Has DICCU publicity gone too far?

DICCU image1
Palatinate would like to clarify that this photograph is being used to illustrate a point. It is obviously not a photograph of the DICCU and was chosen by the author

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As you might have found it hard to avoid finding out, this week is the Durham Intercollegiate Christian Union’s week of evangelistic events. I expect that the majority of students at Durham at one point or another complain to their friends about the barrage of leaflets, posters, Facebook posts, emails and other associated publicity that surround this week.

However DICCU is only one of many societies at Durham with an agenda and an active campaigning role within the University. It’s extremely important that these groups should be allowed to campaign to change the world in whatever way they believe will make it better, but still DICCU’s publicity seems to draw the greatest general condemnation of any society on campus. So what exactly is it about this week that’s different, and why do so many people seem to be left with an unpleasant taste in their mouth after being confronted by DICCU’s publicity material?

First things first, it’s important to recognise that this isn’t just a problem at Durham. In 2012, the Oxford Intercollegiate Christian Union provoked a backlash over particularly aggressive advertising tactics used in their mission week. More recently at Aberystwyth, student Rachel Evans said, in response to their Christian Union’s recent leafleting campaign:

“I’m so tired of having these things shoved in your face every other day; if people want to join CU they can see them on the union website and at the fresher’s fair [sic] like all the other societies. Their need to indoctrinate shouldn’t overrule mine to buy a bloody sandwich and go to the library in peace.”

Whilst it is of course the right of any society to advertise in any way it sees fit, within the confines of the law and University and Students’ Union policy, I’d like to highlight three aspects of DICCU’s campaigning which strike me as unpleasant and, I believe, provoke the negative reaction apparent from many within the student body.

This is… aggressive

When was the last time you were approached in the street and asked whether you’d be interested in trying out for the University’s football team? How about whether you’d be interested in learning about Japanese culture? Nobody likes being approached on Silver Street Bridge by a man trying to sell them a joke book, so why does DICCU think people are going to respond well to being accosted in the street and told all about a series of events they can come to and learn more about Jesus.

One student who wished to remain anonymous described her experience from last week:

“I was approached by a member of DICCU at the bottom of the steps to the DSU. The girl in question was very friendly, smiling broadly and obviously keen to get her message out there. Unfortunately a little too keen. As it was close to the hour, many students were making their way out of, to and between lectures. I was in a huge rush as I had to get from the science site to Elvet Riverside very quickly otherwise I would be late for an important seminar. Everyone knows that the pavements there can get crowded in the rush, and she was standing in the middle of it, darting around shoving leaflets in people’s faces.

People didn’t have the time and weren’t interested – they wanted to get to where they were going. I was stopped as I tried to get past whilst she darted in front of me to grab the attentions of two other students. As I attempted to squeeze past, with a polite “excuse me” she wheeled around and said, “Here, have a leaflet”, pushing it into my hand. I didn’t take it, I was in a rush and didn’t appreciate having a leaflet forced upon me. I imagine many of the other people felt the same way, and from the litter of leaflets on the pavement a few steps down not a lot of them appreciated the gesture.”

Surely it’s enough to publicise your society by putting up posters, webpages and by leaving flyers around campus for people to read if they are interested, rather than forcing others to hear your message in this way.

This is… underhanded

Of course the answer to the question I posed in the previous section about why DICCU thinks approaching people to ask them to come and learn about Jesus is a good idea is simple: they don’t. In fact DICCU often seems to try to disguise the fact that the events they run have anything to do with Christianity at all. It’s like some kind of timeshare apartment sales pitch.

Based upon my experience from previous years, walking past the Students’ Union building this week you’re much more likely to be asked whether you’d like a free lunch than whether you’d be interested in learning about Jesus. It’s this kind of attempt to obscure the point of the event people are being asked to attend that leaves those who do know what the underlying message is going to be feeling like there’s something quite decidedly wrong with advertising in this way. Given that I’ve been assured by many a DICCU member that their message is the most important news I’ll ever hear, it seems odd that they feel the need to dress it up with a free lunch to make people feel as if it’s worth going along to.

A related issue for me is the type of title DICCU chooses to use for the talks they run. A talk last Friday was entitled “Has science replaced God?” This strikes me as a strange title for an event at which someone is going to stand up and make the case against the question posed in the title, but nobody is going to get up and argue for it. Having a one sided event at which a speaker attempts to prove a point is completely fair enough but it betrays a lack of integrity to dress it up as an unbiased debate.

This is… targeting vulnerable students

Those of you who have perused the publicity material which is being spread around this week might have noticed a whole class of events specifically aimed at international students. This is just one example of a series of events DICCU uses to target the most vulnerable students at Durham and attempt to convince them of their beliefs.

Whether it’s running a weekend away for prospective first years the summer before they arrive, texting a toastie or a sustained attempt to offer conversion through companionship to international students, DICCU have developed an insidious methodology for propagating their beliefs based on approaching the shyest, loneliest and most uncertain students at Durham University.

Now it might sound extremely petty and small minded of me to argue that it’s wrong to offer kindness and companionship to vulnerable students; who cares if they have to listen to a bit about Jesus if they’re spending time with a caring group of friends? The fact of the matter is however that the University and Students’ Union work hard to provide safe and friendly environments for vulnerable students through nightline, through college welfare and through the University counselling service.

Whilst these systems aren’t perfect they are for the most part very good, and I think it has to be agreed that they’re a lot better than any form of help that’s conditional on accepting a set of beliefs, particularly one which is decided upon by an independent society with no form of unbiased oversight. This is particularly true given the unpleasant nature of some of the beliefs that DICCU have been associated with in the past.

In short, whilst it is, and should remain the right of DICCU to decide upon the best way to spread their message, it has to be questioned as to whether or not their current tactics are contributing positively towards the student experience at Durham University, and as to whether or not these practices are ethically and morally responsible.

Perhaps you disagree with this article. Palatinate firmly believes in your freedom of speech, so email comment@palatinate.org.uk with your take.

Photograph: Therealslimstacy

29 thoughts on “Has DICCU publicity gone too far?

  • Very interesting article!
    I attended the talk on Friday titled ‘Does science undermine religion?’ and the talk today about suffering. While I was impressed by the speaker on Friday, the speaker today spoke about how Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens are ‘not really atheists’ in the way that they had to ‘scramble around for hope’ in order to offer consolation to those in suffering. It felt more like a church sermon than a fair talk.
    He went on to talk further to justify why a god would permit suffering, saying that it was due to mankind’s rebellion against ‘God’s will’ and how ‘people must suffer first to be resurrected’. I have no idea if he was seriously trying to suggest that parasitic worms burrow through people’s eyes just so a god can ‘resurrect’ people, but it was a disturbing pattern of thought being displayed.
    It’s most certainly not what I attended the talk for and am very unsettled by the views of those involved in the event.

    Reply
  • Really? I’m not a Christian and haven’t attended any of the events, but this seems a little ridiculous.
    For a start, calling someone ‘aggressive’ who is literally just handing out leaflets on the pavement is a pretty over the top. Allen & Ovary did the same thing to me the other day, as have DSU election candidates, and companies like Subway, yet no one seems to think that they are ‘aggressive’ for doing exactly the same thing. Annoying and wasting paper, perhaps. Aggressive, no.
    Also, yes, they offer free food. To anyone who can read, it is clear that this is a part of a package which does involve gong to a talk. Most people have worked out by now that the way to get people to attend events which otherwise may be under-subscribed is to offer free food. The DSU do it. SCA do it. A lot of non-religious societies do it. This isn’t underhand, it’s a pretty common tactic to draw in students.
    Finally, I’d say it’s really quite patronising to call international students ‘vulnerable’. They may have slight problems with the language, and may face some cultural barriers, but these do not detract from their intelligence and skills of critical thinking. I have it from a good source within the DICCU that the difference with the international events is purely that less academic theological language is used to make what could otherwise be a complex subject easier to understand. You mention the support offered by the University, but none of those things are friends, and if these students want a group of friends who associate with their religious beliefs then they may well enjoy the event. If they don’t want that, they will attend one of the many other societies that Durham has to offer.

    Reply
  • Interesting article. I would love the Palatinate to make clear, however, that Adam is the head of President of DASH (Durham Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society) and the Member Officer for the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS). DASH do host an annual ‘Reason Week’ which takes a pretty similar style to the DICCU events week. As this is an opinion piece, it would probably be at least worth mentioning at least Adam’s role within DASH – as, because of this, it isn’t exactly an unbiased perspective from which to write an article.

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  • Hi,
    Firstly, I think that it is unfair to use a photo that isn’t actually of DICCU in this article. I understand that it is attempting to show just how ‘aggressive’ the publicising is, but is the Palatinate really willing to resort to shoddy journalism to criticise DICCU publicity? I have been involved in the “unpleasant publicity” throughout the week, and I have never held a placard that says on it “you are going to hell”. Rather, we’ve been walking around with a question board and inviting (NOT forcing) people to answer questions such as “How would you fix the world?”. Given that we were happy to accept answers such as “Pokemon”, “more cats” and “have you tried turning if off and on again”, there has not been any shoving of leaflets or our opinions down people’s throats. I just wanted to clarify that.
    Secondly, the idea that offering people a free lunch is a “wrong” advertising technique seems strange in a student community where we are continually offered sweets by TeachFirst and Dominoes Pizza in the Riverside Cade; even The New Inn offers a free plate of Nachos for each team partaking in their Quiz Night. Last week EY walked around the library placing chocolate and a flyer with no explanation to every single person.
    I think that the Palatinate does not really have a problem with DICCU’s advertising techniques, but rather has a problem with the message of these talks. I bet you haven’t been to one of the talks. If you come to the talk tonight, which is entitled “HOPE: Where is God when life falls apart”, you’ll see that actually the message that DICCU cares about sharing with others is one that has provided a source of comfort to millions of people for the last two thousand years. I’d love to see you there, and I’m sure if the writer of this article came tonight with the desire to chat about this more with a member of DICCU, one of the members in the Grey Hoodies would be more than happy to chat. I’d like to point out that having said that “This strikes me as a strange title for an event at which someone is going to stand up and make the case against the question posed in the title, but nobody is going to get up and argue for it”, you haven’t given anyone from DICCU the opportunity to get up and argue our side when writing this article. We’d love to see you there.
    Finally, if you think Christians are arrogant in “shoving flyers into people’s hands”, please check out this talk that tackles that very thought https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRLLcR0eK4Y
    Thanks for reading x

    Reply
  • This article is a very immature rant against people who are just trying to get their message heard. Take, for instance, the story of the leaflet girl who was the subject of silent contempt by an anonymous complainant. Surely it would have been courteous to have told her to her face in clear but polite language that she was in the way and if she could please move. That would have been much better than going off without having said a word and venting to Palatinate.

    Reply
  • The picture used on this article is completely unrelated to any of the supposed ‘tactics’ or views of DICCU.
    As a lesbian (and yes, a Christian), DICCU have been nothing but welcoming to me.
    Just like the multiple examples above, many different groups, companies and students hand out leaflets, free food and promote different messages. This is by no means aggressive, it’s just advertising.
    I totally agree with Rosie’s comment above, and as Anon said, it so unbelievably patronsing, even offensive, to call international students ‘vulnerable’.

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  • I’m concerned that DICCU’S methods are being called underhand while simultaneously showing a picture that is not DICCU (or any other CU in the UK). In my time at Durham, I was never accosted by a DICCU member. I did however spend a good amount of time at University being barraged with flyers outside the library and SU for SCA and random food places and housing agencies. I am a Christian with close friends in the CU, so that could have informed my reading of their promotional materials which in turn meant I never felt deceived or unfairly informed. If you asked a DICCU member whether they would consider their faith on par with their athletic team or other society, they would almost certainly tell you that one is far more important than the other and that means they will advertise one with more vigor than the other. I find it interesting that flyering matters of faith, as opposed to property agencies or theatre performances, is so abhorrent to you. They run the events they do with the questions you have mentioned, to target people’s interest. This may be deceptive to you, but to many it’s engaging with people in ways they want to be engaged with. In regards to the event about Christianity and Science, the speaker at this event was Dr. David Wilkinson the principal of St. Johns, a physicist and a lecturer on the intersection of Christianity and Science in the Theology Department. He is remarkably capable and knowledgeable. I suppose, at the end of the day if you are feeling overly pestered, just say no to those who approach you and they will most likely leave you alone.

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  • As an “international” student (which, by the way, is an umbrella term far too often used to sloppily generalise and homogenise a very diverse demographic), I strongly resent and object to your extremely patronising labelling of foreign students. You seem to purport that all non-British students are automatically the “most vulnerable, shyest, loneliest and most uncertain students at Durham University.” I most certainly would not class myself under any of these descriptions and can take care of myself, thank you very much. Perhaps if you bothered to get to know some international students properly, you would know better. Baseless assumptions, condescending stereotyping, ignorant and insensitive at best.

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  • I agree with this article. I’ve also found them far more aggressive than other societies – quite often they don’t seem to want to let you go without evangelizing, even if you’ve made it clear that you want to leave. Whenever I’ve brought this up I’ve been told that it’s only because they feel that they’ve been so blessed that they feel they NEED to spread the ‘Good News’ with you. You know what – if I wanted to hear it I’d decide that for myself. I agree disguising events with free food is also a bad idea. Yes, other companies/ societies do it, but on much DICCU publicity it is harder to spot the Christian message – if it’s such good news why aren’t they more up front about it. If teach first, the dsu or any other body offer free food it’s as an attractive offer, and they don’t hide behind it, it’s always presented clearly alongside their intent.

    I could go on, but I wont make any difference in convincing the Christians they perhaps ought to rethink they’re tactics.

    I think people could actually do with reading the article more closely too – I know it’s somewhat of a recurring theme people commenting on articles without reading them properly. If you look closely the author only mentions international students as one of several potential groups of vulnerable students and does not suggest they are ALL lonely/vulnerable – it is however true that they are potentially some of the lonelier students on campus. They also mention pre freshers (which is true as many are scared about making friends) and the article suggests they are also talking about other students who may be compelled to invite people in (via text-a-toastie). I don’t have much experience with DICCU on this front, however I agree it is a danger, that the people they target can often be people looking for friends. In my opinion kindness and companionship should not be tied to a big helping of Jesus (as nice as that guy sounds).

    I also think that since for the most part, the negative comments have been from Christians, but a larger number of other people have ‘liked’ this that DICCU should perhaps take on board the fact everyone is a little fed up with their advertising. I’m happy for you to have a religion, but I’d prefer you to leave me in peace.

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  • Underhanded: I’m guessing that picture at the top of the page isn’t of DICU or Durham?

    One sided arguments: your article does a good job.

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  • I agree that Adam’s role in dash should be disclosed, as it has been in his previous comment piece for Palatinate. I expect the editors will soon add this.

    However, I don’t believe this disqualifies him to argue against aggressive evangelising on campus. As the article says, DICCU have every right to campaign, but those of us who object to DICCU’s evangelistic efforts should also be allowed to voice our criticism. Whilst I may not have personally experienced all that’s described above, I believe that the comment is helpful and necessary, particularly at Durham University where christian symbols and rituals can sometimes feel overbearing and frankly uncomfortable.

    Reply
  • The service at Christchurch before events week was entirely focussed on how the bible teaches us to not do the things the author is accusing us of here. Here is a direct quote from the new international version translation of the Bible:

    “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:2

    Here Paul is discussing how a Christian should go about sharing the good news of what Jesus has done for us and who he is.

    If we as Christians in Durham have coerced or deceived people then that is absolutely wrong of us. I apologise on their behalf.

    However I would argue, as many have already done in the comments above, that the methods that we are accused of using do not constitute coercion. Ultimately all are employeed by other groups not being criticised, but more than that, the headline of each and every event is the question about Christianity which is being addressed. The reason people go is not for the food but the talk, this has been true of everyone I have talked to at the event. However we would be totally happy if someone just wanted some food and left.

    The rest of the comments I think argue well for why DICCU is not being dishonest in its advertisement. However one final thing I want to disagree with in the article is its criticism of the weekend away for Christians before freshers.

    Firstly, to go on the weekend you would specifically have to have searched for it, it is not advertised in anyway beyond word of mouth and DICCU’s own websites. Those going clearly haven’t been coerced. Secondly it isn’t really meant as an evangelistic weekend, it is meant to be reassuring for new freshers who are Christian, to allow them to get to know other Christians in their year and college and for older Christians to give advice on how they dealt with aspects of university which might be worrisome for freshers eg initiations for sports teams. I, along with everyone else who went, really valued the weekend and many who unfortunately didn’t find out about it due to its lack of advertising really wish they could have gone.

    In short, sorry if you have felt coerced, as shown above that is clearly not our intention and goes against our religion. All we intend to do is put out the evidence plainly and ideally to as many people as possible.

    Reply
  • I find this article to be a little sensationalist in describing the whole of the CU but I have experienced some of the problems mentioned myself.

    A friend on mine who is an active member of his church and the CU invited me and several other friends round for dinner. He made a facebook event and everything with a description suggesting that it was nothing more than a friendly dinner occasion to let us all enjoy some food and eachother’s company. I wasn’t able to make the date due to a prior commitment so I was initially disappointed. That is, until one of the guests somehow found out that the meal was, for all intents and purposes, a ruse to get us to come to a CU talk at his church. I heard that after the guests had been treated to this meal they were told they were going to the talk without any previous discussion about whether they wanted to or not. Obviously the result was a number of people being made to feel very uncomfortable.

    Now this guy is normally a lovely chap but this was kind of deceitful on his part. He could have told us up front about what the point of the event was but no, he had to lure people in with food and then spring a hidden agenda on them. The whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

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  • I know some members of DICCU very well, and for the most part there are fairly good at not trying to drag me to their events. A Facebook invite is fine, it takes me a moment to decide and then move on.
    However, when their week comes around, they get so much worse. Every time I see them I am pestered about the next talk, and if I don’t agree to go I’m told that “I want to share the most important thing in my life with you”, which is fair enough or “I care about you so think you should come”which is not. I am a strong believer in freedom to choose your faith, and while it can be argued that DICCU are helping you choose, my biggest complaint is that they don’t seem to know how to accept a no.
    With respect to the article,while the phrasing of some of his points could be better, there is an element of truth to them.

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  • Thanks for this article.

    It’s really important to have dialogue around this stuff. Christians are always thinking about how we can do this stuff well and honestly.

    I think it’s right what Tom said, about how Christians would be hypocrites if they didn’t want to tell people about Jesus but I totally unidentify with you feeling uncomfortable with the methods.

    I wrote an blog about it recently. Feeling uncomfortable about this stuff from a Christian perspective too, and actually, we have a lot of the same concerns.

    Have a read, http://www.threadsuk.com/a-spoonful-of-sugar-helps-the-gospel-go-down/

    Reply
  • Someone I didn’t know directly talked to me too… It scarred me for life.

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  • Another criticism of the sub-editor here. The photo is not ‘obviously’ not a photograph(y) of the DICCU. I also fail to see how it illustrates a point?

    Well done for an article that sparks debate.

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  • Wasn’t your last article about how we should never oppress freedom of speech Adam? Good to see that only applies if one agrees with what is said? Slightly hypocritical…

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  • To the person who said this:

    ‘Finally, I’d say it’s really quite patronising to call international students ‘vulnerable’. They may have slight problems with the language, and may face some cultural barriers, but these do not detract from their intelligence and skills of critical thinking. I have it from a good source within the DICCU that the difference with the international events is purely that less academic theological language is used to make what could otherwise be a complex subject easier to understand.’

    If it’s patronising international students to call them ‘vulnerable’, then its also patronising to use ‘less academic theological’ language in the DICCU international events.

    Then, to pose as a defender for the ‘intelligence’ and ‘critical thinking’ skills of international students whilst belittling the barriers that they face in settling into university is hugely irritating at best.

    ‘Slight problems with language’ and ‘some cultural barriers’ indicates to me that you have never befriended an international student on a personal level, otherwise, you’d know that describing the language and cultural barriers as ‘slight’ and ‘some’ is a sickeningly inaccurate understatement.

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  • This article is more aggressive to than mission week and a great insult to all international students in durham, treating us as fools. Author without a doubt is a racist, atheist and a fool.

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  • I think it’s a bit much to start calling the author a racist. As other comments have accurately pointed out, at no point does the author say ALL international students are lonely, vulnerable or stupid. He mentions them as a group of students often targeted by societies like DICCU, along with other students who may also be vulnerable/ lonely. AT NO POINT DID HE EVER SAY ALL NON BRITISH STUDENTS ARE ANYTHING. If people read the article properly I think they’d gain a lot more from it.

    Also, to the person who commented with the name ‘slientmajority’, you might want to check your spelling.

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  • I study Theology and Religion and my peers and I were outraged this week when a student from the DICCU stood up before we were dismissed from a lecture to say that “if we wanted to know more” we should attend the events this week, and gave a break down of all the options. Of course I cannot deny that many students in the lecture were wearing the trademark jumpers and that a large majority of Theology undergraduates are Christian. However, I am a Christian and this had no influence in my choice to study Theology. I find it personally offensive that the DICCU make the assumption that because I choose to study the history of religion as an academic subject I automatically subscribe to their indoctrinating agenda. I can’t really see them making the same announcement in a chemistry lecture. This is actually the second time DICCU have made an announcement in one of my lectures and I am livid. By all means suggest people stay behind if they have any questions, I have nothing against free speech, but do not subject me to your preaching against my own will.

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  • To Theology Student

    They do it in other subjects lectures as well. I have nothing against free speech as you say, however I feel like lectures are not the place for advertising such events. The only other people who have ever advertised in one of my lectures are TeachFirst, which at least was more relevant and at least connected to something educational. I feel going into lectures is wrong – they should be safe spaces for learning. I’m sorry to hear about your experiences – I can only imagine it is so much worse as a theology student! It’s interesting as a Christian you disagree with DICCU – are you a different denomination? Or do you just disagree with the general message/ evangelism?

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  • The fact that several of the DICCU commentators have used their comments as yet another opportunity to advertise their events week frames the problem quite nicely in my opinion. Also the fact that one commentator seems to put “atheist” on the same level as “racist” makes it quite clear the kind of opinion we’re dealing with here.

    I’ve been genuinely shocked by the anger expressed in the comments here which seem to be coming largely from DICCU members and other christians. However those individuals should consider that overall the reaction to this piece has been near universal agreement with its core principal – that DICCU’s advertising is out of hand. Maybe it’s time DICCU members stopped whinging about an image that’s clearly meant as a joke or whether someone’s role is made clear in the article (as if holding a position of responsibility makes someone’s opinions any more or less valid) and stopped trying to wildly misrepresent what the article says about international students and censorship and start thinking very hard about the points this article makes and why it’s had such a positive response.

    Also to the commentator who posted as “D.”, your experiences sound awfully similar to this: https://www.uccf.org.uk/student/host-a-dinner-party.htm UCCF is the body which oversees and funds DICCU. There used to be a cringeworthy 15 minute video attached to that page but they seem to have taken it down, the tricks they advocated were a lot like what you describe. Interesting the video is gone now though, maybe the message IS getting through.

    Finally to Theology Student, yes this happens in all subject lectures and is, as you say, completely wrong.

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  • If you want DICCU to go away, get it’s members laid. I’ve never heard of a hard line religious belief that can survive one half decent shag.

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  • Thanks for this article – confirms the impression I’ve had of Durham CU, especially during this particular week. With many international friends, I’ve also seen how they can especially focus on those who are away from their home culture and perhaps finding it hard to settle in. During Freshers, on numerous occasions I was asked ‘are you Christian?’, and invited to events such as a year abroad talk and open mic night, without any mention of them being CU focused. Even left the first event after the guy next to me offered me a bible. Please leave us alone!

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  • Thanks for this article – confirms the impression I’ve had of Durham CU, especially during this particular week. With many international friends, I’ve also seen how they can especially focus on those who are away from their home culture and perhaps finding it hard to settle in. Please leave them to make friends who don’t have the ulterior motive of converting them!

    Reply

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