Have You Heard What’s Happening At Sydney Uni?

When A Christian Group Isn't Allowed To Be Christian

If you haven’t yet heard, there’s a storm brewing at Sydney University.

The ‘Honi Soit’ campus newspaper reports :

The University of Sydney Union (USU) has threatened to deregister the Sydney University Evangelical Union (EU) from the Clubs & Societies program over the latter’s requirement that all members must make a declaration of faith in Jesus Christ.

That’s right: a Christian group, whose primary aim is to further the Christian message,  can no longer require its voting members or executive to be (wait for it) Christian.

Sydney University Quadrangle Building

Sydney University Quadrangle Building. Courtesy Wikimedia.org

If you think the Student Union has lost the plot, you’re not alone.

So what’s going on?

1) Freedom of Association Has Gone AWOL

This most basic freedom is misunderstood

Whilst my Aussie school friends were sleeping in on Saturdays, my brothers and I, being first generation Hungarians, had the joy of getting up early and going to Saturday ‘Wog School’ (to better learn our native tongue).

And then after ‘Wog School’, we’d go to Hungarian Scouts.

Yes, really.

But here’s the thing: if you wanted to be part of Hungarian Scouts, you needed to be…Hungarian. To use the lingo of today, we ‘discriminated against’, we ‘excluded’ people based on their race, i.e. who weren’t Hungarian.

Was that ever controversial with non-Hungarians? Of course not.

Because everybody understood that Hungarians (and every other migrant group under the Australian sun) have the right to meet together as a migrant community for the purpose of furthering our culture.

This right, this freedom to meet together as a distinct community for a common purpose, whether it be racial or religious, is known as ‘freedom of association‘. It’s enshrined in International Law (to which the Australian government is a signatory).

And just as migrant groups have enjoyed this freedom, so too have religious groups, like the EU at Sydney University.

Until now: at Sydney Uni, the times, they are’a changin’.

But why is that?  

2) When ‘Discrimination’ is All Bad

Redefining ‘discrimination’

Law Professor Neil Foster describes how there’s been a change in the definition of ‘discrimination’ over the last few years:

[T]here has been a subtle shift in anti-discrimination thought, from the basic premise that people ought not to be denied access to, or participation in, public goods such as work or access to facilities, on account of irrelevant characteristics;

I.e. you’d be discriminating (unlawfully) if you denied people access to public shops, and other public services, because of some irrelevant characteristic (e.g. their race).

But now the definition has changed. Professor Foster continues:

[Discrimination now means] the mere act of treating one person differently from another person, [which] somehow creates a “status harm” which demeans the differently treated person and attacks their “dignity”.

So by this new definition:

  • a Hungarian Scout group would be attacking the dignity of a non-Hungarian by barring them from joining;
  • a university Christian group would be attacking the dignity of non-Christians by preventing them from becoming (as in the EU’s case) voting members of the group.

That’s a radical redefinition, which already has big implications for freedom of association: just ask the EU.

So how are we to think of this as Christians? 

3) It’s Not Just a Christian Issue

Redefining ‘Discrimination’ will be bad for everyone

Although the EU is in the firing line right now, attacking freedom of association will have severe repercussions across society.

Atheist columnist Brendan O’Neill writes:

If ruling bodies, whether the state or a student union that wields power on campus, can use pressure or threats to make private associations rewrite their constitutions…then we enter into very dark territory indeed. We arrive at a situation where the authorities can dictate whom we may link up with and what we may believe [emphasis added]

Whilst this fiasco is only happening at universities (not minimising the pain the EU is facing), what happens at university rarely stays at university.

4) Christians should be concerned

Not ‘only’ for the sake of the gospel, but for the sake of non-Christian neighbours

The 20th century saw the rise of governments that were only too happy to restrict freedom of association within their societies. This meant disaster not just for Churches and Christians (although they often copped it first), but for all of society.

By way of example, Michael Jensen points out the harm that would come if freedom of association was compromised for indigenous people:

Imagine if an indigenous campus group were forced to admit non-indigenous members…how hurtful it would be to their identity. I can’t simply declare myself to be indigenous and so demand membership in their society without doing harm to that identity.

And so, out of love for our neighbour (whether Christian or not), Christians should be the first to defend and uphold this basic freedom.

Is the Writing On the Wall?

A famous man once said it’s very hard to make predictions, especially about the future.

But more than likely this redefinition of ‘discrimination’ will lead to further erosions of the freedom of association. Beginning with, but not ending with,  religious organisations.


So what are your thoughts? Please feel free to leave a comment below. 

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15 thoughts on “Have You Heard What’s Happening At Sydney Uni?

  1. There’s really no more to say. Thanks Akos for another insightful post. Future generations will scratch their heads at this bizarre time in history.

  2. 17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

    20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

    22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.[f]

    24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

        • If this small blog helps inform fellow Christians about some of the issues that are going on (and possible ways to think through them), then my goal has been achieved. 🙂

          To God be the glory,

  3. I think we should not be surprised, scripture is clear we should expect this. Indeed we are naive not to expect this. So given this reality, the issue is how do students get on with gospel work. The bigger issue is to rethink how we make disciples.

  4. This is disturbing from the point of view that rationality has been lost. Since when has diversity been so in need of being quelled so that everyone is the same, or has the same advantage? If you form a group of embroiderers who want to meet together and embroider, learn from each other and try new forms of embroidery, how has anyone of any other art form the right to demand they be allowed to join and then demand that their own art form be enjoyed as well? If a group of readers forms a group to read, then discuss the book they’ve read, why should someone who wants to play music think they can join the book readers club? It really does get ludicrous when you think of it in those terms, so why can’t interest groups be allowed to be focused on their interest? It defies logic and defies like minded people being able to be like minded in a group. It is a sign of mind bending having overcome logic and appreciation of differences. There seems to be a force of control being exerted to make everyone the same as each other. Never a good thing!

  5. Ooops – we ‘discriminated against’, we ‘excluded’ people based on their race, i.e. who weren’t Hungarian.

    Hungarian isn’t a race of social or biological construction, it’s a nationality. I know race and nationality are often confused these days but kids won’t learn the difference if we don’t point it out. If you’d said eastern european that could possibly be a race of social construction – but that would have not been relevant to your meaning.

    Species: Homo sapien
    Race: Most anthropologists recognize 3 or 4 basic races of man in existence today.
    These races can be further subdivided into as many as 30 subgroups.

    Ethnographic division into races from Meyers Konversationslexikon of 1885-90 is listing:
    Caucasian races (Aryans, Hamites, Semites)
    Mongolian races (northern Mongolian, Chinese and Indo-Chinese, Japanese and Korean, Tibetan, Malayan, Polynesian, Maori, Micronesian, Eskimo, American Indian),
    Negroid races (African, Hottentots, Melanesians/Papua, “Negrito”, Australian Aborigine, Dravidians, Sinhalese)

    All races share 99.99+% of the same genetic materials.

    And, here is something else re the good old UNSW – apparently …. UNSW students are instructed to say Australia was ‘invaded’ by Captain Cook rather than ‘discovered’!

    article here (http://pickeringpost.com/story/unsw-students-instructed-to-say-oz-was-invaded-by-captain-cook-rather-than-discovered-/5866)

  6. I’m sure many Christian groups will suffer in the ‘new age’, we were warned and should be prepared/ready for this. We will get to the place, indeed it’s here now in many places, where the only Christian Churches operating are the ones sold out to the new way of thinking. We need more people living a Spirit Led life, rather than a pastor/minister/church program led spiritual life. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit for a reason and most of the time we just waste it. Relationship is what it’s all about, and we don’t need permission from anyone to have a relationship with Jesus.

    • Hi Janine,

      We certainly don’t need permission from anyone to have a relationship with Jesus – that’s for sure.

      But I think the freedom to meet and assemble on campuses (and wider society) can only be good for the gospel (humanly speaking).

      Thanks again for your comment!

  7. That’s the same as saying you can be in the Labor Party if you hold to Liberal ethics…or Greens….hmmmmm…..