A question of tolerance and diversity

November 4, 1994

The vision existing in church colleges as expressed by Gordon McGregor (THES, October 14) remains unaffected by the poor arguments ranged against him in your columns (David Clines, October 21; Charles Clark, October 28).

First, Clines confuses a "plural" society with a "secular" one. While a future secular society may one day decide that church-related institutions of higher education might unsettle its enlightened prejudices, a plural society is surely one where diversity of higher education provision should be welcome. Church colleges and/or universities add to diversity.

Second, while some secular universities may boast of charters which marginalise religious beliefs, the suggestion that church universities should adopt these is intolerant. While secular universities can proclaim their ideological biases triumphantly, a church college or university is offered the prospect either of imitation or silence.

Third, if church colleges cannot be admitted into the university sector without first voluntarily secularising themselves, presumably they are unfit members of the sector at the present time? They already do university level work, and as Clines says, "there is no question" about its quality.

Fourth, the accusation that the church colleges are about to become engaged in implicit religious proselytisation is akin to calling Tony Blair a Marxist. The mission statement of the Council of Church and Associated Colleges affirms that the colleges all "seek to offer to their members and to their local communities, the chance to encounter Christian insights and experience in the moral, ethical, social, political, religious, philosophical and cultural issues which arise within higher education programmes, and to consider them, freely, alongside a variety of other insights". This is hardly an attempt to win converts.

The CCAC sponsors Engaging the Curriculum A Theological Project, which will produce teaching materials about the "Christian Insight". The use of these materials will be voluntary, and they will form a small part of the curriculum.

The attack of Clines and Clark on the legitimate aspiration of the church colleges is more obviously ideological than anything the colleges propose, or are likely to propose in the future.

CANON DR. R.JOHN ELFORD

Chair, Engaging the Curriculum A Theological Programme

ADRIAN THATCHER

Director, Engaging the Curriculum

Liverpool Institute of Higher Education

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