The University as an institution is a testing ground for P.C. policies, establishing precedents for every manner of equality between the sexes, races, sexual orientations, and so forth; at Bristol University it has become the battle ground between feminism and fundamentalism. Bristol University Christian Union’s longstanding policy of banning female speakers has been called into question, earning the ire of Bristol University’s atheist, agnostic, and secular society, as well as the University’s feminist society.
The ban prevents women from speaking at events and teaching at meetings, unless they are accompanied by their husband. Such a policy is an eerie parallel to Saudi Arabia’s policy that women cannot travel outside the country without their guardian’s approval. The Bristol University Christian Union (BUCU) isn’t trying to make a radical statement on its views of traditional gender – if anything the negative attention is making them anxious – but they established such policies to avoid offending any of their members whose churches hold such policies. They derive, ultimately, to a few verses from the Bible in the epistles of Paul that say that women should not teach at church. While not all Christians interpret the verses this way, many Churches have used this to justify a policy of male-only laity – the Catholic Church is the supreme example of this – and some go so far as to follow another of Saint Paul’s commands that a woman must wear a head covering while at church.
Not surprisingly, Bristol University’s atheist, agnostic, and secular society took the opportunity to criticize 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 from them.”
Shannon Kneis and Laura Ho, co-presidents of Bristol University’s feminist society, naturally enough also weighed in calling the policy, “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,” their statement read. “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 questions or criticism with regards to gender equality.”
In other words, the Bible should not be the ultimate authority for religious groups. While non-believers would readily agree that our laws and policies should not be based on ancient texts, traditional Christians are less likely to acquiesce simply because their views are unpopular. BUCU, however, wants to avoid as much controversy as possible at this point. Their president, Matt Oliver, has responded to the criticism with a statement claiming that:
“Bristol University Christian Union has no formal position on the role of men and women in 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.”
The policy’s legitimacy is being investigated by Alessandra Berti, vice president of welfare and equality.