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Bristol University's Christian Union Bans Women From Speaking At Meetings

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UPDATE: Bristol University Christian Union's decision to ban women is not a new policy and has been around for several years, it has since emerged.

A university's Christian society has banned women from speaking at events and teaching at meetings, unless they are accompanied by their husband, it has been revealed.

The Bristol University Christian Union (BUCU) had originally decided women would be allowed to teach at meetings after their international secretary resigned in protest, but the group has since changed its policy.

The Huffington Post UK has seen the email sent out by president Matt Oliver to all BUCU members which said: "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."

Oliver then warns the society members to "guard the way we all talk about it in the coming weeks, making sure we’re not gossiping".

Caitlin Greenwood, vice president of Bristol University's atheist, agnostic and secular society, said the decision violated the student union's policy.

"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."

Rebecca Reid, a member of the university's feminist society wrote on the group's Facebook page and said: "I'm Catholic and I think that's obscene." Student Lucy King added: "So it's ok for women to teach, as long as they're not the most important speaker?!? This is really unbelievable."

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Oliver's email announced the departure of the international secretary James Howlett, who, according to Oliver, felt he "cannot support the decision on women teaching".

"After a lot of time exploring this issue, seeking God’s wisdom on it and discussing it together as a committee, we made a decision about women teaching in a CU setting," Oliver continues. "We all hold individual convictions on secondary issues such a women speakers, which are often reflected in the churches we choose to attend.

"It is good and right that we hold strong beliefs on the Bible's teaching about secondary issues but they are not what we centre around as a CU and therefore are not always reflected in the CU's practice."

Shannon Kneis and Laura Ho, co-presidents of Bristol University's feminist society described the decision as "hugely discriminatory, deeply offensive and sexist to women".

"They are suggesting that women have more worth as speakers if speaking with their husband while assuming that all women are interested in marriage, or men for that matter," they said in a statement. "We would hope for women to have equal opportunities to speak at all occasions, whether alone or not. Religious groups should not be immune from question or criticism with regards to gender equality."

The Christian Union's announcement, which was first picked up by student paper the Bristol Tab, follows the controversial vote by the Church of England's House of Laity members not to allow women bishops, despite many church leaders voting in favour of the move.

The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said the Church of England has a "lot of explaining" to do after rejecting the legislation, while his successor Justin Welby described the decision as "grim".

Oliver told The Huffington Post UK the society had now released a statement saying: "Bristol University Christian Union has no formal position on the role of men and women in the church. We respect those of our members who hold strong Biblical convictions in this area and seek to find the most practical way of expressing this inclusivity."

Bristol University's student union officers for activities and welfare and equality met with the society on Monday. Alessandra Berti, vice president of welfare and equality, released a statement saying the university's students' union (UBU) is investigating the issue alongside the Christian Union.

"In particular we will be making certain that our Equality Policy is properly adhered to in all cases.

"The University of Bristol Students’ Union takes allegations of discrimination very seriously. UBU has an equality policy which explains that we prohibit discrimination on grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief (including lack of belief), sex and sexual orientation in line with The Equality Act 2010 and as one of our key values of equality and diversity."

The red brick university has now tweeted its support to the union:


Bristol University
Regarding the University of Bristol Christian Union, we support the Students' Union position in this matter:

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CORRECTION NOTE: We had originally stated the votes were cast by "the majority of Church of England worshippers". We have since corrected this to clarify the votes were cast by the House of Laity, which represents Church of England worshippers. Due to the system, a 66% yes majority is needed but only a 62% majority was achieved.

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