Wilberforce Academy 2012
The Wilberforce Academy 2012, organised by Christian Concern, took place last week at Exeter College, Oxford.
72 delegates, mainly consisting of students and young graduates, attended the Academy and were equipped to take the truth of Jesus Christ into the public square.
Before the event, a small number of campaigners had gained media attention for protesting that Exeter College should not host the Academy. In a letter to the college’s Rector, the LGBTQ Campaign stated that Christian Concern promotes a “homophobic” and “transphobic” agenda.
The opposition was given front page coverage in the Oxford Student back in February under the headline “Exeter welcomes homophobes” with the hope that the college might refuse to host the event after being put under such pressure.
A graduate from Exeter College even handed back his degree in protest, a gesture which gained him national media coverage.
Upon arrival, delegates were met face to face with a small group of protestors, having to make their way past them to enter the college. This too was reported in the local media.
The opposition (which included a blown up condom being left one night in the lecture hall that was being used) and resultant coverage conveniently illustrated the current levels of antagonism and media bias against those who want to live by mainstream Christian values, as well as the need for the training that the Wilberforce Academy provides.
The speakers, each of them experts in their respective fields, were able to demonstrate how the drift from the Christian faith has had such a destructive impact on communities and individuals in Britain.
Delegates were equipped to bring Biblical teaching to bear on the pressing issues facing society and speakers such as Baroness Cox, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali and Andrea Minichiello Williams were able to speak out of experience about the cost and joys of standing for Christ’s truth in the public square.
Jeffrey Ventrella, the senior vice president of the Alliance Defense Fund, gave a series of talks on the role of the advocate in society entitled “Law, Lordship & Liberty”.
Professor Julian Rivers, Professor of Jurisprudence of University of Bristol, gave an overview of equality law in the UK, and its implications and limits. Barrister Paul Diamond, Standing Council to the Christian Legal Centre, talked about the current threat to religious freedom in the UK, referring to the many cases he has dealt with of Christians being fined, suspended or sacked from work for wanting to abide by their religious beliefs in the public sphere.
Whilst Christian viewpoints are mistakenly labelled in the media as ‘homophobic’, ‘hate speech’ or ‘intolerant’, the speakers demonstrated that Christians ought to love those who oppose them, whilst being confident that Jesus’ commands are the best for society to follow.
By the end of the week, delegates attested to the life changing impact of the Academy and were inspired to live out and speak the Gospel message in their different spheres of influence.
Attendees came from a wide variety of backgrounds including the law, business and politics but their common faith in Jesus and passion for making Him known meant that there was a tangible spirit of unity and camaraderie amongst them, with impromptu worships sessions taking place late at night in the college chapel on most evenings.
Several of the speakers stressed the need that exists for a new generation who will proclaim Christian truth in public life. Now with three years’ worth of Wilberforce graduates, a core of young Christian leaders is emerging, willing to take up the baton and contend for truth.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, commented:
“It was an immense privilege to be a part of the Wilberforce Academy 2012.
“The reality of the Wilberforce Academy was very different to the story that the media chose to run with. Inside Exeter College last week were a group of incredibly gifted young people who love Jesus and are passionate to see Him back at the heart of our national life. They are not motivated by hatred or bigotry but by the love for God and neighbour that Jesus taught.
“The opposition that we experienced before and during the week shows the need for a rising generation of unashamed Christian leaders.
“I left incredibly humbled and absolutely confident that these Wilberforce graduates, under God’s grace, are that generation”.