What Might Heraclitus Think? : Some Thoughts on Our New Female Episcopal Leaders

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

Heraclitus was a pre-Socratic philosopher from Ephesus, famous for his insistence that change is an always present and fundamental quality of the universe. He is famous for two sayings. The first, “No man [sic] ever steps in the same river twice.” The second saying reflects the unity of opposites, “the path up and down are one and the same”.  It seems the results of the recent episcopal elections in The United Methodist Church in the United States would not come as a surprise to our friend Heraclitus.for leigh bishop blog

After two relatively static quadrennia, a change in the gender composition of the Council of Bishops might seem overdue. From 2008 to 2012, 28% of our episcopal leaders in the United States were women, and from 2012 to 2016 that percentage dropped four points to 24%. While this number roughly reflects the percentage of women serving in ordained ministry in the U.S., it does not come close to representing the nearly 58% of women who call themselves United Methodists in this country.

However, the recent episcopal elections promise to change the landscape of the United States’ representatives on the Council of Bishops. The addition of seven new female bishops to the nine female bishops remaining after retirements, brings the total number of women bishops to 16 for the next quadrennium. This means that the percentage of US women bishops on the Council of Bishops jumps from 24% to 35% for the next four years. This is a significant increase in female episcopal leadership both nationally, and in the five U.S. Colleges of Bishops.

The Western Jurisdiction continues to lead all jurisdictions in percentages of female bishops, moving from 40% to 60% with the election of one woman. The Northeast follows, electing two women, and jumping from 33% to 44% female bishops. The Southeast also elected two women, moving up from 23% to 38% women bishops.   The North Central Jurisdiction also elected two women, jumping from 22% to 33%. Only the South Central College experienced a decline in female episcopal leadership, moving from 22% to 10% with the retirement of Bishop Huie. In terms of raw numbers, the Southeastern Jurisdiction has the most female bishops with 5, followed by the Northeast with 4, North Central and Western with 3, and South Central with 1.

Perhaps the greatest change will be seen at the Annual Conference level. At the local level, a new female bishop can provide a model and foundation on which other talented women, both lay and clergy, might develop skills, find a mentor and discover their unique voice in their Annual Conference and beyond. All of our bishops, regardless of gender, have the potential to significantly impact the future of the Church, since their choices of District Superintendents and Directors of Connectional Ministries, as well as appointments to large churches, often prepare clergy for the episcopacy, while their suggestions and promotion of jurisdictional and general church board members create new opportunities for both lay and clergy. It will be interesting to see the influence of women clergy in this process. Will it vary significantly from their male counterparts? Will their influence change the overall demographics of United Methodist leadership?

photo of Leigh

Rev. Leigh Goodrich

Our philosopher friend Heraclitus would probably say yes. From the perspective of 2,500 years, he might tell us that the one thing about life that never changes is change. The river continues to flow, morphing into a new river with each passing second, complete with new life and new streams. So it is with our Church, which moves and changes into something new regularly, although it may seem barely discernible to some. Heraclitus would also remind us that the path up is the same as the path down. The future of The United Methodist Church rests on the willingness of our episcopal leaders to groom talented people in their Annual Conferences for leadership positions, just as they were groomed.

We will have to wait and see the impact of more women on the Council of Bishops and the Colleges of Bishops. However, it is our hope that these significant shifts will continue to guide us on the journey toward “the full and equal responsibility and participation of women in the total life and mission of the Church, sharing fully in the power and policy-making at all levels of the Church’s life.” May it be so.

Leigh Goodrich is Sr. Dir. 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.  You can read more about her here or email her at lgoodrich@gcsrw.org. 

Why We Count Women

by Elaine Moy and Rev. Leigh Goodrich

Let’s take a moment to play a game.

Please think of a “power” committee in your local church. A committee that wields a good degree of influence, perhaps the Finance Committee or the Board of Trustees. Picture the people in the group. Look at the faces of each man and woman who sit on the committee. Remember this is not real, it’s a game. For every man on the committee, replace him with a woman. For every women on the committee, replace her with a man.

What does the committee look like now?

How do you feel about the committee?

In many instances, this committee might look more like the Children’s Ministries or Hospitality Committee. The newly revised Finance Committee is now populated with a majority of women. This is because, in most of our United Methodist churches, districts, annual conferences, jurisdictional conferences, and at General Conference, important decisions, many of which involve money, are made by men.

Why does gender matter?

Many times it isn’t that a man is nominated or elected because he is a man. It is because of the role he fills in society or in the church: a banker, a lawyer, a business owner usually translates to a good person to lead finance, trustees or SPRC. That leadership role moves the person to other forms of leadership in the Annual, Jurisdictional or General Conference. The intent is not to place a man in a position. The intent is to transfer skills assumed to exist in one role into another committee.

So what is wrong with having those roles on the power committee? A woman can be in those roles too. I have heard, if she is in that role, she can be on the committee. It is not because we exclude women intentionally.

However, the question still plagues us: does a woman have the same opportunities to be in those roles too? Let’s think of an annual conference structure in which leadership includes people on the cabinet – DS, DCM, Finance, Bishop, Assistant to the Bishop. Does a woman have the same opportunity as a man to be placed in those roles? Will the answer to this question be different if a man or woman is answering it?

In reality, there are still systemic issues regarding women within the life of the Church (ie: people nominate others in their own social circles for the committees in which they are active, local churches request that they not be sent a woman pastor, female clergy who have no intention of having children are “mommy tracked,” and so on), we can safely say that men and women do not have the same opportunities for leadership roles.

Let’s play the game again…

What if we switched every man for a woman and every woman for a man on the cabinet in your annual conference? How does that change the gender composition of the cabinet? How does that affect the perception you have of the cabinet? How will others perceive the cabinet? What might people say?

Sometimes parishioners who learn that their ordained clergy staff includes more than one woman complain that this is not inclusive. They believe that, if the church staff includes a woman pastor, then the other ordained clergyperson should be male. However, for decades our churches have happily welcomed two male clergy on their staff. Why is having two women clergy unacceptable, but having two male clergy is acceptable? What is the difference between two male clergy and two female clergy?

Some men say that the leadership doesn’t look like them anymore? In terms of gender, our leadership does not reflect the over 50 percent of female parishioners who populate the pews. While 58% of our members are women, over 72% of ordained clergy are men. So, for the majority of our members, leadership frequently doesn’t look like her. And for men, leadership has looked like them for a very long time. This is a shift that has slowly worked its way into our denomination, and will continue to move us to a new place.

So why does it matter?

We can all agree that to make decisions, people need to have important information. This information comes from facts and some from experiences. We can also agree that there are many different types of facts and some are contrary to each other. Experience is a different matter…who we are contributes to our individual experiences. And different people (men and women, young and old, etc.) experience things differently.

In order to make the best decisions for a large organization, it is important to hear the most voices, with the most diverse experiences. So, we encourage committees to be as diverse as possible in order to embrace many viewpoints.

Which causes us to wonder about the Bishops’ “Way Forward” proposal. The architects of this proposal were eleven “conversation partners.” They were probably all picked because of their roles in The United Methodist Church. That is a good place to start. Four represented a more conservative theological position. Four were pastors of some of our largest churches who represent the “middle” theological space, and three were from the progressive arm of the Church. Ten were male, one was female. Ten were white, one was black. If the committee was only to include 11 seats, why 10 men and one woman? Why ten white people and one black person? Why 4 large membership church pastors, when the majority of our churches are much smaller. If the number of committee members were able to be larger, would we add the missing voices? One woman and one racial ethnic man do not speak for all. And, while we do not expect any of the nine white men at the table to yield their seat to a woman, and we hope the one woman and one African American will not yield their seats, we do hope someone might have asked for the circle to be drawn wider to include more women, other races and ethnicities, small and medium size church leaders, young people, and, well, the list goes on…

If this committee was composed of ten women and one man, what would the men say?

Wider representation and a broader perspective is unquestionably what our church needs in order to serve all of her constituencies. That is why the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women counts women. Our Women by the Numbers, published once or twice each month, provides insights into the ways women are represented at key decision-making tables throughout our denomination. We also look at the representation of different races and ethnicities, and ask questions about how these numbers influence the direction of our denomination.

Are We There Yet?

by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward
I simply share comments, heard repeatedly, in too many places for way too long.
“We have had wonderful leadership by men, but will you send us a woman this time?”
“We have done that.  We once had  a male pastor.  It will not work here.”
“How can he do the job of a pastor while being a dad?”

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward

“We have special worship services with our neighbors in other traditions, and they do not accept male pastors.”
“Why are you sending us two clergymen in a row?”
“We hope our next pastor will have a husband and children who will be active in our church.”
“It seems odd to have two men in leadership – a male lead pastor and a male associate pastor.”
I confess.  I changed the gender.  We grin because the questions sound odd, or we laugh because we have been caught in the hard place between the distancing words and our call to ministry.
I was 5 years old in 1956, the year women were granted full clergy rights by my church.  It took 15 years for this news to reach me.   As a result, my own call to ordained ministry was clouded by unknowing and absence of mentoring.  I yearn for women as well as men to be awake and alert to the beckoning grace of God who calls.
Each Advent, I have fun hosting an open house for clergywomen in our conference.  We celebrate the annunciation with laughter, comradeship and deep joy.  I open the episcopal residence to clergywomen as my witness of support for the clergy among us who have a more challenging path simply because they are women.
I am told a few clergymen have asked in good humor when I will host an open house for them.  I want to support my brothers in ministry in every way possible.  I enjoy their companionship in ministry immensely.
I hope the shared comments-gender-reversed are never uttered, but if they are uttered, an open house for clergymen will be planned immediately.  I wait for the end of wounding resistance to women in ministry and to lay women in vocational and public roles.  We yearn together for welcome, encouragement and support for all laity and clergy who are called to share in Christ’s mission.
Sixty years have passed, and we are not there yet.

A native North Carolinian, she was raised on the Morgan family farm in northeastern North Carolina in the community of Corapeake. Her home church, Parkers United Methodist Church, is on a three point charge. Morgan attended Duke University and Duke Divinity School. She met her spouse, Mike, on a volunteer in mission workteam to Bolivia in 1975. They were married in 1977. Together they served as teaching parents at the Methodist Home for Children in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has served as a youth director, Christian educator, pastor, Director of Connectional Ministries and district superintendent in the NC Conference. She was elected to the Episcopacy in July, 2004 and assigned to the Mississippi Conference in 2004 and 2008. She is now back home serving as bishop for the North Carolina Annual Conference. 

Are We There Yet?

by Rev. Laurie Haller

“Laurie, if you and Gary return to Michigan, we’ll have a church waiting for you.  Would you like an appointment in the West Michigan Conference?”  In 1981, two district superintendents in the West Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church traveled to Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut for a seminary visit with my husband, Gary, who was a candidate for ministry.  We were thinking about making our home in Michigan after completing seminary, but there was a major challenge.  I was taught about the love of Jesus as a child, felt called to ministry at a young age and was seeking to become one of the first women ordained in the General Conference Mennonite Church.

laurie haller

Rev. Laurie Haller

“You mean you would allow me, a Mennonite, to serve in a United Methodist Church?”  Knowing that there was great opposition to women in ministry in Mennonite churches, I wondered whether their welcoming gesture was a sign that this might be where God wanted me to live out my call.  In fact, all of the clergy in my Mennonite district in Pennsylvania boycotted my ordination in 1982.

Even thirty-five years ago, The United Methodist Church had open hearts, open minds and open doors and welcomed me into the fold with open arms.  I found a new home and transferred my ordination credentials to The United Methodist Church in 1987.

This is not to say that I haven’t had my moments of struggle as a clergywoman in a traditionally male profession.  In my first part-time rural appointment, I was approached by a congregant who was upset by one of my very first sermons and called the district superintendent.  He gently recommended that I wait to preach a sermon on peacemaking until I had been there for a few months.

I offered to add extra hours to my responsibilities in order to start a youth group and asked if parents would volunteer to take turns caring for our two young children.  We had no family in the area, and all of our babysitters were either in my youth group or Gary’s youth group.  A few SPRC members were upset with my request, with one woman explaining her scramble to find child care when she works odd hours in a grocery store.  As we talked about how prevalent child care concerns are with working parents, we discovered common ground and grace.

At my next part-time appointment, the United Methodist Women gifted me with a portable crib so I could nurse our third child in my office during the first months of her life.  But when I brought the baby with me, it was suggested that this appeared to be unprofessional.  One time when I was serving communion by intinction, a middle-aged man put his hands around my hands as I was holding the cup and left them there for ten seconds.  It was an unsettling position in which to be.

In my first full-time appointment, a complaint was made to the church council that I wasn’t managing my three young children while I was leading worship and preaching.  Oh, and two families left the church before I even arrived because they did not believe in women pastors.  All of this, and it ended up being one of my favorite churches!

A different culture welcomed me at my fourth appointment at a large downtown congregation whose first reaction after hearing that Gary and I would be appointed as co-pastors was, “Who is going to have the senior pastor’s office?” and “Which pastor is going to make the final decisions?”  Even though I was occasionally called the “pastor’s wife,” the congregation strongly affirmed the importance of us making major decisions together, treated us as equals and provided the same salary.  Gary and I decided together that I should take the senior pastor’s office.

In good Wesleyan fashion, we continue going on to perfection.  The stained glass ceiling is still in place at times, as many of our largest congregations prefer to have a male as their senior pastor.  In truth, most small and medium size churches would also love to have a male pastor whose wife who is active in the congregation.  Two for one is always a bargain!

I am mindful that clergywomen still earn less on average than clergymen.  Racial ethnic clergywomen face a different of challenges in cross-racial appointments as well as in their own communities.  In addition, United Methodist clergywomen in other parts of the world have unique, yet similar experiences. 

I am deeply grateful for every church to which I have been appointed and for each congregation in the district where I served as a superintendent.  Like many of my colleagues, I have occasionally been bullied, insulted, dismissed and threatened and have experienced sexual harassment.  People have made comments about my clothes, shoes, accessories and hair.  Yet, most of the time I have been shown grace upon grace.  In every appointment, I have gained new skills, grown in my faith, partnered with laity in creating vital ministry and have had the privilege of walking with parishioners through the most devastating, beautiful and sacred times of their lives.

I have been accepted for who I am and have learned to be kind and understanding with those who are uncomfortable with a female in a clergy role.  Most congregation members eventually realize that the most important quality of their pastor is not their gender but their ability to motivate, inspire and courageously lead their congregation into the future God has in store for them.

Yes, we are still on the journey to full participation of women in the life of the church.  Are we there yet?  Not quite.  Yet we rise every day with joyful hearts, thanking God for the privilege of being in ministry in The United Methodist Church.

Rev. Laurie Haller is an ordained elder in the West Michigan Conference and currently serves as the senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Michigan, the largest UM Church in the Detroit Conference.  She is a delegate to the 2016 General and Jurisdictional Conferences and is an endorsed candidate for the episcopacy in the North Central Jurisdiction.  Laurie’s book Recess; Rediscovering Play and Purpose, was published in 2015 by Cass Community Publishing House in Detroit, Michigan.

Women by the Numbers: Who from the Annual Conferences Is at the Decision-Making Table?

by Amanda Mountain and Rev. Leigh Goodrich


infographic made via Piktochart


A total of 864 delegates will meet from May 10-20th in Portland, Oregon to revise church laws, adopt new ones, and approve plans and budgets for church-wide programs. Half of the delegates are laity and half are clergy, and the number of delegates representing each jurisdiction and each annual conference is proportional to the jurisdiction and annual conference’s membership. Women by the Numbers takes a closer look at who will be at this decision-making table in May. This month, we provide a snapshot of women delegate representation by annual conferences within the United States.

As a review, 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. The United Methodist Church in the US is divided into 5 regional areas called jurisdictions, and then into Annual Conferences within each jurisdiction.  The addendum included with this article shows the breakdown of delegates by annual conference.

Summary of Annual Conferences:

There are four annual conferences—New Mexico, Northwest Texas, Desert Southwest, and Yellowstone—that elected no female delegates to General Conference. Neither Alaska nor the Dakotas Annual Conferences elected any male delegates.  Notably, all of these delegations except Northwest Texas only elect two delegates each.  Red Bird Missionary Conference, South Georgia, Memphis, New Mexico, Northwest Texas, Wisconsin, and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary conference did not elect any female clergy delegates to General Conference, while Peninsula-Delaware annual conference elected no female lay delegates.

In addition to Alaska and the Dakotas with 100% female delegates, other annual conferences with high percentages of female delegates are Greater New Jersey (88% female delegation) and Minnesota (75% female). The annual conferences with the lowest percentage of female delegates are those cited above with no women in their delegation, followed by South Georgia at 12% female, Texas at 16% female, and West Ohio with a delegation that is 33% female.

Compared to overall membership:

Importantly, each annual conference elects an equal number of clergy and lay delegates.  The number of delegates varies every four years based on the number of lay and clergy members within that Annual Conference. The largest annual conferences in the United States according to membership are the North Georgia, Virginia, Western North Carolina, Texas and Florida Annual Conferences. [1]  These are important annual conferences to watch because they elect multiple delegates and have the greatest opportunity to exercise gender parity in those elections.  The percentage of female delegates in three of these annual conferences exceeds 50%. In contrast, North Georgia’s delegation is 27% female, and Texas elected a delegation that is 16% female. In summary, two of the largest annual conferences, North Georgia and Texas, with 22 and 18 total delegates, respectively, elected low percentages of female delegates to General Conference.

Lay membership compared to lay delegates

Three of the top 5 largest annual conferences hold a disproportionate amount of female delegates to female lay members. For example, women account for 57% of all lay members in the North Georgia Annual Conference but only 30% of their lay delegation. The Texas annual conference is similar with women accounting for 57% of lay members but only 22% of the lay delegation, and in Florida women account for 60% of all lay members but are less represented at only 56% of the lay delegation.

Women in two of the largest annual conferences are proportionately represented. Virginia’s lay membership is 57% female and their lay delegation is 64% women, and in Western North Carolina, women account for 56% of all annual conference lay members and 70% of their lay delegation.

Clergy membership compared to clergy delegates

Two of the top 5 largest annual conferences hold disproportionate amount of female delegates to female clergy members. In North Georgia, women account for 33% of all clergy, but only 25% of their clergy delegation. In Texas, 31% of all clergy are women, but only 22% of the clergy delegation.

Women in three of the largest annual conferences are proportionately represented, or better. Virginia’s clergy membership is 32% female and their clergy delegation is 36% female. So does Western North Carolina with its clergy delegation being 40% female while its annual conference clergy membership is only 35% female.  Florida is a standout, with 24% of its annual conference clergy members being women, while its clergy delegation is 56% female!


Female delegates from annual conferences in the United States tend to be more representative of lay and clergy membership with a few exceptions. When looking at the top 5 annual conferences by membership, and thus the largest US delegations, all of these delegations come from the South Central and Southeastern Jurisdictions in the United States, and the delegations from these annual conferences are not always proportionate to the annual conference female lay and/or clergy membership. We should ask ourselves if this is important. Do women want to be proportionately represented?  Do women want to challenge the church for a more equal representation at the table with a more even 50/50 split between the genders? Is proportional representation the best women can and should strive to do? What would our delegations look like in a world which promoted “a continuing commitment to the full and equal responsibility and participation of women 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.”[2]


Copy of Delegates by Jurisdiction and Annual Conference*

*In our recent Women by the Numbers, we misreported that there was only 1 delegate from Alaska and 3 from Pacific North West. This was based on information we received which was incorrect. Rather than make assumptions about the error, we reported the information as it was reported to us for the benefit of those reading the article. We apologize for any inconvenience or misrepresentation this caused. 

[1] See http://www.umc.org/gcfa/data-services-statistics for more information on annual conference membership

[2] ¶2102, Book of Discipline

For more Women by the Numbers, including the articles that examine Jurisdictions and Central Conferences, please visit our website

Miles to Go Before We Sleep

by Kimberly Woods

As a child, my family would go on many road trips. Being an only child and having no siblings to argue with, my attention turned to my parents. I would constantly ask my father, since he was driving, if we were there yet. My father would glance into the rear view mirror and say, “Kimberly, look out the window. Does it look like we’re there?”

kim woods photo

Kimberly Woods

I would see corn fields, grass, and cows, but not our destination. I would then respond with a simple, “No.” To which my dad wisely followed, “If you have to ask, then we aren’t there yet. When we get there, you’ll know.”

While this seems obvious to an adult and not to an impatient child anxiously awaiting a trip to Six Flags St. Louis, I find myself feeling the same way regarding women’s equality in the Church. There are many areas in which we have made great progress on our journey towards inclusion, but we are not there yet.

When it comes to the role of women in the Church, be it as clergy or laity, I have viewed many discrepancies. While not a cradle-born United Methodist, I have been a Christian all of my life and a United Methodist for almost seven years now. In that time, I have witnessed many areas where equality should exist, but simply doesn’t.

I have heard many stories from female clergy about how they struggle to be accepted in the pulpit, especially in certain parts of the state of Illinois. When my spouse was appointed to a parish in Southern Illinois, one of his three churches was essentially a matriarchy. However, when the time came for my spouse to be appointed to a new church, this matriarchal “small family church” stated that people would leave if they had another female in the pulpit, as my spouse’s predecessor was. I was shocked to think that a church comprised primarily of women would so openly reject the idea of being led by a woman. I have also heard of many women in the candidacy process in different parts of our conference being told to “just be laity” because pursuing ordination had been “too difficult” in the past for women and that many churches still don’t accept female clergy.

However, I feel that in the pursuit of equality, we can be guilty of over-correcting for our past errors. As someone who is pursuing ordination as a deacon, I have heard often that I don’t need to be ordained to follow God’s call in my life. I have also heard that I should not pursue deacon’s orders because “women don’t have to settle for being deacons anymore.” In a few instances, while seeking employment as a youth minister in a local church, I have been asked if I can handle the boys in youth group, since I’m a woman and “can’t relate to them.” I have also been told by a church that they would not hire me because “my husband’s itinerancy” meant they had no guarantee that I could keep the position long-term and they worried that hiring me would “impede his ministry,” with no mention of my ministry, my passions, or God’s call on my heart to work with youth. I have even been told by people that my call is “clearly to support my husband’s ministry,” that I am called to be “a good pastor’s wife” and to “support him, like God wants me to do.” In some senses, I recognize that the church has a tendency to favor elders over deacons or men over women because of its past preferences, but when we over-correct and push female deacons away from their call or put the ministry of a one spouse over that of another, clergy couple or not, we are merely setting ourselves up for failure.

While I am sure many have experienced gender issues in the Church, I don’t want to dismiss all the work we have done. Many advances have been made for full inclusion of women in the Church over the years. To even have women serving as elders, deacons, district superintendents, and bishops shows remarkable steps in the right direction. We can see a number of women, lay and clergy, being elected to General and Jurisdictional conferences, myself included. I even know of young women who have entered into the ministry or even just set foot in a church for the first time because of a female pastor or mentor who served as their role model, an example of what could be achieved. That does not mean, however, that our journey is over. As one of my favorite poets, Robert Frost, penned: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep/ But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep/ And miles to go before I sleep.”

We are on an incredible and lovely journey towards women’s inclusion in the Church. But if we have to ask if we are there yet, I implore you to look around. We are still in the woods and while the view is beautiful, there is still a journey ahead. We cannot rest fully because there is more to be done for us to reach that destination. So let us press onward, let us walk together on this journey, and let us ask ourselves how many more miles we have to go and what can we do to get there?

Kimberly Woods is a twenty-six year old pursuing ministry for Deacon’s Orders in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, teacher’s aide in resource/special education and a pastor’s spouse. She finished courses at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary & will receive my master’s in Christian education this May. She is a General/Jurisdictional Conference lay delegate, passionate about social justice, and enjoys working with children and youth in a variety of settings, including through teaching & writing.

Sliding Off-Base

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

The score was a close 3-2 at the top of the ninth inning.  The Tampa Bay Rays were leading. With one out and bases loaded, Blue Jays batter Edwin Encarnación hit a ground ball to third.  The ball was sent to the second baseman to force an out on a potential double play.  But not before the runner, José Bautista, slid not into the base, but intentionally into the second baseman.  The second baseman added. “When I first saw him coming in, I thought he was going over the bag, but then I didn’t know if he kicked his foot out to try and catch a back foot. He kind of swung me around a little bit, the throw went a little left.”

photo of Leigh

Rev. Leigh Goodrich

Bautista’s play was overruled based on a brand new rule in baseball.  “The Chase Utley” rule was developed during the off-season to avoid injuries when slides into second are made on double plays.  More specifically, when a runner intentionally slides into the second baseman instead of onto the bag, there is potential for serious injuries.  That is exactly what happened during the 2015 playoffs when Los Angeles Dodgers player Chase Utley seriously broke the leg of New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada.  Utley did not aim for the base but directly at Tejada to break up a potential double play.  Similarly, Toronto Blue Jay José Bautista, was attempting the same strategy.

In the end, Toronto lost the game, 3-2.

Frankly, everything I know about baseball I learned from my father and son.  To me, it sounds like the runner was trying to do something dangerous and unfair.  However, to make matters worse, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons let his sexism fly when he commented that major league players “might as well wear dresses.”  After refusing to apologize, he defended his comments by saying his mom, wife and daughter all found his remarks “kind of funny.”

Truly, this behavior is wrong on so many levels.  A leader should promote a degree of fair play and a desire to follow the rules.  That person should also know enough about the history of their sport to understand that playing in dresses, which women did at one point, is particularly tough business.  A leader should not pander in sexist comments.  Further, a leader should never be a poor loser.  So, John Gibbons is not a good leader.  Point made.

But what about the women: mom, wife and daughter?

Gibbons said that his comments don’t “offend my mother, my daughter, my wife…” Is it that these remarks don’t bother them, or is it that they, along with so many other women, have heard these types of comments so often and for so long that they simply don’t know what to say when they are raised?

In so many cases, women stop challenging sexism in their homes because they no longer know what to say.  There is no opportunity to have a rational conversation about the way expressions are used, their intent, or the harm words cause. They are tired of the arguments and belittling.  Think of your own response when someone you care about drops a comment that is sexually or racially charged.  What do you say?  Do you say anything?

When we hear blatant sexism or racism, it usually surprises us, so we should plan ahead about how to respond when it happens.  A simple “Wow,” or “Really?” can cue the culprit that they are off-base.  It might even prompt an apology from a particularly sensitive person.  If not, consider starting with a clarifying question.  “Exactly what did you mean when you said that?” You might try the presumption that the person did not mean to say something harmful, and that the comment is below the high regard you have for the offender.  “Did you really mean what you said?”  “That doesn’t sound at all like you.”  These responses let people know you have found their statement disturbing, and also allow them to feel a level of respect from you.

Still, there are some people, like John Gibbons, who will tell you to “lighten up,” and “it was meant as a little humor.”  When that happens, we have to be more direct.  Statements like these may help: “It is not a light thing to demean and belittle other human beings.” “True humor does not come at the expense of another gender (or race, for that matter).”

Remember, this is a time for clear communication and an honest message.   Be sure your nonverbal communication reflects your spoken word.  This is not a time for hanging your head in submission or a coquettish smile.  This is an opportunity to right a wrong.  If you must use a facial expression, disbelief is the best approach.

Whether someone breaks the rules of a baseball game by sliding off-base, or breaks the rules of civility by speaking off-base, it is dangerous to the other players, sometimes an entire gender or race, and we need to call them on it.  That is the reason there are rules in baseball and rules of civil discourse: to keep us safe and encourage all of us participate equally.

For more information about responding to sexist language, go to stopsexistremarks.org for ideas about ways and words you can use to respond to sexism in your home, work or community.

Leigh Goodrich is Sr. Dir. 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.  You can read more about her here or email her at lgoodrich@gcsrw.org.