Ties between ‘anti-gay’ church and AUT club prompt call for transparency

April 5, 2023

Ties between ‘anti-gay’ church and AUT club prompt call for transparency

Students have criticised International Hub’s advertisements for not including their religious affiliations. Photo: Nic George

Some AUT students are calling for more transparency by the university's clubs around any religious affiliations.

Students told TWN they were approached by members of Equippers Church at International Hub events and asked to join.

International Hub is aimed at creating a safe space for international students who may be separated from their homes and culture.

An active member of the club, whom TWN has agreed not to name, says Equippers persistently attempts to recruit new members from the club.

"Every event I have been to has ended with a pitch from someone at Equippers, telling us ‘this is a faith-based group' and making a pitch for us to join the church."

On numerous occasions, they were approached by church members at International Hub events and encouraged to join.

Cameron Churchill, a third-year law student, raised his concerns with AUT and AUT Student Association (AUTSA), regarding the church's involvement in the group.

He says all clubs need to be transparent about what transpires at their events.

"There needs to be some constitutional requirement from AUTSA to make sure clubs are open and honest about what they are doing."

He spoke to Stuff about Equippers hiring out the university's main lecture hall every Sunday and was concerned about the “anti-gay” ideas the church promoted.

He found the church had signed an open letter against the 2013 Marriage Amendment Bill, along with making submissions against the Abortion Legislation Act and the bill to ban conversion therapy.

Madz Couth, clubs leader for AUTSA, says she also received reports from students saying they were uncomfortable.

"I've received interesting communication as well, regarding students feeling ambushed by the 'faith-based space'."

Couth confirmed Equippers has played a big role in the formation and development of the International Hub.

The club was known when it started as ‘AUT Equippers’.

She says as the club grew, more international students from different backgrounds began joining, so the religious influence became less prevalent.

"Over time, faith became a secondary part of it.

"Not one single person on the exec team is part of the Equippers Church. Their pastoral care person is a member, but isn't pushing that branding."

However, the active International Hub member says faith is still prevalent and Equippers members comprise a vast majority of the club population.

They have attended recent events where they were encouraged to join.

"Even over the last few months, I have gone to a bunch of [International] Hub events and every time I go someone will start asking me if I have accepted God, and when will I start coming to Equippers.

"It's frustrating because I’ve said no so many times and they still keep asking me."

They say that they have many friends within the club, so they don't want to stop going, but the persistence of the Equippers members has diminished their enthusiasm for attending events.

Another international student, whom TWN agreed not to name, attended one event in 2020 but decided against returning for future events after they witnessed Equippers members making their pitch at the end of the event.

They recognise the importance of the International Hub as it provides a space for those feeling disconnected from their home and culture.

"As an international student, you need a sense of belonging, a sense of community."

However, they believe it is important to clarify which groups are involved with the club events, so vulnerable students don't feel surprised when they are confronted with groups, they are not interested in.

"If you are doing it as part of the International Hub and not mentioning the Equippers affiliation, that is something I would not be happy about."

The International Hub and Equippers were approached for comment, but they declined.

This story first appeared in Debate magazine.

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