Let me tell you a story. A Christian organisation approached a university CU to ask if they could send a speaker to talk about the opportunities that they provide for students. The CU was keen and started making arrangements until they discovered that the speaker who would come was a woman. She managed the project that would be promoted and so is the most knowledgeable and most obvious choice of speaker for the organisation. The CU explained that they only had male speakers so that they could focus on their core purpose of reaching the lost and not be distracted by secondary issues such as gender. Opinion within the organisation was split: some said they should send a man instead because the main aim is to inform students about their work; others thought they should make a stand and draw attention to the CU’s policy.
Let me tell you another story. A church approached another Christian organisation and asked for a speaker at their Sunday morning service. The organisation offered a very gifted and experienced speaker who has done hundreds of training sessions and speaking engagements for them, and who is also a woman. The church said that the woman couldn’t speak in the service as they didn’t have female preachers but she could do a ten-minute talk in the hall over lunch afterwards. The organisation decided that it was not ‘a salvation issue’ and that they would comply with the church’s restrictions. These are both true stories and both incidents happened in the last six months.
I’m intrigued by the CU’s policy. If the CU want to reach the lost, can’t they see that banning women from speaking in public will be anything but secondary for women and men who are not yet Christians, that actually it could be a huge barrier for many in coming to faith? Men and women in the university will be used to relating to each other as equal colleagues, partners and friends. They will have female lecturers, tutors and peers who contribute to their education. How are they going to be attracted to following Jesus if they think that he wants women to be excluded from these areas of life? Yes, Christians disagree over what men and women can and can’t do, but if the CU really thinks gender is secondary when it comes to the gospel, why don’t they make a point of allowing both men and women to be heard in the CU just as they are in the rest of the university - even if it upsets some of their members - rather than having a stance that could stop people from hearing the good news of Jesus. Perhaps they really mean that gender is a secondary issue when it comes to unity within the CU, rather than for reaching out to people outside it. The CU constitution says that they have to abide by the Student Union equal opportunities policy which includes gender as an area where there should be no discrimination. I wonder how the CU justifies their policy of only male speakers; I wonder if the SU knows about it.
What do you think? Should organisations make a stand in situations like these and affirm the gifts and calling of their female employees in public? Or should they acquiesce to these requests out of respect for the CU and the church’s position?