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.