General Commission on the Status and Role of Women Urges United Methodist Support for Amendment One

CHICAGO— The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) urges United Methodists to support Constitutional amendment one that will be brought forth for a revote in all annual conferences in 2018 and 2019.

The proposed Constitutional amendment affirms that both men and women are made in the image of God and commits The United Methodist Church to confront gender discrimination. If ratified by 2/3 of all voting members of annual conferences, the amendment will become Paragraph 6 in The United Methodist Constitution.

“The mission of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women is to equip the church in addressing gender justice issues and to help the church to recognize children and adults, women and men, lay and clergy, as full and equal members of God’s family,” stated Bishop Tracy S. Malone of the East Ohio Annual Conference, President of GCSRW’s board of directors. “This added paragraph specifically addresses confronting and eliminating discrimination and the dehumanization of women and girls, and this commitment is foundational to the mission and scope of GCSRW’s work.”

“The lessons of the first vote show us that the worldwide Church was only 100 votes away from affirming the value of women and girls in our United Methodist Constitution,” said Dawn Wiggins Hare, General Secretary of GCSRW. “Every vote at every annual conference around the world counts! This is a time for action. Call, email, write letters, post on Facebook, and talk to friends. Spread the word. This is the time to act!”

On May 10, 2018, The Rev. Gary. W. Graves, Secretary of the General Conference, announced that there was an error in the proposed Constitutional amendment. A sentence that had been removed by the General Conference was included in the text provided to annual conferences for voting that occurred in 2017 and early 2018.

The amendment approved by the General Conference should have read: “As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God. The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten women’s and girls’ equality and well-being.”

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The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women advocates for the full participation of women in the total life of The United Methodist Church. GCSRW helps the church recognize every person – clergy and lay, women and men, adults and children – as full and equal parts of God’s human family. They believe that a fully engaged and empowered membership is vital to The United Methodist Church’s mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

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GCSRW Statement Regarding Proposed Constitutional Amendments One and Two

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

For twenty-eight years, the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) has attempted to pass an amendment to The United Methodist Constitution protecting the rights of women to membership in the local church. Our legislation, which was modified by the General Conference, passed by the necessary two-thirds majority at General Conference 2016 and was forwarded to each individual annual conference across the connection for a vote. A two-thirds aggregate vote was needed for ratification of the decision of General Conference.

On Monday, May 7, 2018, the Council of Bishops released the results of the church-wide votes on the five Constitutional Amendments that passed General Conference. The two Amendments that sought to claim language that both women and men are created in the image of God, that committed our church to work for the elimination of discrimination against women and girls, and that sought to assure an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the local church for women did not receive the two-thirds necessary vote.

For the last several days, we have taken time to grieve.

Today, we give thanks.

We give thanks for the tireless efforts of our board members, colleagues, and allies across the church, including Annual Conference Commissions on the Status and Role of Women, United Methodist Women, the Division on Young Peoples’ Ministry, and DisAbility Ministries, who not only worked for the passage of this legislation, but who work every day in ministry to teach young girls that they are of sacred worth, who nominate and elect women into positions of leadership within and beyond the local church, who encourage women to use their gifts, and who welcome women pastors.

We give thanks for the Council of Bishops and its statement making an unequivocal commitment to the equality of women and their full inclusion in our Church.

We give thanks for the women bishops of the church who issued a pastoral statement (and for the men bishops who unanimously affirmed their statement) committing themselves “to researching why these amendments failed and what actions we can take to create a world where all people are able to live in safety, justice, and love.”

We give thanks for the transparency that the Council of Bishops shared in releasing the breakdown of the annual conference votes on the amendments.

We ask that you not point fingers, but reflect and examine what the data of the votes shows for each annual conference by making the following inquiries:

  • What is my annual conference doing to encourage the full inclusion of women in leadership?
  • What is my local church doing to teach girls and boys, women and men, that they are all created in the image of God and are of sacred worth and have a right to an equal place in the full life of the local church?

As mandated by The United Methodist Book of Discipline, we, The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women challenge The United Methodist Church to do more than “talk the talk.” We challenge the church to “walk the walk.”

We, at The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, commit ourselves to continue to advocate for women individually and collectively within The United Methodist Church, to work to be a catalyst to redress inequities of the past and to prevent future inequities against women in The United Methodist Church, and to monitor to ensure inclusiveness in the programmatic and administrative functioning of the church by providing resources and support.

As mandated by Christ, let us live fully into the gospel promise that “there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) Therefore, we call on the people of The United Methodist Church to develop and fund programs, resources, and ministries within each annual conference to help us be who Christ has called us to be.

Take time to grieve. Take time to give thanks. Take time to act!

 

Blessings,

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Bishop Tracy S. Malone                                             

President of the Board

General Commission on the Status and Role of Women of The United Methodist Church                         

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Dawn Wiggins Hare

General Secretary

General Commission on the Status and Role of Women of The United Methodist Church


Find a PDF of this statement here: GCSRW statement

 

Reflection on South Carolina COSROW’s “Violence in Relationships”

By Rev. Cathy Mitchell

South Carolina COSROW’s domestic violence workshop was very powerful, informative, yet, heart-wrenching.  When Easter LaRoche, the keynote speaker of this event and Victim’s Advocate for the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, asked for those in attendance who had been a victim or one otherwise affected by domestic violence to raise their hands, it was the majority of those in attendance.  Often, people don’t feel the need to educate themselves about issues that do not affect them directly.  I thank God for Easter LaRoche, who is also a member of the church I pastor.

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Rev. Cathy Mitchell

Easter’s compassion for this ministry and the forethought of bringing a victim before our congregation to give their testimony about their experiences during our annual worship service dedicated to Domestic Violence Awareness was brilliant. Danielle Richardson, who told her story in this workshop, was one of my church’s speakers for our Domestic Violence Walk a few years prior to this program. Danielle’s story ignited a deeper and more urgent desire in me to educate others about domestic violence.  Hearing the story about how she and her brothers, listening to their mother’s screams, locked in their bedroom from the outside by her father, while her mother was being stabbed to death on the other side of their bedroom door, was quite different from just reading about it or hearing about it on the news; it became a vivid reality.  Learning that her mother died from bleeding to death, because even though the paramedics arrived,  policy states that the paramedics could not enter the home while the assailant was still inside.  Danielle is now a Victim’s Advocate and writer, who has written a book about her story, that I now share with others whom I have learned are victims of domestic violence.  The book is called, “God Heard My Cries, The Deliverance.”

Danielle’s testimony was so compelling, we began to invite other victims to give their testimony each year before the congregation, which included a mother whose daughter was killed and left at the foot of her stairs in her home, where her daughter’s husband left her to die, dropping one child off to her grandmother, and taking the other child with him.  The little one left with her grandmother said to her, “My mommy is bleeding at home at the bottom of the stairs.” After this gripping testimony, the floor was opened for others in the congregation to share their stories of healing and recovery from domestic violence.  You would not believe the persons who came forward to share their stories, people whom you would have never imagined had experienced such horrors.  One woman shared with the congregation her story of being attacked in a car, on an interstate at a fast rate of speed with her small children in the back seat of the car.  Another woman came forward to tell her story of her husband holding a gun to her head, and actually pulled the trigger, but thanks be to God the gun did not go off.

The last victim that spoke to my congregation was a young man whose mother and all of his siblings were killed by his mother’s boyfriend, while he, the oldest child, was in college.

My prayer is that more churches will invite victims of domestic violence to come and tell their stories before congregations, freeing other victims to seek help and to make others aware of the facts associated with domestic violence; reasons such as why victims stay in these types of relationships, other than the common misconception that they want to, but because of things like fear, and financial dependence on the abuser, just to name a few, that prohibit them from leaving. I would encourage pastors and other agencies to seek out advocates like Easter LaRoche to assist them in hosting awareness programs such as this one that brings the church face-to-face with this awful reality.

I would like to commend, Sheila Haney, the chair of SC’s COSROW and the committee on a job well done!

To read more about the “Violence in Relationships” workshop hosted by South Carolina COSROW, click here.


Rev. Cathy D. Mitchell is an Ordained Elder in the SC Annual Conference.  Rev. Mitchell currently serves as the pastor of Wesley UMC on Johns Island and the Vice President of General Commission on the Status and Role of Women’s board.  

In Celebration of Annual Conferences

By Rev. Leigh Goodrich

May and June are among the most welcoming months of the year.  They coax us outside without benefit of coat or jacket to breathe in the fresh smells of opening blossoms and freshly mown grass.  Among United Methodists in the United States, it is a time set aside for annual conferences to make plans, set rules, worship, reunite, and reignite with colleagues and friends.

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Rev. Leigh Goodrich

 

The past annual conference season was notable for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women as we watched and witnessed discussions around an amendment to Paragraph 4, Article 4 of the Constitution that would guarantee women’s membership in the Church.  However, we observed so much more.

In the Mississippi Annual Conference, a sexual ethics training preceded the annual conference session.  The planning team recreated a fictitious sexual misconduct scenario, capturing the dynamics and complexity of the complaint process for about 800 participants. Questions poured out of the audience as they quizzed each of the characters in the story.  The comments revealed victim blaming, shaming, and church protection.

The following morning, before opening worship, a young clergyman requested a moment of personal privilege and made these remarks:

“Thank you for the ethics training.

I think it exposed many problems that clergy face and how easy it is to blame victims, particularly women.  As a male pastor who considers himself a feminist, I have been shaped by many clergywomen, many of whom are in this room and I want to say I’m sorry. Yesterday I heard sexual harassment in many of the questions that were asked and I was not cognizant of the pain many of my friends and colleagues felt, particularly clergywomen who heard that they were predators and responsible for the misconduct that happens to them.

There are women in the room who have experienced sexual misconduct by powerful men in the Church and their experiences were dismissed and diminished by us, their own colleagues….they heard that they were to blame.  There continues to be a male-centric perspective, and that can unintentionally marginalize the female experience and perpetuate unhealthy attitudes.

We all have our own experiences and we all felt different things yesterday, and our feelings and our own personal experiences do matter, and so we need to acknowledge that many of our words and inability to call out harassment was indeed hurtful.”

This pastor’s confession was followed by opening worship, in which Bishop Swanson appropriately preached about caring for the pains and suffering of the world. He told us that we have all the resources we need for that…our hearts.

Sensitivity to the hearts of all people seeking a more expansive God was evident in the Michigan Area Annual Conference.  Bishop Bard’s masterful use of inclusive language was notable throughout the ordination sermon, which focused on dismantling racism and sexism.  He even used the term “Mother God” in the liturgy. Bard went so far as to correct a quoted theologian who used the term “himself”, without including “herself” in relationship to God.  Bishop Bard modeled for us what it truly means to open ourselves to a God that is so much more than simply male.

Female-led worship was a marker of the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference.  Never before have had so many women participated in annual conference worship!  During his sermon, Bishop David Graves apologized for the racism and sexism that he has witnessed in the Church.  This year’s Alice Lee award, presented by the Annual Conference COSROW and named for the author of the influential novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, went to the director of a groundbreaking ministry for Alzheimer’s patients.  Perhaps most powerful were the heartfelt remarks of Rev. Libba Stinson as she passed the torch by the retirees to the ordination class, marking the first time a woman had ever represented the retiring pastors in that capacity.

In the New England Annual Conference, there was much discussion about the aforementioned amendment guaranteeing women membership in the Church.  It was Fay Flanary, a deaconess and former GCSRW board member, who gave a rousing speech in favor of the amendment, explaining that GCSRW had been trying to establish women’s right to membership for over 28 years.  She clearly explained how women’s membership continues to be unprotected in The United Methodist Constitution and appealed to the body to simply let this “crack open.”  When she sat down, 28-year-old Rev. Sara Garrard rose to speak.  “Friends, we have been trying to protect women in The United Methodist Church for as long as I have been alive.  Isn’t it time?”

It is time for all of us to stand against the sexism that plagues The United Methodist Church and stand up for the rights and protections women deserve.  The annual conferences that we attended showed promising signs of a denomination moving closer to equity for women.  However, this is only a small sample.

We invite you to tell us the stories from your annual conference.  How were women lifted up and encouraged?  How did women share in “the full and equal responsibility and participation…in the total life and mission of the Church, sharing fully in the power and in the policy-making at all levels of the Church’s life?” Tell us tales of women being empowered in your annual conference.


Rev. Leigh Goodrich is Senior Director Of Leadership and Education and the newest member of the GCSRW team.  She is a second-career clergyperson from the New England Annual Conference and frequent blogger for GCSRW.  Email her at lgoodrich@gcsrw.org. 

#HerTruth

by Stephanie Arnold

The team knew we wanted to make a significant difference with our time serving on the North Alabama Commission on the Status and Role of Women. We all knew that women weren’t really getting their ‘fair shake’ as clergy or laywomen within many of our churches.

We began by working hard to plan our COSROW breakfast at Annual Conference. The team didn’t know that I had a personal story to share when they asked me to be our breakfast speaker last year. Yet, when we gathered to plan and as I shared that I had my own experience of sexual harassment, it became evident that many of the lay and clergywomen in the room had their own stories or knew someone who did. We talked about the ways that when these events happened to us we didn’t know what to call it, who to turn to, or if anything could even be done about it…often we just took the abuse. But what we did know is that it wasn’t right! So we decided to form the COSROW breakfast around storytelling, sharing the experiences of women in our Annual Conference and developing an honest, powerful narrative around these issues to remind us that if we could come together around this cause, we could affect change in dramatic and life-giving ways.

We sent a conference-wide email to women asking them to share their confidential stories of abuse, harassment, and discrimination, promising to protect their identity. We received far more stories than we could possibly share at one time! Then we recruited male allies in the conference who would read these women’s accounts in the first person as if it was their own personal story they were sharing.

During the breakfast, one by one, the men shared the accounts of abuse, harassment, and discrimination of some of the women in our Conference and the room grew silent. Eyes welled with tears. People audibly sighed. Our Bishop and some members of the cabinet were with us in the room listening to the experiences of women in our Annual Conference. It was as if something was breaking loose, or better yet, breaking free! Our stories were exposed, and, collectively, we told the ugly truth that had been hindering and wounding us for decades even as we had been carrying on masked in our smiling service to the Church. We left the breakfast with hope that now that we had named the abuse, harassment, and discrimination we faced daily as women, maybe we could begin to heal.

At our next COSROW team meeting it was expressed that many people were asking if we had recorded the breakfast. We had not. Then we considered redesigning it from a ‘talk’ into a resource for our Conference, churches, and others to use for training purposes. We felt that perhaps this video could help clergy and laywomen address the issues facing them without having to risk retaliation and isolation for bringing it up without support and statistical evidence of its validity. We wanted to turn our collective struggle and pain into a tool to empower and equip others to have healthier experiences.

So the team got to work! We rewrote the script, developed the shots, inquired with local churches to allow us to video on their premises, invited other lay and clergy persons to be in the video, and began editing it all together. I am not going to lie…it took more hours than we can count. We lived and breathed this project for months. We combed through personal stories, read the Discipline, listened to music to underlay on the video, memorized line by line of text to be spoken, and scheduled multiple days of shooting video.

When we completed the editing process we drafted The Book of Discipline appendix, discussion guide, and church assessment. All of these were part of the package to enable persons or churches to ask tough questions about their experiences and challenge assumptions and internal bias.

Once it was all ready the team had a plan in place to get it on our Annual Conference web page, social media, and send via email to as many people in our Conference as we could possibly reach. As we sent it out, we invited everyone in our networks to share the video with others, and if they had a story of abuse, harassment, or discrimination they felt they could share, to do so with the hashtag ‘#HerTruth’. We wanted to break the silence and spark a movement in our Annual Conference that we were not going to idly sit by and continue to be talked about inappropriately, objectified, abused, paid less, and given less opportunity without shining a spotlight on it for what it really is: abuse, harassment, and systematic discrimination. There is no place for sexism in The United Methodist Church and we were no longer going to be complicit to its prevalence!

The response has been overwhelming for our North Alabama COSROW team. While we are glad this work has touched so many and given voice to their pain and struggle, it has proven what we all experienced around the table that Saturday morning when we first planned the breakfast. Despite our condemnation of it in The Discipline, sexual abuse, harassment, and discrimination continue to be widespread, even in our beloved UMC. Bringing an end to sexism in all its forms is part of the ‘charge to keep’ we ALL have as United Methodist. Please join the fight!

#HerTruth


View the #HerTruth video and resources here.

Paragraph 4, Article 4: A pastor and a mother shares her passion about an amendment to the UMC Constitution

BY REV. CAROL BLAIR BOUSE
Detroit Conference Board of Justice, Advocacy and Equity

It was September of 2002, I was so excited I was having a baby – a New Year’s baby, just having learned it was a boy. We were so excited!

Then reality hit, and it hit hard. At just 23 weeks into my pregnancy my body began to give birth, thankfully my doctors held it off for eight days. At just 24 weeks (16 weeks premature) my son, Jacob, was born. He weighed in at 645 grams.

A long hard road was before us. Ninety-five days later, just days before his actual due date, Jacob came home. Yet the road was not over. Now 14+ years later I am still on that journey. Jacob is not a “normal” kid; he has Cerebral Palsy and is on the autism spectrum. Yet the joy and faith that Jacob has encourage me every day!

Why do I tell you all this? Because we have the opportunity this year at Annual Conference to make sure that no pastor can tell Jacob that he cannot be a member of a United Methodist congregation.

How can we do this? Finally, after years of trying, at the 2016 General Conference, a change was approved for the Constitution of The United Methodist Church in Paragraph 4, Article IV. Now all Annual Conferences of the denomination, including Detroit and West Michigan, must vote on that change. Every amendment to the UMC Constitution must be approved by 2/3 of all votes cast at Annual and Central Conferences around the world.

I faithfully serve as pastor at Hope UMC in Flint and I serve on the Detroit Conference Board of Justice, Advocacy and Equity, which includes Church and Society, Disability Concerns and Status and Role of Women. In November of 2016, I had the privilege of representing both Detroit and West Michigan at the quadrennial planning meeting for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW). Much of the focus of that meeting was the hoped-for passage of Paragraph 4, Article IV.

I am writing today to encourage you to learn about and vote in favor of the change to Paragraph 4, Article IV and to encourage others to do so as well. There is a simple one-page information sheet that I invite every lay and clergy member to look at and study. Click here to find it. Also, I hope you will view and share the video produced by GCSRW, UMW and others to help us understand the amendment.

At General Conference, the words of ability, gender, age, and marital status were added to the list of protected status for membership.

Without the protection such an amendment would afford, a church could bar Jacob from membership, just because he is disabled. Or a conference could be created that says you must have a certain marital status, or a board could be formed that barred woman from serving. While most of us cannot imagine any of these things happening, we need to take this step to assure that they cannot.

Please join me in protecting Jacob and others from discrimination within our church structure. Please note that all of these words are the language that is consistent with the rest of The Book of Discipline.

While we gather together for the vote on June 3, I hope Detroit and West Michigan will pass Paragraph 4, Article IV unanimously.


This blog post originally was share on the Michigan Area Annual Conference’s blog. It is being shared with permission. To view the original post, please click here.

The Interconnectedness of Age

by Anthony Sy

In the United Methodist Church, no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, ability or economic condition, nor shall any member be denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.

Introduction

While the different changes to Article 4 are all inextricably linked, one change that may seem lesser to the others is age. From the descriptions of the changes produced by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, age constitutionally protects members from being excluded based on a person’s age; particularly the very young and the very old. One may think, why is this necessary? What role does age play in the church? What defines these age groups? I will attempt here to extrapolate my ideas on the inclusion of age in Article 4.

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Anthony Sy is pictured front row, center.

 

Social Diversity

Each church contains a variable age range which helps contribute to the social diversity. Within each United Methodist Church, decisions must be made on a regular basis regarding things like – but not limited to – financial investments of the church, vision and goals, community involvement, and congregational/church events. Without the inclusion of the very young and the very old, much of the immediate events may only be suited for a specific age range. This speaks to not only the awareness of the church and its members but also exhibits a lack of empathy and understanding of these groups of people.

In addition, it does not consider their role in the future of the church. If the very young and the very old are excluded from being members/constituent bodies of the church, then there is a higher chance of disregarding them as part of the future of the church. Though cliché, the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” can very well be an issue if age is excluded from the changes in Article 4. Through my own experiences in the Church, I know very well that the dominant ideas in the Church do not come from the children, and not many may come from the very old. This should not discredit the necessity to include them in the Church. In fact, I believe that it should encourage congregations to include these ideas, however big or small. While this does not necessitate that the local church act on these ideas, it does speak to the hearts of the people in the church, saying, “We care about what you think.”

 

Who Am I?

I will ask you for a moment to think about a time you were young (in your own understanding of ‘young’). Whether it be in school, work, at home, think of a moment in your life where you were left out because of your age. I remember a particular time when I was presenting ideas to a crowd of much older people, and though they listened, they brushed off my idea with a simple, “Yeah, that sounds nice.”  Unfortunately, now that I have grown up, I have to admit that I have done this same thing to those who were younger than me. The reason I urge you to think about these moments is that these encounters make us who we are. They inform us of what ideas others think is important, and if what we say is important to them. In social settings, much of these exclusionary methods are common practice and some even thought to be social norms. What about the Church?

Some churches may work around the framework of building upon what the church has/needs. Though this may be true, what we as a church have to think about when discussing these changes to the Article 4 are not, “Who can contribute?”, but rather, “Who does God accept into the church?” All people should feel important; no, all people should know they are important.  Much has changed over the history of the Church, but I believe that these changes are not only helping think through what God envisioned the Church to be but, on a deeper level, making us as a people more human. More accepting of others. This is what I charge you to think about when deliberating the addition of ‘age’ to Article 4: Does this change bring the Church together? Does this change exhibit the love and inclusiveness that Jesus Christ showed when he walked the Earth? Does this change open our doors to God’s people?


Anthony is a graduating senior at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. He hopes to take his bachelor’s in Early Childhood and Family Studies to graduate school and attain a Doctorate in Physical Therapy with a specialization in pediatrics. Anthony is very involved within his local church of Beacon UMC and plays the drums for the praise team. He is also a leader in their youth group. One of Anthony’s passions in ministry is Christmas Institute – Pacific Northwest. Anthony is a co-director of the Christmas retreat and finds some of the most meaningful work connecting youth and young adults to Christ.