05/12/2012 15:34 GMT | Updated 05/12/2012 15:35 GMT

Bristol University's Christian Union To Allow Women Speakers, After Campaign

Bristol Christian Union has backtracked on its controversial policy which did not allow women to speak at the society, unless they were accompanied by their husbands.

In a statement posted on the Bristol CU website, the society said:

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.

In response to the outcry, the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, the umbrella group of the UK’s 200+ student Christian Unions, issued a statement, and said it "has no such policy" regarding women speakers.

"The UCCF employs women and men in leadership positions on an equal basis. They all receive training in public speaking (for all types of meetings) and many of the women on our staff have thrived and developed their speaking gifts in the context of CU work - which might not have been possible in their local churches.

"The CUs are not churches. They are student led and student run societies, whose aim is to make the authentic Christian message accessible to other students. CUs have a Basis of Faith - which is a ‘mere Christianity’ - around which Christians from all denominations and flavours can gather. The issues that comprise the Basis of Faith focus on the core truths about God and Jesus, recorded in the Bible, not matters of local church order.

The UCCF urged students to address the issue of women speakers with a "spirit of generosity and realism when coming into the CU.

"It would be wholly against the spirit and intention of the UCCF Basis of Faith and the advice of UCCF staff if an individual CU devised a policy not to have women speakers for some or all of their events."

The body urged that the students at Bristol "be given the space to resolve this matter".

When originally reported, it was believed the Bristol 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 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.