"UCCF should like to stress that the choice of any speaker is made by each individual; student run CU. UCCF does not have preferred speaker lists or undesirable speaker lists. Neither do we take a view on the complementarian/egalitarian debate. UCCF has staff and students in both camps and everywhere in between; we therefore cannot have a policy of ‘No women speakers’ nor a policy of ‘you must have women speakers’. UCCF continues to support students as they lead CUs in a manner that reflects the unity and purpose of our Basis of Faith."
Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowships (UCCF)
Dee and I are privileged to have several regular commenters in the United Kingdom, and we are grateful for their perspectives. The focus of our blog tends to be on Christian trends here in the U.S. However, we are discovering that the Brits are facing some of the same challenges we discuss. Here's a case in point. It has just come to our attention that there has been a ruckus at Bristol University over what women can and can't do with regard to ministry. Before we explore those developments, here is some background information that may be helpful.
Let's start with InterVarsity Fellowship (IVF). According to the website:
"Our movement began with students at the University of Cambridge, England in 1877. There, a group of Christian students began to meet together, in spite of the disapproval of some University officials, to pray, to study the Bible and to witness to fellow students. Soon, similar groups sprang up on other campuses. Eventually, they formed the British Inter-Varsity. (Hence our name, inter – meaning between, varsity – the British term for college level students.) From the very beginning they had a strong concern to take the gospel to those all over the world who had never heard it – a concern that continues in InterVarsity today.
In response to a plea for help, British InterVarsity sent Howard Guinness, a medical school graduate and vice-chairman of the British movement, to Canada in 1928. Students helped raise the money to provide one-way passage to Canada. Between bouts of seasickness, Guinness led his cabin mate to Christ during the crossing, As God supplied the funds, he slowly worked his way across Canada, starting up and assisting evangelical student groups.
By 1937 the Canadians began to hear requests for help from students in the United States as independent evangelical student groups began springing up. In 1938 Stacey Woods, the Canadian InterVarsity director, met with students on the University of Michigan campus. As an immediate result of that visit, students formed the first InterVarsity chapter in the United States.
By May of 1941 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA was an organization with three staff on loan from Canada and Stacey Woods at the helm as Secretary General. The official incorporation was in November, 1941. In 1947 InterVarsity USA became a founding member of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, a federation of national Christian student movements…
Today, there are more than 1000 InterVarsity staff serving more than 38,000 students and faculty nationwide. In addition we produce training materials, camps, books, and media tools which serve both the Church and campus. "
InterVarsity Fellowship develops both men and women. The IV website states:
"As a missionary movement, we can ill afford to squander the talents of any of our people. Women – both staff and students – have historically shared significant leadership roles with men throughout the Fellowship and will continue to do so."
Across the pond, various college ministries sprang up during the 1900s. To make a long story very short, here's what happened to InterVarsity Fellowship (IVF) in the United Kingdom:
"Work in these areas expanded rapidly in the late 1960s and early 1970s, such that by the mid 1970s it represented half the ministry, and resulted in ICCF and CECU merging with IVF to form the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship."
So IVF in the UK ceased to exist since it merged with ICCF and CECU to form the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF).
UCCF is made up of over 200 student Christian Unions, which I would imagine are similar to the college chapters of Cru or IVF here in the United States A few days ago Bristol University became the focus of some news stories here and in the UK. The Huffington Post published this report:
A British university's student-led Christian Union is under investigation after an internal email was leaked dictating that women would not be allowed to teach at its weekly meetings.
Bristol University Christian Union's president Matt Oliver's email comes just two weeks after the Church of England's General Synod decided not to allow women to become Anglican bishops, the Guardian reports.
According to the Bristol Tab, Oliver's decision was meant as a compromise after the group's international secretary resigned because of discomfort over the possibility of female teachers.
Women can still teach at meetings, as long as their husbands teach with them.
Well, I guess that policy discriminates against ALL single women…
The Guardian published a story entitled Bristol University Christian Union bars women from teaching. It begins as follows:
"A university's Christian Union is being investigated after ruling that women are not allowed to teach at its main weekly meetings.
Bristol University Christian Union also made it clear that women will only be able to teach as principal speakers at away weekends and during its mission weeks if they do so with a husband."
The very next day this headline appeared in The Guardian – Bristol University Christian Union performs U-turn on female speakers. The article states:
"A university Christian union that came under attack for not allowing women to teach at its main meetings has now said it will allow both sexes to preach at all events.
Bristol University Christian Union (BUCU) is being investigated after a memo emerged revealing women could not teach at its weekly meetings, and could only teach in some other settings with a husband.
On Tuesday night it put out a statement saying it would now allow women to teach at all its events.
It said: '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.' "
"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."
BUCU Executive Committee
Finally, the umbrella organization for the Christian Unions (UCCF) was compelled to issue its position as stated below:
UCCF Statement on Women speaking in Christian Unions
Many hundreds of churches across the United Kingdom have a policy of not having women preachers. The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) – the umbrella group of the UK’s 200+ student Christian Unions (CUs) – has no such policy.
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. UCCF employs women and men to lead the regional teams of staff workers and has women speaking at our regional and national conferences.
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.
CU members belong to local churches which may have strong views (in various directions) on particular issues – such as women speakers – but students are urged to deal with such matters in a spirit of generosity and realism when coming into the CU.
CUs are at liberty to invite speakers (male or female) who will maintain the unity reflected in the Basis of Faith, but 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 Bristol CU is utterly committed to reflecting the core biblical truth of the fundamental equality of women and men as they resolve this matter. This is a sensitive issue and the recent email exchange has revealed the internal processes of an undergraduate CU trying to think their way clear on a subject that Church denominations around the world have struggled with.
UPDATE – 07/12/12 [December 7, 2012 for us Americans]
UCCF should like to stress that the choice of any speaker is made by each individual; student run CU. UCCF does not have preferred speaker lists or undesirable speaker lists. Neither do we take a view on the complementarian/egalitarian debate. UCCF has staff and students in both camps and everywhere in between; we therefore cannot have a policy of ‘No women speakers’ nor a policy of ‘you must have women speakers’.
UCCF continues to support students as they lead CUs in a manner that reflects the unity and purpose of our Basis of Faith."
What an odd coincidence that this brouhaha in Great Britain happened on the heels of the Cru conundrum at the University of Louisville.
What could be causing so much dissension among Christians in Great Britain?
Interestingly enough, a conference began in the UK just five years ago called New Word Alive. At the initial gathering, the speakers were Don Carson, John Piper, and Terry Virgo. In 2010, Wayne Grudem spoke and in 2011 Bob Kauflin performed at the event. This is documented in the Wiki article.
Guess who's speaking at the 2013 conference… Mark Dever.
It seems the Brits are enamored with our American Calvinistas. Need proof? Take a look at this video shown in 2010 at the New Word Alive Conference. I suspect that these performers are college students involved in Christian Unions. Grudem, who spoke that year, was probably grinning from ear to ear as he watched. Yep, Americans are fun to imitate, as this video demonstrates.
As Dee has queried, could it be that they are looking to move parachurch organizations under the auspices of the local church (whatever that means).
We would love to have your feedback!
Lydia's Corner: Leviticus 22:17-23:44 Mark 9:30-10:12 Psalm 44:1-8 Proverbs 10:19