I love this time of year in many British universities. It's the time when many Christian Unions hold their missions weeks.
This week, for example, Michael Ots is up in Edinburgh helping with events there, while the London universities have their week too. Later on Tim Keller and Os Guinness will be at Oxford for the mission week there.
I have often had the privilege of helping in these intense but worthwhile outreaches. Apart from signing the UCCF doctrinal basis of faith (an excellent idea to ensure that those who are asked to come and preach the Gospel actually know and believe it) I have never been asked to have my talks pre-vetted. But things may be about to change.
The British Government, Orwellian Big Brother-style, is planning to ask university authorities to vet speeches and presentations of all outside speakers in Universities in order to protect 'British values' and prevent terrorism. When I first read this I thought it was satire from The Onion or Private Eye.
Just stop and think about it – in order to prevent terrorism, Anglican vicars, Baptist ministers and Presbyterians like yours truly have to have their talks vetted before they will be allowed to speak in British universities. Even the newly- ordained first female Anglican bishop, Libby Lane, will need to have any talks in Universities pre-approved, just in case she encourages terrorism.
Universities will be required to have a 'Prevent Duty', to ensure that 'extremism' is not allowed. You can read the full 'consultation' here.
I feel that the suggestion itself is so ludicrous that just simply stating it should be enough to refute it, but apparently there are intelligent people in the Government who think this is a good idea. Why is it so ridiculous?
Because the supposed reason for doing this is to protect British values. The trouble is that the Government does not define British values. Even worse, its proposal goes against something that most of us would regard as a basic British value – freedom of speech. Therefore the Government, in order to protect British values, is destroying them.
Why it is doing this? Because of the threat from Islamic extremists. So why not focus on that threat? The reason is that that would be discriminatory, so they have decided to lump everyone together and suppress us all. Although it is designed to catch Islamic extremists, we all know that it won't stop there. Those who are atheistic secularists will of course use this to stop other 'extremists' speaking at Universities.
Why is that worrying? Surely we should all want extremists to be banned and British values to be upheld? The trouble is that one man's extremist is another's critical thinker. Who determines what an extremist is? I have often been described as a Christian extremist – why? Because I believe the Bible, because I don't agree with same-sex marriage, because I don't buy into all the values of the current zeitgeist. An extremist therefore becomes anyone who disagrees with the current establishment views. Dissent from approved doctrine will not be tolerated.
Thus in order to protect people from the genuine extremists who want to impose an Islamic theocratic state where no deviation is allowed from State approved doctrine, the government is proposing to set up a system where no deviation is allowed from State approved doctrine. We are sleep-waking into a secular authoritarianism as dangerous and repressive as religious authoritarianism.
The Evangelical Alliance has pointed out that this is becoming a familiar pattern:
- Terrorists terrorise
- Media misreport
- Politicians politicise
- Governments overreact
- Freedoms diminish
UCCF has issued a sensible response in which it asks supporters to write to their MPs and urge them to reject this draconian proposal.
UCCF also makes the obvious points that "rather than be transparently specific about the nature of Islamist rhetoric this 'Prevent duty guidance' speaks of an Institution's obligation to promote 'British values'. Such broad guidelines could easily be used by secular or religious people within our universities as an opportunity to censor or even ban any aspects of a CU's programme they happen not to like or simply disagree with. Surely a significant British value is a commitment to freedom of speech and a tolerance of other people's views: far from promoting British values, the proposals as they stand open the door to the curtailment of freedom of speech and the facilitation of intolerance."
I belong to a church that is called the Free Church of Scotland, because it is free from government interference. I swore a vow to "uphold the spirituality and freedom of the Church of Christ, with Christ as her head and His Word as her only standard". I intend to keep that vow. It will be a cold day in hell before I submit any sermon or talk to any government or university official for approval.
It has never become more necessary for Christians to pray for our politicians and to ask that we have freedom to continue to proclaim the Gospel throughout our land. Pray and act now.