So last week I posted a reaction to Bristol CU’s decision over women speakers (they were slightly liberalising their previous policy of not allowing them at all to certain, limited setting). I came out in full defence of their decision, despite the fact I’m an egalitarian. Their “u-turn” to allow women speakers in all CU settings did actually make me happier (assuming they didn’t take it because of the pressure they were under). But I want to concede that I probably didn’t have the full insight into the situation and I was challenged by comments and other blogs I read. So I asked around a bit in my CU and found that although there is a large complementarian presence there, a lot of them wouldn’t have a problem with women speakers at CU because their beliefs mainly apply to leadership rather than preaching, and generally only in a church setting. So I was sort of wrong. I still hold to the principle of my argument though; I still think it is a valid decision for a CU to take if they feel that is the best way to retain unity. But I’m not perfect, by any stretch.
Today, I want to confess something I really struggle with, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Okay first to say what I’m referring to and why it’s a problem. I take pride in my academic work. I put the effort in and I get good marks, great! This is fine, I think, as long as I don’t start boasting to others about it and put myself above other people because of it. But I know that this isn’t of eternal importance. When I serve God I know it is much more important than any of my personal achievements. But this service isn’t what gives me salvation. It’s when I think about the fact that there’s a God so huge and powerful who created the universe and everything in it. And that he cared about and loved me so much that he was willing to come to this earth as one of us and suffer and die in my place so that I could have a relationship and eternal life with him. I can’t do nothing. I have to live my life serving him.
All good so far, right?
Well, yes. Except in my head I have a habit listing all the things I do at church, at CU and other situations where I serve. I start hoping that this person or group of people noticed that I did this or start imagining conversations where people are saying how great I am because what I do. I wonder if I have done enough, for example, for the CU committee to think I’m suitable to be on committee next year. Will people be saying I’m a great example to others? Am I the most enthusiastic fresher? All these things swirl around my head. And I hate it. If I catch myself I have to think of something else to make it go away.
I hate it because it makes me worry about my motives. I know that I shouldn’t serve God in order to impress other people, to gain leadership positions or be famous in Christian circles. I believe (although sometimes I am really not sure) that this isn’t why I do it and it’s my sinful nature trying to make me proud and I’m weak to it.
Most people probably don’t know about this. I generally manage to keep it under wraps. There’s the occasional time I slip and say how my week is so busy because I’m doing so much at church and CU, then realising what I’ve done and try to laugh it off as some sort of joke. Then I leave worried that person thinks I have got my motives messed up, and think less of me, then I get all the thoughts going round my head again.
We all have our failings, this is one of many of mine.
There isn’t much of a conclusion I can give here but writing this down has helped, I know that I should continue serving God and rejecting sin but that will only work with God’s help. I hope that anyone who struggles with similar problems can now know that they’re not on their own. We all have our struggles with sin, whatever it is, admit to yourself it is an issue and ask God to work within you and help you fight it.
Thanks for reading 🙂
Feel the need to write a blog post about this in the light of Bristol CU’s (alleged) decision to ban women from speaking in their meetings, weekends or events. (HuffPost story here.) Last week I wrote about unity in the Church and how CUs were an amazing example to churches working across the denominational divide. Maybe after this you wouldn’t agree. But take a look and you’ll see I actually used the women teaching example to show how well it works. The CU at my university doesn’t have a ban per se (to my knowledge) but we haven’t had a woman come to speak to us at our meetings. The reason for this is that some Christians believe that males and females have different roles in the church. Before being specific anyone should be able to understand that this isn’t a ridiculous claim. Men and women are clearly different physiologically and are naturally better at certain things. Although I don’t agree, there is grounding from the Bible (namely Paul letters, in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12), that would say that these differences extend to leadership and preaching.
I believe that Christians who take this view have considered it carefully and have reached that decision with integrity. It certainly isn’t a view that is sexist and misogynistic. It is simply a belief that certain roles are suited to men and other to women. Women’s contribution is equally as valuable and important, simply different. EDIT: Although there certainly exists a minority who hold similar views but for sexist reasons. These people I am not defending and will not defend in the future.
So when you’ve got a large group of people from different denominations who believe different things on these issues that you want to keep united, this decision makes sense. Preventing women from preaching out of respect for those have taken that view, is a difficult yet courageous decision to make. Lets be clear, this isn’t the CU taking the view that women aren’t allowed to preach on principle, simply that it is the best way for the CU to run practically, respecting the views of all. The CU doesn’t (or shouldn’t) take a view on these types of “secondary” issue. Many CUs do allow women to preach. Perhaps a ban is too strong and simply a convention would be more appropriate but this is detail in comparison to the actual issue here.
I hope this clarifies and explains some things. UCCF is the body that many CUs are affiliated with and get support from. Their policy has no restrictions on preachers based on sex – the only requirement is agreement with the Doctrinal Basis, which is a relatively broad set of beliefs based around the basic fundamental beliefs of Christianity.
All views are my own, I don’t claim to speak on behalf of any of the people or groups involved, I simply want to try to explain why this situation is why it is. All comments welcome.
You may have heard me mention it before but something that matters to me a lot is unity in the Church. In 1 Corinthians Paul says:
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
I think that it would be amazing if the church could be one body and there were no divisions at all. I believe, however, that the way the church has developed over time where I think it has gone in the wrong direction and had movements to bring it back and the smaller, less vital splits have meant that’s not possible. Fortunately I don’t think that’s what Paul was really thinking of either. What we need is churches looking for ways to understand each other, how their views are formed from the same book (i.e. the Bible) and that when someone is seeking to follow Christ in action, deed and word there should be unity with them. Some Christians I talk to find it strange that I defend the views of other Christians I (and usually they) don’t agree with. I then do my best to explain why that view is held with a kind of “so you can see where they’re coming from” conclusion. I think that it is vitally important that we understand the sources of each other’s convictions to enable us to see that they are very rarely incompatible with being a Jesus-loving Christian who believes the core values of our faith.
Last week I was talking to a couple of my fellow CU freshers and I don’t remember how it came up but one of them said that one of her flatmates had mentioned that she was a Catholic, something that she had no evidence of up until then. My friend didn’t know how to react as she knows that being christened doesn’t make you a Christian, and certainly just growing up in Catholic (or for that matter any Christian) family doesn’t either. Her reaction to hearing this wanted to be to challenge her and tell her she isn’t a Christian. I remember her saying that hearing someone saying that they’re a Christian through these means makes her angry. I talked about my Catholic family and how I feel they have been model Christians to me in my life even if I don’t agree with quite a few of their views. I suggest to anyone who feels similarly to her not to respond with irritation but to lovingly ask how their relationship with God is, what church they go to or what their faith means to them. Find out what they believe; understand why. At this point you can present your views and explain why you hold them. Do all of this lovingly and be interested! It’s okay to challenge their views in this way as long as you can back up your own, don’t expect to change their ideas and be ready for yours to be challenged. This doesn’t only apply Catholics but any other Christians who have differing views from you. How can we expect to interact with and challenge (and be challenged by) non-Christians’ views and values when we can’t do it with each other?
Once we can learn to understand and love each other despite our differences we can look towards unity. Like I said before I don’t mean a single church but I do mean Christians working across the divides to make Christ and his love known in this world. Since coming to university I have found that the Christian Union is incredible example to the church in this respect. I hope that other CUs are like mine and I’m lead to believe that many are but I’ve only got mine to draw examples from. There’s 200 of us from many different denominations. We go to different churches. We hold different views on the role of women, predestination, the best way to worship, how the Spirit moves, how communion should be taken and many, many more. And yet we are a united student mission team on campus.
We recently ran an events week where everyday we put on events which all included a talk, mostly on Christian apologetics. Our intention is to allow as many people on campus as possible to hear about Jesus. If we bring along our friends, we can follow-up with them ourselves and take them to our church. Some responded independently and were assigned people to follow-up with. We weren’t told which church to take them to – no one will say that we’re leading them the wrong way because new Christians should be in this denomination or the other. Sometimes we will informally discuss the differences we have but it is always loving and with interest and not a way to pick holes in each others’ ideas. We are centred around the cross and the redemption it has given us. Centred around the belief that God so loved us He was willing to die so that we could enjoy life with Him. We think that that fact is so amazing it has to be told to as many as people as possible and our differences come second.
UCCF is an organisation which helps the CUs in the UK do this. A few ideas for this blog came from Dave Bish, the UCCF regional team leader for the South West, in his blog, although I had intentions to write this before I had read that. He talks about how CUs need to keep working in this way and how to do this. I’ve said a lot of this already so I won’t repeat myself, take a look at his blog for another angle. He draws attention to how the biggest point of contention in a CU is how the weekly meeting is run. This is hard because it does actually resemble a stripped down church service (it is not intended to be instead of a church service; a lot of emphasis is put on being part of a church as well as CU), which means there are a few points which could cause problems. At our CU I think we avoid at least some of these problems by not doing some things. There’s no opportunity for prophecy or for the Spirit to work and we don’t take communion. These things are left up to churches to “provide” if you like.
Something that I know is not consistent among CUs is that we don’t have women come in to do talks. Every week a guest speaker gives a talk which is either equipping us for evangelism or strengthening us. Every week a man gives this talk. When I first realised this was a rule (rather than coincidence with the speakers I had seen so far) there was a short time I was really disappointed. I am very supportive of women becoming preachers and being leaders in the church and that comes from a biblically based belief. Last week I talked about this in relation to the women bishops vote. I also talk about how I’ve come to recognise that other Christians completely value women’s contribution to the church and believe it is vital but their role is different from men and doesn’t include preaching. This view is also biblically based and isn’t sexist or misogynistic (check out this article on Threads). So if we accept that some Christians hold a valid view opposing women preachers, in a group of united Christians, not allowing women to preach makes sense. These people will feel that their view is respected and those in favour of them can’t actually have a problem seeing as their view isn’t that women have to preach. Of course the CU mustn’t actually make this policy a part of their stated beliefs; they must be broad and really only define core beliefs and values. (For all UCCF-affiliated CUs this is their Doctrinal Basis.)
This is one example of a possible problem and how it was avoided; out of love and respect for each other. Funnily enough churches working together generally wouldn’t come into nearly as many problems as they don’t need a weekly meeting where problems could arise, and yet we can still be terrible at interacting. There are great examples of times we do, however. Street pastors, foodbanks, Hope, inter-denominational conferences (Soul Survivor, Spring Harvest, etc), Alpha and many more. And yet we still like to argue and let our differences get in the way of personal relationships.
So if you’re a Christian and often find yourself wanting to argue with one of your brother or sisters in Christ, change it into a loving conversation and discuss. Challenge their ideas and allow them to challenge yours; if nothing else it’s good practice for when talking to non-Christians!
As usual this is much longer than originally intended – sorry about that! Please don’t let it stop you challenging me, asking questions and giving me your comments!