DISAGREEMENT over whether to allow women to be full members of The Gideons was behind a split in the organisation in the UK, and the emergence of a new group, Good News for Everyone!, which offers full membership to men and women (News, 1 October).
Women were formerly allowed only to be members of a separate part of the Gideons’ organisation, known as the Auxiliary.
Trustees of Gideons UK agreed in 2018 that they could no longer justify to the Charity Commission the exclusion of women as full members, and members were asked to amend the constitution to admit women.
The change attracted “overwhelming support” from members, the executive director of Good News for Everyone!, Iain Mair, and president, William Thomas, wrote in a letter to clergy.
The change in constitution was rejected by The Gideons International, however, which took legal action to prevent the Gideon name being used by the group under its new constitution. They won the case, and the Gideons who supported the new constitution in the UK were required to rebrand themselves as Good News for Everyone! A number of members who had refused to accept the change to the constitution continue to operate in the UK as The Gideons International in the United Kingdom.
The letter from Good News for Everyone! to clergy, sent at the end of last month, said: “There are still a very small number of men in the UK who belong to The Gideons International. They are known as The Gideons International in the UK, ie exclusively a men’s ministry, and women are not allowed to become full members. We did request the USA Gideons not to set up another Association in the UK as we were concerned it could cause confusion in the eyes of our many supporters but sadly they refused.”
Good News for Everyone! said that its core focus remained as before: sharing Bibles and New Testaments, leading assemblies in schools and RE lessons, and providing scriptures for distribution around the world.
Gideons International in the UK also continues to distribute Bibles and New Testaments to hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, prisons, and care homes, besides holding “Bible blitzes” to deliver Bibles in a concentrated area.
In a blog post on its website, John Coldwell, the national field adviser for The Gideons International in the UK, said that the change to membership criteria had been led by a “small but vocal group. . . They believed that a ‘men only’ ministry was outdated and that admitting women as members would make them more attractive to churches and supporters and would reverse the declining membership.
“A 2014 survey of members’ opinion revealed that 79% were in favour of such a change. That small militant group took this as a vindication of their opinion and expected immediate change.”
Mr Coldwell said that, while “a certain aspect of the membership criteria might be deemed to be in contravention of the [Equality] Act” in five years, it had not been questioned by the Charity Commission and The Gideons International had offered to make changes to comply with the law.
Mr Coldwell said: “Whatever our personal views about membership, we believe that we must accept the authority under which we placed ourselves, and that schism and division amongst Christian men is certainly not the Lord’s will. If, at some point in the future, the worldwide ministry chooses to change its foundational values, then we will accept that, and, in the mean time, The Gideon Ministry in the UK continues.”