The Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Dr Richard Turnball finally responded on June 1, 2007 (see this).
I didn't say you'll all go to hell
. I was misrepresented, and there's no homophobia or misogyny at my college, says Richard Turnbull
. Friday June 1, 2007
Giles Fraser's comment column on Wycliffe Hall challenges our integrity, claiming that the hall is part of a "new wave of reactionary evangelicalism", and that "it has no love in its heart for the values of learning" (Not faith, but fanaticism, May 29).
Wycliffe Hall is a permanent private hall of the University of Oxford. It was founded in 1877 for the training of "godly ministers" for the Church of England within the evangelical tradition. Giles referred to Wycliffe "drawing upon a long-standing tradition of evangelical anti-intellectualism", and said "the low esteem in which many evangelicals hold academic inquiry is a function of fear". This comment lacks the very academic rigour the author complains is missing from evangelical scholars. The faculty at Wycliffe has a long record of academic publication, with a regular flow of books and articles and our students winning multiple university prizes.
As a historian of the evangelical movement I am very aware of the complex nuances of its history. Indeed there are some radical emphases on the transformation of society, not just the individual. Three-quarters of the social reforms of the 19th century have been directly attributed to evangelical Christianity. There is in fact a long history of both intellectual and social engagement. It won't do to simply associate the evangelical tradition with anti-intellectualism.
I know of no homophobia or misogyny at Wycliffe. If there is any evidence then it must be produced. For Giles to say that I believe 95% of people will "burn in hell" is a misrepresentation when the rest of my sentence, "unless the message of the gospel is brought to them", is excluded. Nor does my deputy believe it's "wrong for women to teach men". He believes, as I do, that in our college women can and should teach and preach. There are various views on practices in local churches.
Completeness is important. We do not control the admissions policy to university courses. If the complaint is of intellectual engagement with complex matters on which Christians may disagree then the plea is guilty.
Why these attacks? The permanent private halls have welcomed the university's review. Wycliffe contributes significantly to the life of the university, to the teaching of theology and to research. Giles said that the Church of England should "stop using colleges like this". Note the plural. As a former chair of the general synod's business committee I am more than aware of the importance of the comprehensiveness of the Church of England - a comprehensiveness that is also important for the academy.
Every theological college is subject to regular inspection. Prior to my appointment, and in follow-up visits, the inspectors at Wycliffe have all sought, in particular, the reform of management and structure and more strategic planning. We have not shied away from essential reforms designed to fit the college for the 21st century. It is true that not all have welcomed this. However, at the heart of Wycliffe's purposes lie both the intellectual enterprise and the passion for effective training. They are not incompatible.
· The Rev Dr Richard Turnbull is the principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.