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.

English Episcopate

It seems that our cousins in the Church of England have voted in favour of bringing in legislation which will result in bishops being consecrated who happen to be female.

We debated and voted on this a few years ago. It was quite a good debate, I seem to remember. Charitable and thoughtful and followed by an very strong vote in favour of changing the legislation to allow both male and female candidates to stand in episcopal elections.

There seem to be more people in England who are unhappy with this potential change. Indeed, it is hard not to look across the border and see a rather unhappy church. The odd thing is seeing on blogs people described as catholics who are opposed to the ordination of women as priests and bishops. Most of the people I know best in the church have been formed within a catholic sensiblity and work in a church in which the catholic aspirations of the Oxford Movement were embraced with vigour. And yet, almost all the people I know are in favour of the ordination of women as priests and bishops.

Which goes to show that Scotland is not England. Which I think we knew already.