the power-packing classic that got modern

I had no idea that Matt Redman did a ‘refurbed’ version of this amazing hymn I learnt and loved at one of my old student churches. These first two verses of the hymn capture the key elements of the gospel so boldly, and so well. Feast your hearts on this, friends. I hope it blesses you greatly.

Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Lovingkindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout Heav’n’s eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

Words are by Reese Williams (1802-1883), with the melody written by Robert Lowry (1876). Matt Redman’s version came out in 2004 with Kingsway.

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7 Days of Thankfulness – Day 4

Seeing through the brain fog is hard these days… I was on such a spiritual high earlier this summer, but now there’s this restlessness. Still delighting in things of a quasi-academic nature; still enjoying the exercise of what they taught me during my degree. Those things I can be thankful for – to the point where the perfectionism and the temptation to over-edit enslaves me; then I’d rather lay them to rest and get on with something more important.

1) Since yesterday’s ordeal I’ve fallen sick with a head cold. But I’d like to thank God for friends who care, and who pray for me. They are my hands and my feet right now. I was at my usual fortnightly Bible study tonight, and some of them were there. One of our friends who hasn’t been for a while had come too – I was really glad to see her. I can be thankful for that. There seemed to be a vibe of guilt, or of under-confidence about her. I wish I could have made her more comfortable and reassured her. Such a precious lady. I had wanted her to relax and feel at home.

2) What a joy it was three weeks ago when the Lord let me host my own Bible study for the first ever time in my own home. It remains fond in my memory even now. What a delight it was to have these men and women of God whom I so respect furnishing my living room with their presence, and our good friend leading the Bible study. How wonderful it was that my Christian seeker friend could come, and didn’t find the discussion too hard for him, and liked listening and contributing. May God enable me to have a gift of hospitality one day. It was such a joy to see their smiling faces, and to know that they found the surroundings comfortable and the company pleasant, and that they liked the cookies I had baked for them.  How happy I was that so many stayed for up to half an hour after the end, socializing contentedly and drinking my tea and coffee, just like my student friends had done in brighter days, when I was a final year Oxford student and had hosted prayer meetings in my room. My cup ran over. It had been such a frightening task, inviting them all to come. It went against my usual scripts. God knows I have a big enough voice for debate, or for explorations of ideas or concepts, or for talking about my life on verbal autopilot, but usually I’m assailed by too many doubts and fears to even attempt to make overt social gestures like inviting church friends around to my parents’ home. I’d been wanting to pluck up the courage to do it for so very, very long. It was just like the good old days. God of heaven, grant me the courage to do it again one day. It gave me so much joy.

3) I was really thankful towards the friend who hosted the Bible study tonight, as he gave me some of the tomatoes from his harvest to take home to cheer up my mum. It was wonderful to be able to lay them out on the table, and to say “At the Bible study tonight my friend gave me these for you to have in your lunch tomorrow”. What a witness that act of generosity enabled me to show when I got home. My friend was so kind for letting me do that.

I feel much better now. Meditating on lovely blessings and being thankful to God for them really does transform your mind. Even my headache has lifted slightly. The Apostle Paul’s exhortation is true wisdom from God:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
~ Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

Thank you, Jesus.

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7 Days of Thankfulness – A reprise

I’m writing now in defiance. I received some deep prayer at church this evening and all kinds of ugly things surfaced. The things I said, I couldn’t even believe were falling off my lips. Memories of scowling, clawing in this irrational rage and fear at my dear friend whom I love, who was on the prayer team that day. The words ‘I bind you’ hitting my insides like a sledgehammer, wrenching cries out of me and leaving me clutching at the pew in terror; the horrible sight of her cross necklace making me writhe, so that I had to push it away and cover it with my hand: “Get that thing away from me,” my voice cried. What came over me? What was I thinking? How could I do that, or think that, or even feel that way, about the Cross that I so love? When we were done I felt like I’d been dragged backwards through a hedge. My knees were so weak I could hardly stand up for a moment. Now I’m home. The freshmint ‘new penny’ feeling has faded and distressing intrusive images have been filling my head. With compulsive urges to do things when that still, small voice says ‘no’. So I’m writing in defiance. I’m going to be thankful to God in Christ Jesus tonight and I’m going to praise him even if it hurts.

I’m going to think of three things for which I’m going to thank God, and I’m not going to write them here. I’ve got prayer to do, and I generally do my prayer laptop-closed. Please pray for me, whoever you are reading this. I hadn’t thought that that sort of thing happened to believers, either.

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‘Cantique de Jean Racine’: French choral work -cum- English refurbished Christian rock/worship song? An exercise in stylistic translation, with critical analysis.

Translation of the poetry into English lyrics that might suit a contemporary Christian rock/worship song:

Word at one with the Most High, our only hope;
Eternal dayspring of heaven and earth,
We pierce through the dead of night with our cries:
“Holy Saviour, cast down on us your eyes!”

Pour out on us the fire of your mighty grace,
Let all hell flee at the sound of your voice;
Wipe away the sleep from our weary souls:
Don’t let it lead us to forget your ways!

O Jesus, smile on us your faithful ones,
Now gathered in this place to bless your name!
Receive our praise of your eternal glory:
And send us out filled with your gifts we pray!

Original French:

Verbe égal au Très-Haut, notre unique espérance,
Jour éternel de la terre et des cieux,
De la paisible nuit nous rompons le silence:
Divin sauveur, jette sur nous les yeux.

Répands sur nous le feu de ta grâce puissante;
Que tout l’enfer fuie au son de ta voix;
Dissipe le sommeil d’une âme languissante
Qui la conduit à l’oubli de tes lois!

Ô Christ ! sois favorable à ce peuple fidèle,
Pour te bénir maintenant rassemblé;
Reçois les chants qu’il offre à ta gloire immortelle,
Et de tes dons qu’il retourne comblé.

Hyper-literal ‘semi-English’ gloss of the French mimicking the grammar/syntax and word order of the original, with semantic/morphological amplifications and alternatives in brackets. This is not strictly a translation:

Word equal to the Most High, our only (+singular) hope,
Day eternal of the earth and of the heavens,
Of the quiet night, we break [or, ‘we are breaking’] the silence:
Divine Saviour, cast on(to) us your eyes.

Pour [+spread] out on(to) us your the fire of your grace powerful [i.e. forceful/potent, rather than ‘having power’].
May all the hell flee at the sound of your voice!
Dissipate the slumber of a wilting (+listless +torpid +perishing/decaying) soul
That drives it to the forgetfulness of your laws!

O Christ, be favourable [i.e. ‘show favour’] to this people faithful,
To bless you, now (+’once more’) assembled.
Receive the hymns it offers to your immortal glory,
And by your gifts, may it return filled (up).

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