Today again, I’m going to focus on gender, and it’s going to be dualistic. My personal belief is that gender is fluid, that we cannot just say brothers and sisters, that we need to add sibling. I know that many of God’s Beloved identify as gender queer, I have the utmost respect and do my best to pull myself out of the binary gender world I have grown up in. However, I hate saying this, binary gender is what this post is about. I truly believe that in my title gender representation means ALL genders beyond binary. I am willing and wanting to learn more, but as an ally, I will keep educating myself because it’s my responsibility to.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. -Galatians 3:28
Last week, I wrote about the lack of women’s voices in the original group of conveners for the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). During a #dreamumc Twitter meet-up slash group conversation, as I continually pushed that 11% was not good enough for me, I heard that women were welcomed in the WCA. In fact they were encouraged to be in leadership and that the involvement of women in the WCA was better than the status quo.
I expect more than the status quo from a group that is starting a renewal movement that marks Gender Equality as priority. The beauty about starting something from scratch is that the WCA does not have to deal with centuries of patriarchy, androcentrism, and sexism. They have the potential to start from a clean slate, yet, I keep coming back to the 11%. Let’s say I did buy the status quo argument. How does the WCA stack up to the status quo?
This past week, Huffington Post had a headline with At America’s Largest Companies, Just 7% of CEOs are Women and then Religion News Service had White male leadership persists at evangelical ministries. Finally, Christianity Today posted this: Who’s Afraid of Her Own Authority, which hit close to home as a woman who has struggled to grasp my own God-given agency and authority:
Sandberg writes, “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back.” This can be especially true for some evangelical women who subtly, even subconsciously, come to believe that avoiding leadership is part of being a godly woman. But encouraging women to embrace authority is essential to discipleship, and it’s a task that all of us—those who favor women’s ordination as well as those who don’t—can embrace. For both men and women, learning to embody authority is essential to human flourishing.
In the WCA, women are not represented in the fullness of creation, or we could just say plain underrepresented (11%). This isn’t just a church issue, it’s societal. Yet, for those of us who name ourselves as religious, as Christians, as Wesleyans. We must do better, and we can do better. So how do other United Methodist caucuses stack up? I used data collected by General Commission on the Status & Role of Women (GCSRW—but, if you’re Methodist, you’ve likely heard them called “COSROW”), and I contacted both conservative and progressives caucuses to see how they stacked up in regards to gender equality.
I’m going to start with the data from GCSRW (I love you; you are my favorite) and jump into who is at the table at General Conference: At General Conference, gender is broken down from the 36% women delegates into laity and clergy: “44% of the delegates from the United States are female, 56% are male. In addition, 36% of clergy delegates are clergywomen and 64% are clergymen, while 52% of lay delegates are women and 48% are men.”
As many of us embedded into the Methodist system, we know how important our District Superintendents are. Only 34% are female and 66% are male. That’s just ⅓ of women sitting at those tables where clergy appointments are made and advocating for women with a lens informed by gender.
Then we have our bishops. GCSRW’s data is from June 2016, and 28% of bishops are female, with 72% male. Though it is totally worth noting that during the Jurisdictional Conferences, for the first time 7 women were elected bishops.
As the September 2016 issue of United Methodist Women’s response magazine shared, 58% of members of The United Methodist Church are women. Yet only 24% of United Methodist active and retired clergy are women.
I reached out to the Confessing Movement, the Institute of Religion & Democracy (I say this fondly, the other IRD), and the Good News for the gender breakdown on their boards. I graciously heard back from Patricia Miller of the Confessing Movement and John Lomperis of the IRD. The Confessing Movement has a female executive director (ED) with a board consisting of 5 women and 29 men, making it 15% female. The IRD’s United Methodist group has two different committees: steering and advisory. The steering committee has 6/16 women making it 38% female, while the advisory committee has 3/16 making it 19% female. Lead by a male, John Lomperis, whose boss, Mark Tooley, is also male.
From the opposite theological spectrum I reached out to the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), Reconciling Ministries Network, and Affirmation. (Thank you to Joey Lopez, M Barclay, and Walter Lockhart.) The MFSA’s interim ED is female, while the board is 50/50 in terms of gender. RMN has a male ED, while the board is 10 women and 9 men, so 53% female. Affirmation’s board has 4 females, 5 males making it 45% female.
(I also reached out to a few of our ethnic caucuses and hadn’t heard back by the time of this blog; if I do hear back, I will add that information to this post.)
What can we learn from the numbers? The majority of The United Methodist Church leadership is still male. Majority of conservative/orthodox caucuses of the church are also male (shout out to the IRD for 38% on the steering committee). When we compare the 11% female representation of the WCA to their like counterparts, they don’t hit the status quo set by those groups. There is work to be done.
Then when we integrate the progressive groups, they are all close to 50%, or in RMN’s case 53% female! WCA, you can do this. I believe in you. Theologically, I disagree with the WCA and I worry about WCA congregations not accepting women in their pulpits in the long term. I believe that it is vital for women to be in leadership equally, 50/50 to prevent patriarchy from taking over. It all stems to my biggest fear that women will just leave the church, we know that women are leaving the church at increasing numbers, and I believe it’s because women are losing our voices because we accept the status quo of gender parity as good enough.
Most importantly, I believe that the status quo is just another part of the patriarchal system, a system that stands between Christians and the actualization of the Kin-dom of God. As a Christian, as a woman, I will keep pushing back against the status quo. 50/50 gender parity or bust.