By Jemima Bush
I’ve had just about as Christian an upbringing as one can have – my Dad, godfather and three out of four uncles are vicars, I’ve been going to Church every Sunday since I was born and now I’m in my first year studying Theology. Yet despite firmly identifying as a Christian, I cannot bring myself to be part of the Durham Christian Union. The CU claims to be a society for Christians across the university, so why is it then that I and various Christian friends can’t get on with it?
It’s no coincidence that the society’s newly elected president for next year is male, as is this year’s, and last year’s, and the year before’s… Of course, this is not an official or written rule – if this were the case then one could easily make an argument for discrimination. But this does appear to be an established trend and anyone from the outside looking in would see this as discrimination, including me.
The choice you have to make when it comes to disagreements within organisations like the Church is which is more important: truth or unity? Should we hold firm to the truths that we see as so important to our faith that they cannot be compromised or should we put our differences aside and come together under our shared faith in the name of unity?
If you’d have asked me this a year ago I would have said that unity is more important. 100%. But this attitude becomes more problematic when you are seemingly standing by and ignoring injustices that make your heart beat faster. When someone is claiming that it’s the truth that unifies us – what if this ‘truth’ isn’t your ‘truth’?
The issue of women in leadership for Christians is more complicated than I can do credit to in this short space but it is rooted in a combination of passages from the Bible, tradition and institutionalised misogyny. Now, I understand and respect the views which some conservative Christians take; the disallowing of women in church leadership is their ‘truth’. However, this becomes difficult when it comes into conflict with my truth – yes unity’s important, but whose truth do you choose for an organisation which is supposed to represent Christians across the entire university?
In order to get around the issue of disagreements, the UCCF (Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship – to whom all CUs across the country are affiliated) has a ‘doctrinal basis’ – beliefs that all Christians share which they can unite behind. This is the set of beliefs that anyone with a leading role in the CU has to agree to. They are far narrower than the doctrines espoused by, for instance, the Methodist Church, or the Church of England. When reading them, point c. struck me most – “The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God.” Understanding different ideas about the Bible is one of the reasons I got interested in theology in the first place. I’ve met plenty of Christians who agree with the understanding of the Bible put across by UCCF but equally I’ve spoken to many (both Christian friends and Theology academics) who believe the Bible can be absolutely central to Christian faith without having to be infallible or necessarily perfect.
So what does this mean? I haven’t been to many CU events but it only takes a couple of talks to identify the strongly conservative Evangelical stance. There may be nothing wrong with holding these views, but they are certainly not the views of all Christians in Durham. At a few moments during CU talks to which I’d brought friends I wanted to shout, ’you don’t have to believe that to be a Christian!’ Those who adhere to the doctrines set out by UCCF (who, by the way, used to be called Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions) shouldn’t claim to be representing Christianity as a whole. I propose they change their name to the ‘Evangelical Christian Union’ or set out a doctrine which all Christians can actually agree on – what’s wrong with the Apostle’s Creed?
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Of course they are, especially when it comes to religion. But I cannot bring myself, even in the name of unity, to compromise on a truth so fundamental to me – that of gender equality. I don’t know what the answer to the gender issue is if we are trying to keep everyone happy. What I do know is that we are more strongly united by positives; perhaps there’s no need for any further unifying positives beyond the love and grace of God.
Illustration: Kenzo Ishida