Bristol University Christian Union & Women Speakers

How timely is the story about Bristol University’s Christian Union in providing an object lesson for everyone with regard to the Church of England. It neatly illustrates the kind of thinking that Rowan Williams (and the “keep the church together at all costs” party) has been not merely tolerating but actively pandering to.

The local student newspaper has this quote, which sets out the local policy:

Having spent ‘a lot of time exploring this issue, seeking God’s wisdom on it and discussing it together’ the CU executive committee decided that it is not appropriate for women to teach alone at weekly meetings, or be the main speaker at the CU weekend away.

Women are also banned from speaking alone at the group’s mission weeks.

However, it’s not all gloom and doom: women are allowed to speak as a double act with their husbands. Those who are unmarried must remain silent.

You don’t need me, or anyone else to tell you how offensive this is to most people.

According to some reports, this is a softening of their stance – previously there were fewer circumstances where women were allowed to teach.

UCCF (the University and Colleges Christian Fellowship) which is the umbrella body for Christian Unions in University has hit twitter insisting that this is a local matter and not their policy – after all there are plenty of local Christian Unions where women can and do teach and lead.

Dear all – UCCF’s only requirement for CU speakers, leaders, etc is for them to be in sympathy with the DB [Doctrinal Basis] Please pray for us as we bring students – who put important but secondary issues aside – together to live and speak for Jesus at university.

Sounds reasonable, huh?

Well, it sounds reasonable until you ask yourself whether regarding women and men as having the same dignity as one another in the modern world is a secondary issue. I’d rather think it isn’t. UCCF appear very much to be saying that it is OK for people in their affiliated organisations to be beastly towards women, so long as everyone agrees to unite around a doctrinal statement – the doctrinal basis.

That does no credit to their organisation at all.

I know what I’m talking about when it comes to UCCF – I used to be on a Christian Union committee in the North of England when I first left home to go to college. The Doctrinal Basis is all and you can’t have speakers who don’t conform to it.

I once tried to get my local group to invite a rabbi to talk about the Holy Spirit in Judaism and they refused to have him on the grounds that he couldn’t sign the doctrinal basis and declare his faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. (And that’s about the time I started to realise that there was a touch of the silly about the whole thing).

Anyway, my own view is that this all rather helpfully illustrates the kind of toxic theology that Rowan Williams has been trying for some time to force the Church of England to give a place of honour to. The idea that the Bible teaches this kind of “headship” that men have over women is hokum but it is hokum that a small number of people in the church believe. (Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to be an idea that Evangelical friends in the Scottish Episcopal Church coalesce around). Rowan Williams tried to get the Church of England to respect this kind of belief up to the point that any women bishops appointed would face the possibility of individual parishes being automatically able to opt out of their care in favour of a male bishop who shared their theological views.

It is a good thing this attempt has fallen. The Bristol CU debacle, though unpleasant in itself, is a helpful illustration of what was at stake.


  1. Elizabeth says

    This is shocking. When I first read the quote from the student paper I thought the CU policy was a joke. Only upon reading the whole post did I realise that they really do mean it. It’s heartbreaking that this kind of thing is going on on university campuses. I wonder what kind of respect the CU students who drafted and agreed this policy have for their female lecturers and professors.

  2. Wendy says

    This is truly appalling. As an Anglican priest and a Bristol graduate I am horrified to read that this is happening in a respected English university in the 21st century. During the period 1963 – 66 when I was a Bristol student there was a strong and thriving Association of Christian Societies, as well as a C U which seemed to be reasonably moderate. How sad that things appear to be going backwards to an extent that the statement above is actually offensive in the extreme.

  3. Yuck.

    Well, there was a time, some years ago now, when I realised, having once been in the uni CU, I probably couldn’t/wouldn’t sign their Doctrinal Basis any longer. Their loss, not mine.

    Frankly I’m inclined to cast most doubt on “seeking God’s wisdom” – as statements go it’s a spurious pious veneer that fails to involve God as seen in other people around.

  4. Anne Jones says

    Like Elizabeth I initially thought this was some kind of hoax. Having read it through now know it to be outrageous. To whom should protest be addressed?

  5. Every university society must provide an equal opportunity statement on annual affiliation with a student union or student representative council. University societies are not responsible for the discrimination practiced by extra-mural groups, including churches, but they cannot themselves practice discrimination. Publicised enquiries to Student Unions/ SRCs, especially from current students or alumni concerned about the commitment to values of equality practised by certain university societies would I think be quite in order. Any university worth its HUGE Principal’s salary would be only too keen to show that its house is in order. Glasgow Uni in the Glasgow Herald, anyone? Let’s get the ball rolling. Those of tender consciences in the CU will be forced to choose between sexism and subsidies.

  6. Rowan, the Enabler is how I think of the outgoing ABC. He meant well, but when he put the “unity” of the the Church of England and the Anglican Communion above of our unity in Christ, he stumbled badly, beginning with Jeffery John. Rowan never recovered from that first misstep. He could have, but he chose to stumble down the same rocky path.

    Why bigotry and misogyny should have an honored place in any church or group that calls itself Christian is beyond my ken. Rowan’s surprise and disappointment at the vote on women bishops (or should I say women half-bishops?) in GS is amazing to me. It was the logical end result of the policies he put in place during his tenure. Thank God the communion will be spared the odious Anglican Covenant.

  7. Ben Fowler says

    Bristol University Christian Union (BUCU) deplores the recent exaggerations and misrepresentations in some parts of the media of its position on women’s ministry in the church. It is well known that Christian churches differ on this question. BUCU is not a church, but a student society, so it has never had a formal policy on women’s ministry. In recent months, the Executive Committee have been exploring ways in which BUCU can best accommodate members with divergent and strongly held convictions, while expressing our unity as Christian believers. In line with our basic position throughout that process, which has not been widely publicised, the Executive Committee now wish to make clear that we will extend speaker invitations to both women and men, to all BUCU events, without exception. BUCU is utterly committed to reflecting the core biblical truth of the fundamental equality of women and men.

    BUCU Executive Committee 05/12/12

  8. Ben Fowler says
  9. As an American looking in, can anyone let me know if this is the way that the majority of Christians in the UK feel? I was always under the impression that most British Christians were totally fine with women leading and teaching men, and probably had been for a while. If that were to be accurate, I would assume that UCCF would be as well.

    Also, if those who think that women shouldn’t teach men really do believe that it’s a secondary issue, why don’t they put it aside for the sake of the Gospel? For the sake of unity, why don’t THEY get over themselves and let women teach men?

    • I don’t think this is the way the majority of Christians in the UK feel. However, the rise in Evangelical expressions of faith in the UK is well documented and it is usually in that environment that you get the men having headship argument being put forward seriously.

      There are also those within a more catholic tradition who say they are against women being ordained as priests because the Anglican churches have no authority on their own to make such a substatial change to church order. (That’s different nonsense to the headship nonsense).

      Note that the recent vote in the English synod produced a significant majority in favour of women being ordained. It fell short of what was needed by just a few votes in the House of Laity, but was a decent majority all the same.

Speak Your Mind