In Response to the Balliol College Controversy

Submitted by SCM on Monday, October 16, 2017 - 12:46

Simone Ramacci reflects on the Balliol College controversy. 

When I first read about the alleged incident at Balliol College in Oxford I was unsure how to feel. On the one hand, I’d be the first to vocally disagree with any religious group being discriminated against on the sole basis of their religion. On the other, I am also incredibly aware that the history of Christianity is fraught with religious authorities taking sides with the Powers That Be, rather than recognising the lamb slain since the foundation of the world in the victimised, scapegoated and persecuted.

As someone who has made a strong commitment to following Jesus in order that I may truly know him, I have experienced first hand how the Christian kerygma (proclamation of the Gospel) can clash with other groups and their vested interest. The Gospel could hardly be good news if it did not comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable; even turning the other cheek is a political act aimed at affirming the victim’s own humanity.

That an official body may shush Christian representation is something that I expect as a non-conformist; Oxford itself was closed to my spiritual ancestors. But the fact that the official reason behind this may be concern for safe spaces and the well-being of students saddens me. It saddens me that Christians are still associated with hate and discrimination and seen as a risk rather than an asset, especially when students coming to university are often finding themselves in difficult and strange situations, and chaplaincies and student groups provide vital support to them. It also saddens me that the college student body’s concerns are possibly founded on some truth, given that some of my run-ins with those who don’t like the Christian message of universal jubilee were with other Christians.

So, in the end I decided that I should not take a side, not only because this whole affair is still emerging and at this time we only have one side’s point of view, but also because I know the blame game is something that never ends well for one side or the other. It is not by chance that forceful action against injustice, whilst often successful in the short term, almost inevitably degenerates into a mirror image of what it rose up against. It is not a fluke that if we thrive on scapegoats, we will always hunger for new ones when we have consumed the previous. If anything, the scapegoat is at the centre of the Gospel, with Jesus revealing and Paul proclaiming how the accusatory instrument of justice kills unless it is completely reimagined in mercy.

So which way forward? I think we need an environment which fosters dialogue and inclusion; hands moving forward to shake with each other rather than to point fingers. And we need to drop our narrative that any group is only what its loudest and nastiest members look like. We can walk together and find ways to welcome and include all marginalised people without sacrificing others on the altar of marginalisation.