I've been puzzling over a trend I've noticed recently among some Christian groups and their leaders: a hesitancy to speak to members of the media regarding their message and an inability to express that message succinctly and effectively. As a believer, I struggle with expressing my faith to others, so I don't want to go off judging those in leadership positions. But as we've said before on this blog, religious leaders could use a bit of GetJournalism, just as us media folks could use a bit of GetReligion. Across the pond in Great Britain, there is a great example of a Christian group getting journalism.
About a week ago, the University of Birmingham Guild of Students banned a Christian student union and froze its bank account, saying the group was exclusive toward those of other faiths. While this seems to be a story we're seeing more often in the United States due to overuse of the separation of church and state doctrine, one would think it would be a bit of a stretch in Britain, where that tradition is largely absent.
Think again, and thanks to Phil, a reader over in the United Kingdom, for dropping us a note regarding this story. Phil pointed us to a Times article by religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill that focuses on the "row over gays." It is scant on detail (Gledhill's blog post on the matter, on the other hand, is filled with detail), while The Birmingham Post's Shahid Naqvi leads with the "students ban Christian group" angle and thoroughly details the debate from both sides' perspective.
Both articles are as balanced as they can be when a reporter is dealing with differing doctrines on how religious campus student groups should be treated. Score one for members of the Christian Union for being so willing to communicate and not being ashamed to speak out for what they truly believe.
Here's the Christian Union's defense as reported in the Post:
Pod Bhogal, communications director for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship -- an affiliation of Christian societies -- said the issue was one of freedom of speech.
"In all our years of working with hundreds of higher education establishments, this action by Birmingham's guild is unique.
"It is over-the-top and looks like political correctness gone mad. We would not dream of telling a Muslim group or a political society how to elect their leaders or who could or could not become a member.
"That's entirely a matter to them, based on their own faith principles. The same applies to a Christian Union."
Contrast that with the Student Guild's defense:
Birmingham University's Student Guild said it was merely enforcing the 1994 Education Act which states student societies have to be open to all.
It said 15 faith groups on campus -- including the Islamic Society, the Sikh Society and a non-evangelical Christian body -- had already complied with the regulations.
Guild president Richard Angell said: "It is not about faith, it is about complying with the law.
"Our members have the right to stand for the executive committee of any society they join. Our societies must be democratic and must not discriminate based on religion."
Both groups opened up and aired their opinions on the situation, and all accounts point toward a fair hearing on both sides. According to Phil, the Christian union and its affiliate, Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, were quick to issue a quality press release, resulting in their points being accurately portrayed in all reports, including this BBC account and this article on the Guardian website. On the flip side, the University of Birmingham Guild of Students was slow to mention to affair, and early reports relied on the weak remarks from Richard Angell.
As a reporter, I appreciate any organization that succinctly presents its side on a controversial issue. Reporters are not always as familiar with an issue as would be desirable, nor do they have the time to become experts in every controversy, but nearly all are willing to learn and desire to present a situation in all fairness and accuracy.