George Bishop is the current Student President of the Sydney University Evangelical Union. We asked him to fill us in on the situation between the Student Union (USU) and the Evangelical Union (EU). 

TGCA: We understand that this is an issue that has building for a few years, Can you give us a bit of the background?

For approximately five years, the EU has been in various discussions/disagreements with the University of Sydney Union (the body which administers the Clubs & Societies program of which the EU is a part) relating to one clause in our constitution. 

The clause essentially states that members must maintain the essential Christian core of the EU as expressed in our constitution and be able to express their faith as a community of followers in the Lord, Jesus Christ. Although EU activities are open to all students, members (who have voting rights to elect executive officers) need to sign a declaration of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

The USU disagrees with this requirement. They believe that any individual who holds an ACCESS card (i.e. is a member of the Student Union) should be able to be a member of the EU,  and even serve as an office bearer – even if they are not in step with the aims and objects of the club. The Clubs & Societies regulations, as amended 27th November 2015, have now placed a specific requirement that no additional requirement of any kind can be placed as part of the process of becoming a member or (as the regulations specifically state) being a member of the Executive.

George Bishop – President of the Sydney University EU –

On the 17th February 2016, the EU received correspondence from the Clubs & Societies office which in plain and unequivocal language stated that the EU must remove any requirement of a faith based declaration from its constitution by 31st March 2016 or be deregistered from the Clubs & Societies program.

TGCA: Has this been a problem for other religious groups? Is it being applied more broadly to other interest groups such as political or gender groups?

To the best of my understanding, a similar ultimatum has been issued to the Catholic Society. 

The policy has been rolled out to all clubs, including political societies. Political societies are not able to require that members, as opposed to participants, be of a similar political persuasion. 

TGCA: How is the relationship between the executive and the SU?

The EU has at all times been acting in good faith and followed formal and informal procedures as required by the USU.

TGCA: We’ve seen media reports that EU students met last week to vote on whether to change the membership requirements. How did that go?

The EU held a General Meeting to formally vote on whether having a faith based declaration as part of the membership process should be removed from our constitution. The membership overwhelmingly voted against changing our constitution. The final count was 71-1. This gives the EU Executive a clear mandate to continue to advocate for this issue and highlights that this is something that the membership really cares about. 

TGCA: What was the mood at that meeting?

It was lovely to see those at the meeting so passionate about this issue. 
The meeting was probably one of the most significant in the EU’s 85-year history. The membership were evidently prepared to risk de-registration from the Clubs & Societies program for the sake of maintaining the Christian identity of EU and its right to freely associate.

TGCA: What is the next step for the EU at this stage?

Just before the General Meeting last week, the EU received an email from the USU saying that de-registration had been stalled while the USU Board reconsiders its position. It will do so on Friday (1/4/16). The EU is awaiting clarification of the Board’s stance.

TGCA: What kind of support have you had?

One high-profile Christian told me that “you’ve just about got the whole Sydney evangelical community praying for you.”

TGCA: What have been the lessons so far?

I think that sometimes, as Christians we tend to avoid conflict and acquiesce to the agenda of a society which seeks to actively reject the lordship of Christ. Sometimes we do this rightly and lovingly; sometimes out of fear and anxiety. But I think that this issue highlights the importance of Christians taking a stand, drawing a line in the sand and fighting for what we believe.

TGCA: What things have been encouraging or sustaining you in the midst of this?

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has sustained me and equipped me in this time. He has given me strength, wisdom and words to speak in the midst of this conflict. All glory, honour and praise must go to Him. I am so thankful for the great team of leaders – the EU executive for their support, wisdom and leadership of the EU in this time.

TGCA: How would you like Christian readers to pray for you and the EU at the present time?

I would call on Christian readers to pray diligently for this issue – that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ might work sovereignly, for a resolution in accordance with his good and perfect will. 

See further observations on the situation at Sydney University from Andrew Katay, here and an update on the USU’s April 1 deliberation here.

Photo: Newtown Graffiti, flickr