Following the issues raised in this month’s Impact with regards to the Christian Union, a meeting was held between the SU Socieities Exec and the CU Exec to help resolve the outstanding issues. At the request of Socieites Officer Emily Medhurst, Impact agreed to publish the minutes of that meeting.
From Societies Exec
ae Societies Officer – Emily Medhurst (EM)
ae Assistant Treasurer – Claire Eustace (CE)
Assistant Treasurer – Marcus Evans
Secretary – Steph Cort (SC)
ae Hobbies & Interests Officer – Giles Urwin (GU)
ae Religious & Cultural Officer – Tess Oraro (TO)
Course & Career Officer – Laura Tattam
ae Current & World Affairs Officer – Rick Chernick (RC)
ae IT Officer – George Graham (GG)
ae President – Paul Brennan (PB)
ae Vice President – Rachel Bashford (RB)
ae General Secretary – Sarah Whalley (SW)
ae Discipleship Coordinator – Steph Buckley (SB)
ae Evangelism Secretary or Prayer Secretary – Matt Dolan/ Simpson?(MD, MS)
Issues to discuss
? The perception of a number of students that CU would not appoint a female President.
? The idea that CU’s election process is in breach of the SU constitution.
Aims of Meeting
– To have an open forum discussion with CU about these perceptions and give them the opportunity to explain the way in which they appoint a new committee.
EM: Is it true that CU would only ever appoint a female president?
MD/S: No, it is not true, there is nothing in the CU Constitution that mentions this. It could be the case that convention has set a precedent.
EM: Tell us how the new committee are elected
CU: It is announced to the membership that nominations are open and members are asked to submit the names of those people who could fulfil particular roles within the CU committee. Each role requires a person with specific qualities. For example, the president should be able to lead and should be well organised. Some presidents have had different qualities, with some taking the role of a figurehead whilst others are more concerned with spearheading administration. After nominations have been received, the current Committee considers all nominations and proposes a team to the membership. The CU as a whole is given four weeks to get to know the proposed team, during which time anyone can submit an objection against an individual member of the team, or the team as a whole. After this time, the membership can have a straight yes or no vote for the proposed team..
EM: Why does CU not have an open vote at their AGM, so that their members can choose the new committee, as with other societies.
MD/S/PB: The way that the new committee are chosen follows biblical precedent. In the bible it is said that the elders in the community should be the ones to choose the new leaders, as they are the wisest and are more likely to know who would be best for the job. In addition there are certain character traits that people within the committee need (such as humility) – this very attribute may mean that they would not necessarily put themselves forward.
EM: Ok, to get over this latter problem surely you could still keep the nominations but the go straight to an open vote?
MD/S/PB: The committee know a number of people within CU well and as such, are better able to assess their character than the membership. It also means that the election does not just become a popularity vote, but that a balanced representative can be created, not a cliquey committee.
TO: Has a female president ever been proposed to CU?
TO: Why has this not been addressed?
EM: Do you think that this could be due to force of habit, or even institutionalised sexism that means that a man will always be first choice. One of the SU’s guiding principles is equality of opportunity for all, would you naturally go for a male, even given the choice?
SW: Plenty of CUs have female Presidents around the country.
EM: Has a male already been proposed for this year?
SB: No one has been nominated yet but we would always choose whoever is best for the job to be proposed by the committee
EM: A number of my Christian friends have been put off joining CU because they perceive the doctrine of male leadership takes precedence over everything else.
MD/S: The Bible is male-led, and the Church sets a precedent of male leadership.
EM: Even if that is true, it seems, within the case of CU that the grassroots church membership is not as progressive as the leadership (Anglican church has female priests). In the case of CathSoc, (which has a female president), the membership is more egalitarian than the Catholic Church itself.
EM: I realise, and respect, the fact that ‘Unity’ is a very big priority for CU. Christian Union is about bringing together all denominations of the religion and uniting them. I also understand that some denominations are strongly averse to female leadership. It is because of this, I believe, that you do not ‘rock the boat’, by appointing a female president. However, do you think that, for the sake of unity, you are sacrificing equality and simply bowing to those who may shout the loudest about something that they don’t agree with. There might be a number of Christians that haven’t joined CU simply because you appear to succumb to those members who believe that women are not born leaders.
PB: We believe that men and women are equal, of course, but different. Each has characteristics that help them fulfil differing roles.
GG: Men and women have different roles?
SW: Yes, differences in characteristics influence suitability for certain roles.
PB: The Bible talks about men and women being more suitable for certain roles because of the characteristics that god has given them. I should point out at this point that there is a big difference between spiritual leadership and business leadership. The Bible suggests that men are more suited to spiritual leadership.
SB: I believe that a pastor should be male, simply because I have a profound respect for God’s plan in Bible. This pastor is not a pastor to receive glory however, he as to be loving, and humble – a servant of God.
EM: The Bible can be, of course, and is interpreted in many different way though.
TO: In 1st Timothy, there is no God given directive on women being submissive to men, just the opinion of Timothy.
SW: Some interpretations of the bible take things completely out of context. Bad interpretations are possible, but CU don’t quibble over interpretations between denominations as this leads to disharmony and undermines our efforts to create unity. Besides, a male pastor (SB’s e.g) would normally have a team, made up of both males and females, they support him and help run the church, just as the committee members back the CU President.
PB: CU is united around belief in Jesus. Some issues are not discussed to keep central unity.
EM: But gender discrimination is an issue that impinges on wider society. It is a contentious topic that affects more than just CU members. If CU are seen to condone gender discrimination, then it is to the detriment of a global society. British society regards equality of opportunity to be of paramount importance within any civilised community. CU will keep getting misrepresented, if they do not explain their actions, and it is a misrepresentation on a subject that is highly sensitive. To explain to your members that CU does not discriminate against women is not enough. You must be beyond reproach, and make sure that everybody knows that you would never actively discriminate against a women who was nominated for the CU presidency.
PB: To be honest, we work very closely as a team to run CU, the President and Vice President alternate leading committee meetings and there has always been two men and two women within the team. It works really well like this.
GU: But the membership do not see this
TO: Yes, the President is the figurehead and the representative for the society.
EM: CU is one of the largest societies. It holds extremely successful events, both within the University and the community. It would be a huge shame for all of your hard work to be eclipsed by the issue of your president’s gender.
GG: Is CU’s election contravening Societies/ Su constitution guidelines?
MD/S: We discussed this issue in depth with Andy (Griffiths – previous Societies Officer) last year and it was decided that we were not in breach of either.
(EM checks this with Ian Wiggins. GG also reviews the Constitution)
Societies should follow the Students’ Union constitution, but as they are affiliated only, they are not bound by all of it. They are not mandated to follow the ‘policy file’, but they have to abide by the ‘regulations’. The reason that ‘The Code of Practice’ was introduced (which all societies have to abide by) was so that there was a governing document for societies that included elements of the policy file. The ‘Code of Practice’ is alterable at Societies’ and AU Council. At the moment, you are not in breach of either the Code of Practice or the SU constitution. However, the CU’s constitution itself contains a misnomer, in that there are no ‘elections’ within the CU, only appointments. The members do not elect their new committee, they ratify their appointment. The ‘Elections’ part of the CU constitution therefore needs to be changed to ‘Appointment Procedures’ so as to fall in line with Chapter 18 of the Student Union ‘Regulations’. In this respect, Cu will run in the same manner as ‘Karnival’.
MD/S: How can we let people know how our elections are run and how they are fair and open to all?
EM: Perhaps it would be wise to put a statement on the CU website, explaining how the committee are appointed. You should also make a conscious effort to consider everybody as fully as possible when appointing the committee this year.
GU: Does the CU membership have information of all the people nominated? It would be a good idea to release a list of all nominated people to the members, then a list of those people whom the CU committee have proposed. This way, the whole process is more transparent.
GG: But isn’t the recommendation process still unconstuitional?
MD/S: We’re trying to conform as much as possible without compromising belief.
EM: We shouldn’t ignore CU’s need to build a good, strong team.
Ian Wiggins: The selection process is a grey area. CU are not directly contravening the Students’ Union Constitution, but their process of selection is not strictly good practice.
EM: We’ve been here for two and a half hours. I want to take some time out, for each party to clarify where things stand. CU will issue a statement on the website and Ian and I will look at ways to make the CU constitution more transparent, to reflect the way in which the committee are actually appointed. We can meet again in the next few weeks to ascertain where to go from here.