Graduate hands back Oxford degree over Christian Concern conference

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An Oxford graduate has handed back his degree over a college’s arrangement to host conferences in association with a religious group which has regularly opposed advances in gay rights and backed ‘gay cure’.

Michael Amherst returned his Exeter College English degree yesterday, saying he no longer wished “to be associated” with the institution.

Exeter’s administrators originally came under fire for agreeing to rent a space to the Wilberforce Academy, run in association with Christian Concern, formerly known as Christian Concern for Our Nation.

The Wilberforce Acadmy says it hopes “delegates will be prepared for servant-hearted, Christ-centred leadership in public life, having been equipped with a robust biblical framework that guides their thinking, prayers and activity in addressing the issues facing our society”.

Conference materials do not mention homosexuality, but its organisers, Christian Concern, have frequently attempted to block gay equality measures.

Christian Concern’s founder, Andrea Minichiello Williams, is also a listed director of the limited company behind the Coalition for Marriage, a petition opposed to marriage equality for gays which told yesterday it has no religious affiliation.

Christian Concern once petitioned the Queen to block the Sexual Orientation Regulations protections for gays in the provision of services as being “contrary to the true profession of the Gospel”.

Williams said people protesting about the group’s views on gays had “latched onto this and mashed together two stories.

“Homosexuals are displaying an extraordinary intolerance for us and freedom of thought.

“We are motivated by love and compassion for all people. Everyone seems to forget Oxford University was founded by Christians.”

Christian Concern’s sister organisation, the Christian Legal Centre, of which Williams is also founder and executive director, is backing the appeal of Lesley Pilkington, the psychotherapist found guilty of malpractice for agreeing to try and counsel undercover journalist Patrick Strudwick into turning straight.

Williams said of Pilkington’s case: “It is time to stand up to a militant homosexual lobby who are unable to tolerate difference of opinion and who seek to coerce behaviour and thought.”

Those approached by the Oxford Student paper were themselves concerned that the group would benefit from the prestige of the university.

Sam Dick, head of policy at Stonewall told the Oxford Student: “Gay students and many Christians will be deeply offended to see this group given a platform at Exeter College.”

Exeter’s response to the criticisms published in the Oxford Student article ‘Exeter welcomes homophobes’ has not allayed graduate Michael Amherst’s fears. He told he had handed back his degree as a result of the college’s reaction.

In the letter to Exeter’s rector seen by, graduate Amherst writes: “Exeter College is no longer a place with which I wish to be associated. I feel your replies to me, other students and members of the press have been sorely lacking. At no stage have you or the college apologised for not having adequate checks in place, for allowing this to happen or for the offence caused to current and past members alike.”

Exeter published a statement on its website after the initial article saying it had discussed the conference with gay and trans student representatives.

In it, the college’s rector, Frances Cairncross said: “Given Exeter College’s strong record in protecting the rights and dignity of its gay and lesbian members, I am dismayed that we should come under such an attack. My colleagues and I have discussed the conference at length with representatives of the MCR, the JCR, representatives of Exeter’s LGBTQ community and other students who have voiced views on the matter.

She added: “At Governing Body’s express request, a letter has been sent to Christian Concern, drawing the attention of the conference organisers to the College’s policies on equality, and insisting that they are observed. Given our contractual situation, Governing Body believes that cancelling the conference booking is not a viable option.

“We are currently reviewing the basis on which we take bookings for conferences and other events, with input from the JCR and MCR.”

Representatives of Exeter’s LGBTQ community had said: “The conference business of Exeter College, like many other colleges, has been handled by the Steward’s Office, and like in several other colleges it is not established practice to filter organizations based on their ideological views. While this may be an issue that Exeter and other colleges will put thought into for the future, the fact that an organization with homophobic views has rented the college premises does not reflect on the college’s own views on this issue.” has asked Exeter College if it would like to make any further comment as a result of Amherst’s decision.