Women have "always" been banned from teaching at Christian Union meetings, and the Bristol University society's compromise to allow women to speak with their husbands is actually an improvement, it has emerged.
Bristol University Christian Union (BUCU) hit the headlines on Tuesday after it emerged women were barred from teaching on their own at weekly meetings and not allowed to be the main speaker at the group's weekends away or "mission weeks".
It was originally believed the ban was a new decision but The Huffington Post UK has since learnt the society adopted this policy several years ago. An email sent to all Christian Union (CU) members by president Matt Oliver was to inform his society of a new compromise: allowing women to teach only if accompanied by their husbands.
Oliver also informed students the international secretary James Howlett had stepped down in protest against the compromise allowing women the opportunity to teach in a CU setting, as he 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," Oliver said in the email.
"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."
Bristol University student Lucy Susheela Beggs, who is a practising Christian, wrote on the Bristol University's feminist society's Facebook page: "The Bristol CU idn't suddenly decide to impose a ban on women speakers, that was the existing policy. So that letter was actually announcing an improvement.
"My beliefs are definitely not aligned with the CU on this one."
An article by another Bristol student, Ellie Williams, which appeared in independent student paper The Vantage, reported that the ban has been around for seven years and dubbed the decision "progressive".
Richard Dawkins has since voiced his displeasure at the CU's policy, tweeting:
Laura Ho and Shannon Kneis, co-presidents of Bristol's feminist society, said the decision is "an improvement".
"But its not equality and its still discriminatory," they continued. "If anything it is even more shocking before this amendment women weren't allowed to teach in any circumstances.
"The CU has been misrepresented in that it looks like they've suddenly imposed a ban but the fact is that the CU exec, when given a clear opportunity to acknowledge women teachers as equals, didn't. We think the most important thing is that the issue has been raised on a nationwide scale, and hopefully our Union will be able to rectify it and any similar situations at other Universities will be exposed."
The CU's president told The Huffington Post UK on Tuesday the society had "nor 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."
Rupert Sutton, of the Students Rights group, said: "That a university society should still be allowed to dictate who can speak when on the basis of gender is simply unacceptable, and.. we hope [Bristol Union] will now force the society to accept equal rights for all members."
Bristol union officers met with the Christian Union on Monday and said they are currently investigating the issue and are working closely with the society.
The red brick university tweeted a message of support to the student union officers, which said:
A statement from a university spokesperson added: "We support the Students' Union position and, like them, we would like to reinforce the fact that views expressed by student societies do not represent those of the University."
The CU has been contacted for further comment but has yet to respond.
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