Bristol University Christian Union Denies Women a Voice

 Citing scriptural justification, a university religious organization is being, collectively, a jerk.

In a recent article, The Huffington Post reported that an email, sent to all the Bristol University Christian Union (BUCU) members by the president Matt Oliver, has many of the university’s student organizations speaking out against the group’s discriminatory policies toward women. The email states:

It is ok for women to teach in any CU setting… However we understand that this is a difficult issue for some and so decided that women would not teach on their own at our weekly CU meetings, as the main speaker on our Bristol CU weekend away, or as our main speaker for mission weeks.

But a husband and wife can teach together in these.

There is truly nothing to be gained when one group silences another no matter what their reasoning for it may be. And the implication that a person, in this case a woman, only has value as a leader if she is married and her husband is present speaks of a deeper societal issue concerning the value we place on an individual based on their gender and relationship status. The BUCU is now under investigation by both the university’s students’ union (UBU) and the Christian Union.

As a secular society, we think gender equality is a fundamental human right. Most people would agree that women have an equal right with men to speak at universities, regardless of their marital status.

This is the kind of thing the Union’s equality policy is meant to guard against, and the CU’s status as a faith society does not exempt them.

In a society where we are all supposed to be equals, what is the price we pay when we silence an entire group of people based solely on gender?

Do you think the BUCU has the right, as a faith based organization, to limit the rights of the women in their organization based on their marital status?

Picture: Katie Tegtmeyer/Flickr

About Kathryn DeHoyos

Kathryn DeHoyos currently resides on the outskirts of Austin, TX. She has 2 beautiful children, and is very happily un-married to her life partner DJ.


  1. @Alistair
    ‘one doesn’t have to look far to find women who strongly want things to remain this way’

    This brings to mind the saying : ‘The biggest threat to democracy is the happy slave’

  2. ‘Do you think the BUCU has the right, as a faith based organization, to limit the rights of the women in their organization based on their marital status?’

    NO. Plain and simple

  3. Richard Aubrey says:


    Not all discomfort is created equal. See college speech codes and the resulting selective enforcement.
    Your example is probably correct, but switch the races and I suspect you’d get a hell of a lot less flak.

    • Well if it was racial it could well get caught under Hate Speech and dealt with under multiple statutes. Of course to achieve that, you would have to prove that BUCU were imposing some form of racial interpretation upon the bible that was false, and the interpretation was designed to be hate against a minority or particular group which had specific racial characteristics – or that there was realistic expectation of any such view being communicated would be heard, seen or read by a person it could and would offend.

      You Know – a bit like the KKK demanding that Jesus was a blue eyed, blond all American lad, and not some guy with a genetic orogin possibly linked to Aramaic linguist groups.

      As I said in another post I get the impression that legal counsel for the BUCU may just be biblically well read and ahead of the curve when to comes discrimination law too!

  4. kevin hengehold says:

    Unfortunately yes, private organizations have a ton of leeway regarding their practices. Then again, I don’t know if we’d tolerate the idea of black people only being allowed to teach when supervised by white folks, because… you know, some students were uncomfortable. So yea, it’s disgusting discrimination, but I don’t think it can be stopped if they’re doing it privately.

    • Kevin they have sort of been doing it privately since 19th March 1936, so I’m wondering about the rush and media frenzy to get it all changed in less than 76 years? P^)

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    It’s not–not primarily, anyway–about who does what to whom. It’s who pretends to be concerned about women’s rights in one case and—hey, look, a squirrel.

  6. wellokaythen says:

    I know it’s the UK and not the US, but what about a kind of Title IX approach: as long as the sex discrimination is balanced out by the opposite discrimination, everything should be okay.

    For example, create a Women’s Center like the one on my campus, which sponsors some events in which men do not get to speak or where the sexes are segregated into separate discussion groups. As long as all the discrimination evens out in the “separate but equal” way that American higher education seems to shoot for, everything is all good, right? For every school-affiliated event in which women are not allowed the microphone, schedule a school-affiliated “Vagina Monologues” reading. Even steven.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Do you think the BUCU has the right, as a faith based organization, to limit the rights of the women in their organization based on their marital status?

    Switch “BUCU” to your nearest mosque and see how many people see something shiny in the other direction.

    • Yes Richard – as a private body operating under UK law they can do as they please within the law. As a Private members group no laws are being broken – just as they woudl not be broken in a mosque which wild also be a private place.

      So you run off back to your gun issues and concerns with American law – Constitutions, Amendments and Freedom of things! … cos oddly if it was the states a private group in a private place can do what the hell they like in the name of Religion and call it Free Speech – and they even abuse dead people and their families in public. here we call it hate and they get prosecuted …. but no one can be perfect! P^)

  8. wellokaythen says:

    If they’re going to follow scripture so closely, then they better not let the men shave their beards. They better not let any members eat meat and dairy on the same plate, or wear cotton/poly clothing, and they sure as heck better not be mixing their sheep and goats together. If they’re gonna be all Old Testament about it. Come to think of it, if they’re gonna be Old Testament, then a man can stand up front with ALL his wives, not just one….

    In the grand scheme of things, all these points shouldn’t make much difference. If they truly followed Christian scripture, there would be no time for discussion because everyone would be too busy helping the sick, visiting people in prison, giving everything to the poor, etc. They wouldn’t be arguing over who gets the microphone, because they would sell the microphone to raise money for the less fortunate.

    I mean, if it’s really about being consistent with all scripture.

    • So Cue the Leviticus 18:22 Chapter And Verse …. and the Ignorant Tight Ass Club!

    • This isn’t about Old Testament teaching at all. They are basing their position on New Testament texts, in particular 1 Timothy 2:11-14. While these passages claim support for the restriction of women’s speech in church from the Old Testament, they apply that restriction to Christian women as well.

      • Alastair – could you please confirm if you are single – and if not, is your spouse present as you type. There are issues of house rules and decorum to consider.

      • wellokaythen says:

        So, presumably a King James Version translation or even later translation of Paul’s epistles. James I himself helped edit some of the relevant passages in the New Testament, for example the mention of a first-century Christian woman preacher named Phoebe. In the KJV, she has been retroactively demoted from “lieutenant” to “servant,” a very big difference.

        But, I’m guessing the organization is not all that big on biblical exegesis and the complicated historical development of a book they simply call The Bible.

        • Their position isn’t based on any particular Bible translation. The Greek of the key passages in question has been understood to restrict women’s leadership in Church from very far back in Church history, by theologians fluent in Greek. It is still read that way by most commentators, even those who disagree with its claims.

          As for Phoebe, the word used of her is the same word translated as ‘servant’ in such statements as ‘whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.’ There is no mention of her being a preacher at all (go on, check!), just that she is a minister/servant of the Church. We are left to guess as to what exactly this role entailed. Similar comments could be made about Junia (Romans 16:7).

          If you want to discuss New Testament exegesis, be my guest. Let’s get into the Greek and the Hebrew, the textual, canonical, and social contexts, the Old Testament allusions, the theological and symbolic frameworks, etc. But be warned, this is where positions restricting women’s ministry are at their strongest. There are good reasons why it has been the dominant reading historically and why revisionist readings find it difficult to make headway, even with the wind of the zeitgeist behind them.

          • wellokaythen says:

            Dang it. Someone called me on my ignorance and I lost. I learn something new every day. Thanks for the clarification.

  9. I believe that the issue started 19th March 1936 – when the BUCU was legally constituted. Odd it took 76 years 8 months and 18 days to hit the headlines. Blooming Marconi and his Wireless Telegraphy.

    It seems that it only got news worthy recently because someone with a news blog learned to read. Now that is a shocking news story and Huffington missed it again!

    Oh and BUCU – they are a private members group are not an extension or affiliate of any statutory body and as such are a private members club and can do as they like – or as their constitution allows. Again Huffy would have known that if some reading skills had been developed! Human Rights Act and Euro Law does not apply, and unless an individual raises a legal case under the Equality Act 2010 for sex discrimination – no story.

    Some will point to sex being a protected characteristic but a service is not being denied on grounds of sex and neither is employment. If some wish to claim that membership criteria and participation are being abused – well they may have to prove that the whole church of England – The Catholic Church – Eastern Orhodox – Coptic and frankly quite a few other Christian Churches are wrong about women – clergy and leadership… and then they may win a case!

    It’s also worth remembering that the Huffy Bunch do prefer advertising and page views over Quality Content. I know there is a big scrabble for people to get a foot in the door over at huffy land, but really it should be for quality and good content and not regurgitated hog wash from a student twittering because they have been reading Viz mag and worship Milly Tant.

    • wellokaythen says:

      This takes me back even further than that. This makes me think of Anne Hutchinson and the Puritans in the late 1600’s. The more things change….

    • This case is complicated in many ways. BUCU is affiliated with UCCF, which claims not to permit the enforcing of such a policy by any Christian Union. BUCU, like most other CUs, runs itself in terms of UCCF’s (conservative evangelical) doctrinal basis and other policies, but has a lot of freedom to decide what shape things take. In practice, though, women hardly ever lead at major CU events, largely on account of the theological sensitivities of many conservative evangelicals.

      Many conservative evangelicals may be stricter on these points than most other Christian groups – virtually all of the largest Christian traditions in the world all have gendered restrictions on certain positions of leadership – but it is worth recognizing that many in our society don’t believe that the removal of all forms of gender differentiation is the best way to value each person. Others believe that people are best valued when we assert their gendered distinctness as something of value in itself. This means restrictions in some areas, along with special recognition and treatment in others. While some may think that they are an oppressed minority, one doesn’t have to look far to find women who strongly want things to remain this way (about half of the people who voted against women bishops in the Church of England’s House of Laity were women themselves and some of the most vociferous voices that I have encountered in defence of BUCU were women too). Such people see the Church as akin to a family: fathers and mothers may be distinct and women may not be able to become fathers and vice versa, but that does not mean that they need be any less valued as mothers.

      Speaking for myself, I would like to see BUCU bring their policy into line with UCCF and accept women speakers at their meetings. However, it would also be good to see the gender equality crowd recognize that gender equality is not the only way that many feel valued and, in fact, many people of both sexes feel more valued in a situation where the genders are clearly differentiated. Rather than predetermining the shape that a society that treats all of its members with respect, dignity, and equal (but not necessarily equivalent) value, it might be good if we were all open to be a little more surprised about the shape that such a society might take.

      • It’s not complicated at all – well not in Law.

        a) The society shall affiliate to external bodies only where membership of those bodies is essential to the fulfilment of the core aims, and only with the prior agreement of the Union’s Societies Exec.
        b) The Christian Union shall be affiliated to the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF).
        c) The Christian Union shall be recognised by the University of Bristol Students’ Union.
        d) The Christian Union will engage in dialogue with other faith societies but shall not partner in any joint society event that
        the Executive Committee believes to compromise the Vision and Aims of the Christian Union.

        Taken from the publicly accessible constitution.

        UCCF is not a statutory authority or treated as such, so Equality Act 2010 does not apply, nor does the Human Rights Act 1998 and prior subordinate legislation for either statute.

        If the BUCU was “affiliated” to the Student Union and not simply “recognised by” – then due to all student unions being affiliated and authorised as an executive body by all institutions of higher eduction – and given that any and all Institutions of Higher eduction in the UK are by law treated as Statutory Agencies – then the Equality Act and Human Rights Act would be in force and full kick ass options would be there to the taking.

        As it is it would appear that the BUCU have a rather biblically aware legal advisor who has been fully aware of the Treaty of Rome, the European Convention on Human Rights – The Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010 and made sure the word Recognised is in place and Affiliated to is avoided.

        Now if by any chance anyone can prove that the wording Recognised By is false due to BUCU being Funded By the Student Union, even funding in kind such as preferential costs for room/facility hire – maybe photocopying facilities – then there is a nice big steaming load of liturgical manure that can be dealt with on the end of any Available Judges Pitch Fork!

        Until then I wonder is Kerry McCarthy MP is in the know, cos she loves to protest at the drop of a hat and get her picture in the Bristol Papers. Hell she even organises protests without official permission and she bypasses the police – I’d get Kerry on the Job! P^)

        • The complicated part is that the BUCU position on this issue directly breaks with the position of UCCF, with which it is affiliated:

          • Also, a fact which is under-reported is that the new position is actually a relaxation of BUCU’s previous policy, which was not to permit women leading in any context, not just the main meetings and events.

          • The complicated part is that the BUCU position on this issue directly breaks with the position of UCCF, with which it is affiliated.

            It’s not complicated! P^/ It’s rather easy!

            As I said UCCF is not a statutory body – so it’s two private bodies and someone can break rules and the other one has to spank a bottom! It’s not complicated.

            If you want complicated call Kerry McCarthy – she knows just how to make it all very complicated and get some real media onto the issue – Preferably with live protest for camera candy – and hurry up the students bugger off soon for Holidays… They are probably all drunk already! … Kerry is great fun at taking little un-complicated things and making them real big, very complicated and news worthy. (Big wave to Kerry and her Barrister Friends)

            I wonder what she will do when she leaves Parliament? I doubt she”ll be writing for Huffy!

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