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So, today I found an article on the Huffington Post about how my former University’s Christian Union is not allowing women to speak… I have to say I wasn’t surprised. Though I never resigned my membership of the Christian Union there, I became more and more distant from it – and wish in hindsight I had done!

Helpfully, here is their side of the story… provided by a friend who is a member of the CU – extracts from an email:

“We are sad to say that our international secretary James Howlett has chosen to step down from his role on the exec because of his convictions on the secondary issue of women teaching in CU… we unite around the core truths of the gospel; that Christ died for our sins, was buried and raised again in accordance with the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-5)…We all hold individual convictions on secondary issues such a women speakers… It is good and right that we hold strong beliefs on the Bible’s teaching about secondary issues but they are not what we centre around as a CU and therefore are not always reflected in the CU’s practice.

The decision made was that, because the CU is not a church and because we unite around the core truths of the gospel, it is ok for women to teach in any CU setting. However, we understand that this is a difficult issue for some and so decided that women would not teach on their own at our weekly Equip meetings, as the main speaker on our Bristol CU weekend away or as our main speaker for mission weeks, but a husband and wife can teach together in these. This means that women are able to teach…”

Phew! That was a lot of words that essentially says: we are being inclusive towards those who aren’t inclusive (not necessarily bad in my view) and we wanted to shift from not having women speakers, to having women speakers.

So that’s good! I still think they’ve got it wrong though. My main gripe is around the issue of what the gospel is. The wording above implies the gospel is simply Jesus’ death on the cross. This is NOT true. The gospel is so much more! The gospel is the good news – the good news to those of us who need God that he wants a relationship with us. The good news to the poor – that they don’t have to suffer poverty because God wants to bring about the Jubilee (Acts 2…). The good news to women – that they will have better status in the world (just see how he treats them!)

The good news is so much more than the cross. The cross is the culmination of the announcement. The cross seals the deal. But Jesus brought with him the Kingdom of Heaven – that, friends, is the good news! So yes, let us unite around the good news indeed – the good news that women are NOT a ‘secondary issue’ to God!

Stuck in the Past

The main problem I have with Christian Unions, however, is not that they are fundamentally sexist. No, it goes deeper than that. The problem is they are stuck in the modernist, evangelical, apologetic world. That world no longer exists.

Let me introduce you to the concept of places (Thanks, Mike Frost!). Your first place is where you live. You don’t do evangelism there. In fact, while we are at it, evangelism needs to give way to mission. Living as Jesus rather than just talking about him all the time. Anyway…

Your second place is your place of work. Let’s face it, you don’t really do mission there either. Conversations around the water cooler twice a year with one person does not count! Some people do meet God through colleagues, but it’s not where we should focus.

Our focus should be third places. These are the places the community is built around: pubs, restaurants, bars, social clubs, sports clubs and so on. These are the places people gather. These are the places we build relationships with others and nurture the good in the world (what some would refer to as the common grace of the world, perhaps).

The problem with universities is the blurring of these lines: 1st places, in the first year at least – do not exist. We live with all sorts of people. So our houses are a 3rd place. Our place of work is blurred with social interactions. It too is a third place.

Students only have third places! Wow – what an opportunity to live for Jesus!

There’s two things I want to explore about that:

1) The need for 1st places

As Christians, we should be in a stable living environment – that is what 1st places are for. Places we can switch off, places we can be loved. I reckon these, in a student world, are church small groups. So that is a good thing to have either as a CU or a church but not both!

Why not both? Because then people spend too long in their 1st place and not long enough in their 3rd places… If you’re playing CU football on a Monday, at your church small group on a Tuesday, at CU central on a wednesday, at CU small group on a Thursday, and working on a Friday, after Sunday church you only have Saturdays left to hang out with people who aren’t  Christians!

What happened to that opportunity, huh?

2) Making Use of Third Places

The problem with Christian Unions is not that they connect students who are Christians to one another – this is vital – though should be done by churches themselves. The problem is that they behave like churches with their meetings, small groups and worship sessions. They then teach students to ‘evangelise’ the ‘gospel’ by telling others about it and telling others about events they can attend to learn more – in the hope that at these meetings they will become Christians.

Several problems:

* They behave like churches!

* In order to truly win people over in our post-modern world, Christians need to re-earn the right to be heard with orthopraxy (right behaviour) before orthodoxy (right belief).

* In order to truly win people over, Christian students need to go to others rather than expecting to be gone to.

Now, in fairness – I know BUCU has become more friend-focussed than event focussed. But they do still do events! They still have a ‘mission week’ (so, we don’t need to do the rest of the year? they say otherwise but the problem is the subconscious implications). They still create too many easy Christian distractions from the real world. And they don’t equip people to network well. They simply provide more 80’s style evangelism training for Conservative Christians.

That is why I think CUs in their current form are redundant. It is vital that students connect. But I really, really do think we have got it very, very wrong. The consequences are generation after generation of atheist who cares neither for God nor his people’s methods. Disastrous consequences indeed…

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