Bristol University Christian Union vs The Equality Banana

The other day my sons were fighting over a banana. It’s not as though bananas are particularly treasured in our household  – certainly not if there are bank -breaking fruit such as strawberries available – but I hadn’t been to Sainsbury’s for a while. This particular banana happened to be the last thing in the fruit bowl, hence scarcity made it valuable. My youngest was content with sharing, but my eldest wanted all of it. Having witnessed all attempts at persuasion fail, I went for the compromise option, giving Eldest most of the banana while offering Youngest a single bite. Obviously this solution pleased no one, hence I ended up pacifying the little blighters with Coco Pops instead.

You may be reading this and thinking “well, that’s just a rubbish solution – of course it didn’t work!” And you’d be right. That’s why I made it up. What I actually did was what any reasonable parent would do and split the banana in half. This seriously pissed off Eldest, who threw a major tantrum, during which he hurled his half into the recycling bin. Naturally he then saw Youngest munching on the remaining half and wanted back the piece he’d rejected. Only he couldn’t have it because it was already covered with that morning’s leftover Ready Brek. “Well, you should have been willing to share”, said I. Lesson learned, until next time at least.

Were I a Christian, I might use the above story as a kind of modern-day parable. The Wilful Rejection Of The Banana, I might call it (until I’d thought of something better). Of course, there are problems with this. Jesus, for instance – what with him being Jesus – would have no doubt recommended giving one’s brother the whole sodding banana. I don’t wish to quibble with the incarnate deity, but I do think this places undue pressure on Youngest (who is three and not great at turning the other cheek at the best of times). Another problem is that I might not even be able to share my parable with others, at least not unless I had my husband with me to ensure I wasn’t being too authoritative in a Christian context. For while I might hold dominion over the fruit bowl, I am but a feeble woman and must therefore wait to be granted my half of the “equality banana” (yeah, I know, but trust me, this metaphor does work in places).

Two weeks after the Church of England failed to obtain the required majority to allow female priests to become bishops, Bristol University Christian Union have announced that female union members will not be permitted to teach “on their own at our weekly CU: Equip meetings, as the main speaker on our Bristol CU weekends away or as our main speaker for mission weeks” (don’t worry, though, ladies – you can still have a go as long as you’re sharing the role with your husband, who obviously exists, right?). I am not a Christian and even if I were, I’m not so sure any of the events listed above sounds particularly tempting. In addition I don’t even like teaching (a year delivering English lessons to sulky German teenagers made me realise that I’m crap at it). Nevertheless, this whole thing seriously annoys me, not just because it’s sexist – of course it is! – but because, as with the proposed (but not even accepted) compromise with female bishops, it’s totally feeble, rubbish and pleases absolutely no one.

If I were allowed to deliver a sermon to BUCU – and for a whole host of reasons I’m not – it would be this: if you are going to be sexist, be properly sexist. If you truly believe that your religion demands the exclusion of women from positions of authority, then just go ahead and exclude them (except for women such as me, at least while we’re telling you to exclude all the others). All of these half-hearted measures suggest only one thing, and that’s that you don’t care about equality or fundamental beliefs in any serious way. If you think equality can be provided in drips and drabs, in half-measures, then you don’t know what it means.

The Union have issued a statement claiming that it “has no formal position on the role of men and women in the church”

We respect those of our members who hold strong Biblical convictions in this area and seek to find the most practical way of expressing this inclusivity.

This is just ridiculous. Those who “hold strong Biblical convictions” are, in essence, my five-year-old screaming for the whole banana. They won’t settle for less, and you’re not being “inclusive” by offering that paltry little bite to everyone else. You’re just letting down everyone.

Of course you can argue that bananas and religious conviction are different things. Indeed they are. Perhaps those who want the whole banana – those who don’t believe in equality– are right in terms of following the dictates of their consciences. Yet it’s important to be honest about this. It often seems to be those who only want to share who are portrayed as demanding too much. But if you want the right to be sexist – if you believe excluding women is your God-given right – then you need to show your sexist face in public. Throw away the compromise you don’t want or steal the authority that was never yours to bestow. But don’t try to pretend for a minute that you understand what sharing, equality and inclusivity mean.


5 thoughts on “Bristol University Christian Union vs The Equality Banana

  1. How many cracks of the whip of discrimation would they like? If they took your advice, they’d only have to worry about sex discrimination. But by tagging the husbands thing on as well, discrimination on the grounds of both sexual orientation and marital status also get thrown into the mix.

    Is the Church of England exempt from *all* equality duties?

  2. This seems especially bizarre. These “teachers” don’t sound as if they’re ordained, so the “standard” (Anglo-)Catholic surely don’t apply. “Can’t be having a woman in charge of anything at all!” is surely a very minority view, confined to the Fundier US Prods. You’d have hoped.

    If a people want to get their kicks from belonging to a private club that ritualistically discriminates against them, well, that’s one thing. But a university student society? The purpose of those is to absorb subsidies, ultimately. If they’re not trousering actual student representative body funding, they’re likely to be using university facilities. And in the very unlikely event they’re not doing even that, they’re evidently “trading” using the university’s name. There’s no way in the proverbial fit that a higher educational institute should be permitting such flagrantly discriminatory nonsense in a society claiming any sort of association with it at all.

    1. Totally agree with what you’ve said. Fortunately, it looks like they’ve had a change of heart:

      What I’ve inferred from the articles I’ve read about it is that they were trying to do this ‘under the radar’, without the knowledge of either the University or the Students’ Union. But that might be just a way for the University/Students’ Union to wriggle out of their responsibilties.

      1. I think that one can be filed under “least surprising U-turn ever”. It was hardly tenable for a public body like BU to be seen to be giving this any sort of stamp of approval. Whether or not it was the society itself trying to do this on the sneaky-sneaky, or the SU or BU being asleep at the wheel, by the time it was getting national coverage, the odds were very short that it was going to become a facial egg-removal exercise.

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