The Gideons in the UK

13th October 2021

Dear Church Leader

You may have received a letter recently from “Good News for Everyone“. Some of their members were formerly part of the UK Gideon ministry. UK. The letter has caused some confusion which this article seeks to address.

For many years a small, but vocal, group within the Gideon Ministry in the UK had been pressing the leadership to change the membership criteria. They believed that a “men only” ministry was outdated and that admitting women as members would make them more attractive to churches and supporters and would reverse the declining membership.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.

When that did not happen, a certain member sought to force the action by writing to the Charity Commission accusing the Gideon Ministry of being in contravention of the Equality Act.

The UK Gideons’ constitution required the permission of the international governing body (TGI) before such a change could be made. Permission was refused on the grounds that The Gideons International is a fellowship of professional and business men for mutual support in their Christian walk and in the placing of Scripture. The 300,000 or so men in over 200 countries adhere to exactly the same foundational values and constitution.

The UK leadership knew that by changing the constitution against the wishes of TGI that they would be expelled from the Gideon Ministry and would not be able to use the Gideon name which is protected as an international trademark. They signed an agreement in 1974. The relevant section is shown below.

The right and license [sic] herein granted may be cancelled and terminated on one year’s notice in writing given by either party hereto to the other party, provided, however, that such cancellation shall not release the party giving notice from fulfilment [sic] of any outstanding obligations existing as of the date of such notice, and provided further party of the second part hereby agrees to cease and desist from using the designation GIDEON and Design or any term or design confusingly similar thereto in any way, either as a designation for publications or services, or as a part of a corporate or firm name after one year from the date of such notice.”

It is true that, if challenged, a certain aspect of the membership criteria might be deemed to be in contravention of the Act although in the preceding five years no one, including the Charity Commission, had questioned it. None of the legal advice received categorically stated that the only option was to open membership to women and the Act itself makes it very clear that single gender associations are permitted. TGI were more than willing to allow adjustments to the constitution to comply with the law and had offered to underwrite any legal costs involved. The letter suggests that concerns about the Equality Act and the Charity Commission led to the decision to change the membership criteria. That is not true.

At the 2018 AGM a vote was passed to change the constitution in the full knowledge of the consequences. They failed to honour the above agreement, attempted to register the name GideonsUK with the UK Intellectual Property Office without informing the TGI of their intentions. They lost the inevitable legal case in November 2018 , received severe opprobrium from the judge and were required to pay substantial damages and costs. The UK association had dishonestly attempted to benefit from another’s reputation. Following that the name was changed to “Good News for Everyone”

In spite of the fact that their own actions have resulted the bulk of UK Gideons leaving the ministry they nevertheless attempted, as the letter makes clear, to prevent the Gideons International from continuing the ministry in the UK. Had they been successful the UK might have been be the only country in the free world without a Gideon Bible in a hotel room.

Not all Gideons accepted the 2018 AGM vote and were able to continue their Gideon membership directly with TGI. By God’s grace there are now Gideons in most parts of the UK and Northern Ireland and you may see some parallels with the story in the book of Judges. .

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 further the worldwide ministry chooses to change it’s foundational values then we will accept that and in the meantime the Gideon Ministry in the UK continues.

John Coldwell
National Field Coordinator