DCA 5: Monitoring Report (Wednesday, February 27)

Throughout Monday afternoon, a number of delegates, visitors and viewers from home sent us messages, concerned that the gender balance of speakers was weighted in favor of men. They asked us if GCSRW was monitoring. One asked if ANYONE was monitoring? Indeed, we were, and yes, the balance was off. Males made up 75% of the speakers on Monday afternoon, while women were only 25%. The Bishops were able to hear our report of concerns this morning before the day began, and things got better. When Bishop Greg Palmer took the chair for the Tuesday morning session, women made up 39% of the speakers, which is just over their representation on the floor which is 36% women. During Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey’s session, women made up 37% of the speakers. Thank you Bishops!

So yes, your GCSRW monitors are counting, but we don’t have a voice during the sessions. We cannot come to the mic and ask the presider if women are being called. We cannot come to the mic and say that women (and some men as well) have been in the queue for a long time, being told that some in the queue will NEVER be called, while other delegates return to the mic two and three times. None of us can see the electronic queue so it cannot be monitored. We don’t know who is NOT being called on – we can only see what you all see – who IS being called on. And yes, Monday afternoon was not a good session for women. Tuesday morning got better, but delegates – call it out when you see it! When the presider says s/he is going to call names in a way to provide a diversity of voices, hold him/her to it. Only YOU know if you’re NOT being called on.

It was also reported to us that a few young women were bothered by the behavior of some fellow delegates from outside the U.S. They described men who hugged them uncomfortably, and in one case, asked one to marry him. On the one hand, this is a cultural difference, and we are clearly struggling to learn to live with one another as a diverse church. For some, close hugging and marriage proposals are normal, everyday life. We’re not saying it’s acceptable there either, but it’s certainly more common. For others though, hugs are shared only between close friends and family members, and only with permission with strangers, and marriage is proposed similarly – with persons VERY well known. As we continue to struggle to be one church, it will be important to continue to talk about these gender norms upon which we do not yet agree. In the meantime, at the General Conference, if women do not want to be touched, do not touch them and no one here wants a marriage proposal from a virtual stranger. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and that’s as far as it goes. Sin may be a matter for God to decide, but sexual misconduct is defined by the recipients, and these recipients are saying “No,” and many women here would say, “Me too.”

One piece of advice for the next General Conference, which is just over a year away – ELECT MORE WOMEN. Encourage your Annual Conferences to send delegations with equal numbers of men and women. That’s the best way to change the balance of speakers. As we’ve watched our women Bishops increase in number, ALL of whom we celebrate, we can’t say the same for the delegates. We can do better.

DCA 4: Monitoring Report (Tuesday, February 26)

We previously noted that it was going to be hard to include women’s voices to the extent that they exist in the church (well over 50% if combining clergy and laity), just based on how few women are among the delegates (about 1/3rd), and indeed, it is a challenge.

These monitoring reports cover the period from early afternoon one day to the same on the next day. So, from early Sunday afternoon to about the same time on Monday, 60% of the speakers were men and 40% were women. Indeed, women’s voices are a bit more numerous than their percentage of the body, but it also depends on the topic. For example, during the debate on pension issues, very few women spoke.

Also notable was the gendered nature of the committee officer nominations. As is often the case, more women were nominated for the position of secretary and more men for the job of chair. In the end, two women were elected to the three officer spots, but both in supporting rather than leading roles. The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women asked that Rev. Dr. Betty Musau Kazadi be given a chance to preside over some portion of our business, not only to give a woman the seat of leadership, but a Central Conference clergywoman from Africa. We hope to see that later in the day.

In 1888, six women were first elected by their annual conferences as lay delegates to the General Conference, but were refused seats because women were not allowed. Some of the annual conferences were ready to elect women, but some segments of the General Church were not. A long twelve years later, in 1900, laywomen were finally admitted to the General Conference. Some Methodist women were ordained at the merger of 1939, but full clergy rights for all Methodist women came in 1956. It took another 20 years for the first clergywomen to be elected to the General Conference, in 1976. That’s all to say, the road to full inclusion of women in the church has been a long one, and even now, women’s voices are the minority at this, our highest legislative body, and for this very important moment in the life of the church.

Frances Willard from the then Rock River Conference, was one of those women, who in 1888, was refused inclusion. Today, while we continue to work toward not only full gender inclusion, but full equity in the church, it is important to remember her words:

“It is my dearest wish to help break down the barriers of prejudice that keep women silent.”

By the way, also pertinent to our work, Willard also said the following:

“The world is wide and I would not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum.”

DCA 3: Monitoring Report (Monday, February 25)

We’ve only just begun what will be a very short time together, and most of our time has been spent in worship and formal presentations, so your opportunities to self-monitor during discussion and debate are yet to come. Even so, the monitors have some interesting observations to share just based on our first sessions.

First, we want to commend the parliamentarian, Leonard Young, for both his use of inclusive language generally, and his self-awareness in correcting himself when realizing he could be even more inclusive. Dr. Young’s inclusive language was clear in his repeated references to people as “he or she,” great to hear, but even though not universal, not exceptional. Even better, there were a few times when he self-corrected for inclusiveness in a way that WAS more unusual. One monitor was especially struck by Dr. Young’s realization that his use of an athletic reference might not have made sense to those who live outside the United States. His exact words were not noticed, but we did notice that when the delegates didn’t react as he expected, he seemed to realize that his illustration wasn’t understood by everyone as he had intended. He then noted that, and went on to describe the point in other ways. Dr. Young provided a lovely example of how one CAN be self-aware, by noting the reactions of others, and correcting oneself in the moment. We noted that Dr. Young identified as NOT a United Methodist, but we hope he’d like to reconsider that! Thank you, Dr. Young.

Second, we want to celebrate the musicians, led by Raymond Trapp from Brooklyn, NYC. They are wonderfully diverse in multiple ways, and we also appreciate the way they seem to intentionally share in the leadership so that Raymond isn’t always at the forefront. Clearly, no one is “only” a back-up singer in the group. Also, we noticed the use of inclusive language in some of the songs – “Yes God is!” Nicely done! Thanks!

Third, we loved the Native American blessing in the opening worship, in two languages and by a man and a woman together. Their words reflected their own gender diversity, referring to “Earth Mother,” as well as “Grandmother of the South,” in addition to “Grandfather of the East.” It was so beautiful to hear liturgical leaders using female gendered references in worship. And beyond that one element, the entire opening worship was marked by wonderful diversity. The monitors noted that each person represented a different gender/racial/ethnic mix – not a single one the same as another. It truly was a sign of the diversity of our great Church.  Thank you so much for a great start to the day.

Once we got to business, we noticed that the Commission on the Way Forward report was presented by a nice diversity of their membership. After that though, there were mostly white male speakers. This is when the hard work begins. Let us make sure all the voices of the Church are heard, even when not scripted as for worship and formal reports. Be ready to step up and represent, everyone!

By the way, we are also monitoring Facebook and Twitter. Let us refrain from commenting on our women bishop’s clothing, appearance, beauty, etc. They are inspiring leaders and awesome parliamentarians – all of them!

DCA 2: Monitoring Report (Sunday, February 24)

Over the last three decades, the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) has been studying and responding to sexual misconduct within the Church. Most recently (2017-2018), we distributed surveys to thousands of United Methodists in the United States and Africa in order to hear people’s stories and concerns, and then developed strategies for addressing them. Some highlights of that research found the following percentages of persons experiencing sexual misconduct in the Church:

In the US:

  • 64.4% clergy and 31.4% of laity
  • 62.2% of respondents under 30 and 57% of those between 30 and 50
  • 58.5% of women and 35.7% of men

In Africa (only women were surveyed):

  • 79.1% of clergywomen and 100% of lay women
  • 94.7% of women respondents under 30 and 81.4% of those between 30 and 50

The most common unwanted behavior was “comments and jokes” (40.1% in the US and 47.7% in Africa). The most common site for sexual misconduct was in public spaces such as church meetings in the US (41.9%) and in the workplace, which for clergy is the church, in Africa (48.4%).

African respondents were most likely to respond by telling the person to stop (50.9%), but that was closely followed by avoiding the person (44.5%). Avoidance was the most common response among US respondents (50.8%). Ignoring the behavior was next for both groups (40.5% in Africa and 46.3% in the US). Reporting to a supervisor or someone in authority was only selected by about 1 in 4 respondents in both regions.

Why don’t more people report? About two-thirds of respondents say it is because the incident was too minor. It may have seemed too minor to report to an official, but it isn’t too minor to be remembered or to impact one’s life for years, negatively affecting one’s church involvement as well as feelings about oneself, about God, and about the denomination.

This General Conference is made up of exactly those people: some who have experienced sexual misconduct, and probably also people who have behaved inappropriately. Meetings, such as this one, are exactly the kinds of places where these incidents occur.

Let’s all work together to make sure no one goes home from this General Conference with a story about sexual misconduct. Ask before you hug, refrain from commenting on a person’s attractiveness, don’t tell jokes about gender, and in general, be conscious of how you might be coming across to others. It’s always better NOT to touch or NOT to say something that might be offensive. Develop strong self-awareness and then use it.

All of that said, if you DO experience sexual misconduct at this General Conference, don’t hesitate on reaching out for support. Delegates can report any concerning behavior to the General Conference staff located in Locker Room A. Also, anyone, delegate or visitor, can report any incidents by emailing GCSRW at info@gcsrw.org. We are on site and will respond as quickly as possible.

DCA 1: Monitoring Report (Saturday, February 23)

Gender is everywhere, but we seldom notice it. When my young daughter brought a paper home from Sunday school, she and I looked at it together, as we often did. I wanted to hear more about what she was learning. But the picture caught my eye for another reason. It was a cartoon-like drawing of a bunch of children in Biblical times, all of whom looked like boys to me. I asked my daughter if she saw herself in that picture; that is, did she see any girls in the scene? She rolled her eyes, took a closer look at the picture, and said firmly, “There are girls there. Don’t worry mom; everyone looked the same back then.” Maybe she was right. The kids depicted were wearing long robe-like garments and sandals, and all had curly hair showing around the edges of their head coverings. But I was not so sure, and as the mom of a girl child, I wanted to be sure my daughter “saw” herself in the Biblical story.

Looking out across the plenary of the upcoming General Conference, it will be tempting to say the same thing – don’t worry, there are women out there. And there are, but only 306 out of 862 delegates, a disappointing 36% in a denomination made up of just over 57% women. It is a bit more complicated since half of the delegates are clergy and among clergy in the U.S., only 28% are women. By that measure, clergywomen are well represented, since women make up 29% of the clergy delegates. Laywomen are not as well represented, with women making up only 43% of the lay delegates. That means that even if all of the women participate in the General Conference discussion equivalent to their proportion of the delegates, they will still not represent the many women’s voices in the larger church.

That gender imbalance is unevenly distributed across the church. That is, 43% of the delegates from the US Jurisdictions are women, but the Philippines include only 30%, Europe sent only 28%, and from Africa, there are only 24% women delegates. Most shocking is this fact: there are five Annual Conference delegations that include no women at all. While each Annual Conference elects its own delegates, and each one has to decide how best to represent its membership, it is simply unacceptable to send single-gender delegations. Of course, there were also Annual Conferences that elected women to half or more of their seats, but in the end, there were far fewer of them (35.6%) producing the overall imbalance of 36% women.

It is too late to change the makeup of the delegations, but it is not too late to make sure gender balance is achieved in other ways while we are here. We can make sure that women are recognized to speak by the presiding bishop, that they are invited and encouraged to speak by others in their delegations, that women’s speeches are not interrupted or cut short, as compared to those by men. We can make sure women are not discounted as angry, or whining, or mean, or any of the myriad ways women in leadership are described as problematic.

Gender is hard NOT to notice these days, but clearly, we have not done enough in The United Methodist Church. Let’s make this General Conference as gender aware as possible, despite the challenges posed by the imbalance in the delegates. The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women will be monitoring for gender inclusion, and we hope to report that you’re doing a great job.