#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.

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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.

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. 

If Every Barrier Is Down, Why Does My Head Hurt from Hitting the Stained Glass Ceiling?

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

In 1995, Sally Purvis wrote one of the first books about clergywomen and the significant discrimination they face.  It was called The Stained-Glass Ceiling: Churches and Their Women Pastors.  Since that time, at least 50 books have been written about the pitfalls of women who choose ordained ministry as their primary vocation.

photo of Leigh

Rev. Leigh Goodrich

In case you are wondering, the stained-glass ceiling is a societal and economic phenomenon similar to the “glass ceiling” many women encounter in secular employment.   Just like the discrimination women face in broader society, women frequently find themselves barred from particular leadership roles in their faith community, or they find it particularly difficult to rise to levels of authority, status or power within their denomination.  Thus, they hit the predictable “stained-glass ceiling”— a metaphor that tells women they have accomplished all that the power structures are willing to tolerate.

Most of us are familiar with the stained glass windows that adorn many of our churches.  They are filled with images that represent stories illuminating Biblical scriptures and Christian tradition.  However, sometimes those scriptures and traditions, grounded in a patriarchal worldview, hold back women from fulfilling God’s call on their lives.  What does that stained-glass ceiling look like?  When we speak with women who feel safe sharing their experiences, we find disturbing themes running through their experiences:

  • Clergywomen “mommy tracked,” that is, given positions of less responsibility during the “child rearing” years, whether they have children or not.
  • Women paid less than their male counterparts because they are married and “don’t need” the salary, insurance, parsonage, etc.
  • Clergy couples, in which the woman is paid less than her spouse so he won’t “feel bad” because she makes more money.
  • Clergywomen asked to take a part-time appointment so their spouse can take a larger, more prestigious church.
  • Churches that cut the salary of their newly appointed pastor when they learn she is a woman.
  • Women discouraged from pursuing ministry by their pastors and district superintendents, and encouraged to “go home and take care of your children.”

And there are many, many more examples!

That does not mean that women have not persevered.  For the last twenty-four years, our Women by the Numbers column has faithfully reported a small but steady increase in the percentage of women in the pulpit.  From 1992 to 2002, the percentage of clergywomen in The United Methodist Church rose from 11% to 19%, an 8 point shift.[1]  It has taken us thirteen years to realize the next 8 point movement from 19% in 2002 to 27% in 2015.[2]

Conversely, the number of female bishops in the United Methodist Church seems to be waning from 25% to 19%.[3]  While the number of bishops in the church has increased to 66 throughout the world, the number of women filling those positions has decreased from 16 to 13.  However, in 2012, we did see the election of the first woman in Africa.

All of this is happening in a denomination that reports more than half of its members are women!

In The United Methodist Church, it seems that we have, as a denomination, hit an impasse, a metaphorical “stained-glass ceiling” in which women comprise about 25% of all ordained people in parish leadership and are hovering between 19% and 25% of all bishops.  Yet, women continue to make up half of our seminary graduates who intend to enter some form of full time ministry.

Is that good enough?  Are we a “credible and reliable witness to Christ’s exemplary embrace of all women as valued, respected partners in the total institutional life and global witness and impact of the Church?”[4]  Do we truly believe Paul’s prophetic pronouncement in Galatians 3:27-28 that men and women are one in Christ?  Do we live it?

Let me ask the question another way.  If we have removed all of the barriers that allow women to grow and rise in esteem and effectiveness in the Church, why do our collective feminine heads hurt from hitting them on the stained-glass ceiling?

Until we are able to remove every barrier to women’s equal status, role and advancement, we cannot claim to truly be following the example of Christ in the world.  One way we can promote change and reduce the barriers women face is by supporting Resolution 3442, “Every Barrier Down: Toward Full Embrace of All Women in Church and Society” when we join together in May at General Conference 2016 in Portland, OR.  This legislation reflects upon the current state of women in the United Methodist Church.  It continues to ask the nagging question, “Are we there yet?”


[1] “Women By the Numbers,” July 2005

[2] “Women By the Numbers,” July 2015

[3] The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church, Resolution 3442. Every Barrier Down: Toward Full Embrace of All Women in Church and Society.   (Note the change from the 2012 report to the 2016 report)

[4] Ibid


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. 

Changing the Mindset: Full Acceptance or Just an Exception?

By Lydia Istomina

Re: Book of Discipline Paragraph 4, Article IV

Amend ¶4. Adding “gender” and “age” to the list of what the UMC cannot discriminate against

What prevented The United Methodist Church from amending the original phrasing of Paragraph 4 earlier? The amendment is about female leadership in The United Methodist Church and the age of our leaders. Let’s leave social justice, democracy, and inclusivity aside for a moment and approach the problem from economical and performance standpoint.

lydia

Lydia Istomina

A recent study by Duke University shows that only 11% of women serve as “senior or solo pastoral leaders.” Ironically, the beginning of my ministry was with a “new start” congregation that became a fast-growing church. I became a poster-child for The United Methodist in Eurasia. But now, after 20 years of serving small American congregations, I do not see a way for me, as well as for many other clergywomen, to get even near the glass ceiling without divine intervention.

In 2008, there were 82 women who were senior pastors of churches with a membership of more than 1,000. In 2010, there were 94 women leading large churches. The survey found that 9 out of 10 lead women pastors of large membership churches were the first women to lead that church, as in the case of Grace Olathe UMC in Kansas.

Is the church scared of women’s sexuality behind the pulpit that it causes the church push a clergywoman to find a job outside of the church? Kira Schlesinger blogs about how often women clergy hear that they were “too pretty” to be a pastor. The still patriarchal Church continues viewing women as “desirable” or “disposable” objects. Could it be that out of the fear of sexual harassment lawsuits, The United Methodist Church keeps women away?

Pastors, like any other human beings, are mortal, and they do age. Harvard Business Review journal posted Zenger-Folkman’s results How Age and Gender Affect Self-Improvement.  Successful professional women with age develop the higher ability for self-improvement in all professions  because as they say themselves, “we must perform twice as well to be thought half as good.” The situation in business gradually improves.  Though it is still true that women have to work twice as hard compared with men while being paid less for the same job, the studies in  business show some progress. I find this study’s results quite ironic. In business, the study shows, women with age become not only more effective, but also more accepted while male’s performance declines. (see Table 1).[1] While businesses in America begin promoting women after 50 and electing them to higher positions, The United Methodist Church prefers young men fresh out of seminary.

Table 1. Leadership Effectiveness Between Males and Females by Age.

lydia graph

 

Table 2. Gender Breakdown within Age Cohorts – United Methodist Elders[2]

image for lydias blog

A Lewis Center for Church Leadership’s study shows a 17% increase of men elders after the age of 35 in 2015 while the number of women elders in the same category drops from 26-29% in the same year.[3]

The United Methodist denomination operates largely at the level of organizational interests. It is not a secret that large, wealthy churches continue insisting on getting young men for their pastors, but young men feel less and less attracted to ministry due to multiple factors: long hours, high stress and low pay. Women pastors have to work twice as hard compared to clergymen, but their salaries remain 13% less, according to UMCOM.[4] Why have women pastors kept silent for decades? The reasons are many. One of them is the societal expectation of women to be “good girls” and to choose the “higher road.” Marie Fortune found that abused woman usually suffer in silence, “Christian women aren’t supposed to feel angry, are we?”[5] On another hand, that very silence makes women appear weak as leaders.

Though Rev. HiRho Park reports in the study that the “percentage of female pastors in the UMC increased by about 50% over the study period, and seniority of female pastors increased on an average of about 30%,” it is not a secret that large, wealthy churches often request a young man as their pastor in spite of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that protects certain categories based on gender, race, age and others.[6]

In some cases, if a local congregation accepts a woman under the Bishop’s pressure, soon, the church leaders tell their clergywoman, “No offense, but if we had a young man with a band, we would start growing.” And this is when their community profile is blue-collar, white residents, retired or close to retirement and the congregation itself is in their seventies. This anecdotal exchange tells a lot about the present attitude toward women in The United Methodist Church.

Women are not wanted by larger churches because they are viewed as fragile and easy to be coerced into doing something they do not want to do.  Women have a deeper sense of compassion and people interpret it wrongly. Women are raised as “good girls to do this or that.” We even hear that women are more vulnerable and too emotional.  For the same qualities of being seen as a strong leader as a male leader, a woman is usually labeled a trouble-maker, nuisance, pest and an instigator. How do I know? I’ve worn those labels for years.

Let’s be honest, considering the ways girls and women are socially conditioned from birth, women are understood to be much more patient and more emotionally mature. Many women are fit and well-equipped for ministry in many cases, but they are not viewed as serious candidates. If women proved their efficiency in this business world, which is more demanding and technologically complex, does it not mean that The United Methodist denomination misses a huge opportunity retiring qualified, better educated, healthy and hard-working professionals? As a result, women clergy feel discriminated against and unjustly treated when it comes to getting a well-deserved appointment. The stained glass ceiling of The United Methodist Church is hard to break.

When, by an extraordinary chance, I became the first female pastor in the former Soviet Union after 70 years of atheism, I was not meant to participate in the governance of the Church as a woman according to the present reading of The Book of Discipline. I was told by Bishop Vaxby from the Northern European Conference that the General Board made an exception for me. I was given a green light to serve on the General Board of Global Ministries and serve a local church without any theological education.

Rev. Canon Gina Gilland Campbell became a Canon Precentor of Washington National Cathedral after serving The United Methodist Church for 36 years. She is a good reason for me to believe that there should be no more exceptions in appointing deserving women in leadership positions, especially after 50, but a usual practice.[7] It’s clear from both the data and the personal experiences of many women in the denomination that the vision of a church where women have the same opportunities and support as men is not yet a reality. Becoming a United Methodist, I thought that I joined a community of equality and acceptance. To make it a law, not an exception, I propose to add “gender” and “age” by amending ¶4. Article IV to ensure inclusiveness of gender and age in the global UM Church.

Learn more about Paragraph 4 Article IV and other GCSRW petitions here.


[1] Bob Sherwin is the COO of leadership consultancy by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, who published his three-part series for Business Insider that was first published in a 2012 Harvard Business Review.  Harvard Business Review continues this topic in 2016 https://hbr.org/2016/01/how-age-and-gender-affect-self-improvement
[2] Ibid.
[3] Clergy Age Trends in the United Methodist Church. A Lewis Center for Church Leadership. 2015 Report, 7 http://www.churchleadership.com/pdfs/ClergyAgeTrends15.pdf
[4] UMCOM,Report Examines Salaries for United Methodist Clergy in the U.S.  http://www.gbhem.org/article/report-examines-salaries-united-methodist-clergy-us
[5] Fortune, Marie M. (2009-10-13). Keeping the Faith: Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse (p. 50). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
[6] Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Unlawful Employment Practices. Sec. 2000e-2. [Section 703] http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm
[7]https://www.cathedral.org/staff/PE-5BT4H-6P0015.shtml

 

After a short career in engineering, and nine years as Executive Branch Manager of the Russian nonprofit association Znanie (Knowledge), Lydia Istomina founded the Institute of Management for local entrepreneurs in partnership with Ural State University. She is also a founding pastor of the first United Methodist Church in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Lydia is the first woman pastor in Russia.

As the Director for Russia and the C.I.S. at the General Board of Global Ministries, Lydia Istomina organized negotiations between the UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) and the Russian government. She was able to negotiate the largest military airplane AN-124 (Ruslan) to deliver humanitarian aid to Ekaterinburg, Russia during the most critical years. Lydia’s church in Russia became a distribution, teaching and publishing center.

Lydia Istomina is a Doctoral Candidate at St. Paul School of Theology. Her dissertation is on workplace and pastor bullying prevention. She was one of the key speakers at the Talking Taboo event at the Church of Resurrection last spring. Presently, Lydia serves on the Strength for Service Board of Directors and serves as a mentor at the Regnier Institute of the Bloch School of Management at UMKC.

Lydia Istomina is an author and holds the SOJOURNER OF TRUTH AWARD for courage and justice and the ARLON O. EBRIGHT AWARD for leadership.

 

Advent Through the Eyes of Women: The Innkeeper’s Wife

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

“She gave birth to her firstborn, a son; she put him in a simple cloth wrapped like a receiving blanket, and laid him in a feeding trough for cattle, because there was no room for them at the inn.”

 – Luke 2: 7 (The Inclusive Bible)

It is odd how one small phrase can set free the Biblical imagination.  For example, how many Christmas pageants have you attended in which Mary and Joseph knock on the door of the inn and encounter a grouchy, disheveled innkeeper, accompanied by a silent wife? Gruffly the innkeeper tells the expectant couple, with little or no explanation, that there is no room for them at the inn, and abruptly slams the door in their blessed faces.  However, nowhere in the scripture is an actual innkeeper, or an innkeeper’s spouse, mentioned.  The Bible just tells us “there was no room for them at the inn.” Perhaps Mary and Joseph simply found a “No Vacancy” sign posted on the door, or received no response at all to their frantic knocks.

photo of Leigh

Rev. Leigh Goodrich

However, the innkeeper role is one that allows us to explore the human condition in greater depth.  In my childhood, the innkeeper was a part coveted by the boys in my Sunday school class.  It was an opportunity to participate in the obligatory Christmas pageant without having to spend too much time in front of the congregation, or dress in an angel or animal costume.  At the same time, they might get to express their “coolness” by slamming a door really hard.  On occasion, the shiest girl in the class would pose as his wife, standing by idly through the insult of the holy and expectant family.  Hence, the Christian Midrash of the innkeeper and his wife.

So if we allow our Biblical imagination some additional freedom, we might wonder what happened after the innkeeper closed the door.  Would the silent wife remain silent?  Would she push back against her excluding and uncaring spouse?  Do the two simply go back to bed? Do either of them take food or blankets to the hungry and shivering young couple preparing to welcome their first child in a bed of straw?

Here is one rendition of the couple’s exchange.  I encourage you to consider a few of your own.

“What are you looking at?” mumbled the innkeeper to his spouse.

Quickly she averted her eyes, looking at the floor.  She had seen him turn others away in the night, but there was something different about this couple.  The man was travel-worn and his spouse doubled over, seeming to be experiencing pain.  Judging from her clothes, she might even be pregnant.

“I asked you a question,” he provoked.

“Nothing,” she mumbled, eyes still staring at the dirt floor.

He started to walk past her, through the small area where food was prepared, to the back sleeping rooms.  Then he heard her speak.

“This just feels different,” her small voice uttered before she even knew she had said anything.

“Don’t question me,” he retorted. “What do you know about this?  You don’t run this business, or make a single mite to keep this family fed. I break my back every day keeping this business going.  You don’t know anything.”

“But I think the woman might be pregnant and even in labor,” the wife said, lifting her eyes to see if this observation had escaped her already irate spouse.

 “Are you questioning my decision?” His voice grew louder.  “Who are you to question me?  That woman is with child and could render this entire house ritually unclean if she stays here. All of the clients will leave, I will have to refund their money, and my reputation as an innkeeper will be ruined forever.  We will have no money and be out in the streets begging because you wanted to be merciful to some strange women and her unborn child.”

His anger always frightened her, although he had never actually hit her.  Still she persisted.

“Would your God, our God, the God of our ancestors, want a woman to give birth in a cold cave among the cattle?  Is ritual cleanliness that important to God?  What about hospitality and compassion?”

Now his face was bright scarlet.  He turned and backed her into a corner of the kitchen, grabbing her arms so she could not escape. 

“Now you question God,” he roared down on her.  “Never question me or God!”

With that, he grabbed some kitchen rags, binding her wrists.  He put another across her mouth, gagging her. 

Stomping out of the kitchen, he passed two sets of horrified eyes.  “You’ll be next,” he growled.  “I just need some peace.”  With that, he went back to the bed, leaving his two daughters to huddle in fear next to their mother for the night.

But he never actually hit her.

peace on earth_photo

This family Christmas photo caused waves across social media last week. The women in this family have tape over their mouths, bound in Christmas lights as the men stand over them, a thumbs up and a sign declaring “Peace on earth”.

When we pray for peace on earth, what are we asking for?  For some it means silencing the voices that are uncomfortable to hear…the voices that keep us from our “silent” night.  Nagging spouses and tired children might ruin a peaceful night’s sleep.  Still, peace on earth cannot happen if we are only concerned with what is “ours”: our inn, our money, our property, our economy, our security, our comfort, and ourselves.  True peace on earth starts with the restraint we practice when we are willing to hear all the voices, even those that might seem vexing or whiny.  It starts when we listen to the marginalized with the same interest and attention as the powerful. It happens when legislators and leaders yield their power to make room for the voices of women and children.   Peace on earth happens when we are in relationship with people of all genders, all races, all religions, all abilities, all ages, all ideologies and all classes.  Peace on earth happens when we treat all humans with dignity and respect.  It happens when the loud and powerful lion makes a safe place for the timid and vulnerable lamb to lay.  Peace on earth begins with each one of us, in our homes and in our families. 

During the holidays, stress and alcohol abuse can break the peace of our families and incite domestic violence.  If you are a victim of domestic violence, or you suspect that at friend or relative might be, we encourage you to call your local domestic violence hotline.  Or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800)799-SAFE (7233).  They provide confidential and anonymous counseling in 170 languages.    


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.

Statistics, Stigma and the Stained-Glass Ceiling

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

What can elicit a firestorm of stigma, bias and unfair generalizations better than the release of some brand new statistics on the state of the church?  Even more specifically, those that portray women as underrepresented.  The release of the National Congregations Study last week has precipitated just such a milieu of articles and commentary.

photo of Leigh

Rev. Leigh Goodrich

The study shines new light on what has become known as “the stained-glass ceiling”, a term referring to the limits women clergy find regarding their vocational opportunities.  Specifically, it reported that only 11.4% of congregations have a female head clergyperson or leader (p. 47). As a result, good United Methodists are reflecting on our own research that shows that 27% of women are ordained in our UM system and only two women occupy the primary leadership position in our 100 largest churches.

While statistics in our denomination exceed the national averages, it is important to remember that the numbers reported in the NCS include religions and denominations that do not ordain women at all.  The fact that the UMC ordains women is a positive first step that we took in 1956.  However, our progress in supporting and promoting women clergy has seriously stalled over the past twenty years.

Enter “the Stained Glass Ceiling,” a metaphor for the limits placed on women’s call to ministry.  Jeremy Smith’s December 2014 blog, “Why Do the Largest #UMCs Not Have Female Pastors?” provoked a variety of comments.  Sadly, many of them seem to propagate the same stigmas that have held women back for the past 60 years.  Let’s look at a few of them:

Women don’t do new church plants.  My first appointment in the United Methodist Church was to a new church start.  I pastored that church for nine years.  It was one of the most spiritually rewarding times in my career, but new church starts do not always, or even frequently, result in mega churches.  In fact, according to the North American Mission Board, across all denominations, only 68% of new churches survive the first four years.  Do women accept the challenge of starting new churches?  You bet we do! Is that entrepreneurial spirit and faith rewarded?  Rarely.

Women will support women.  It is true that some women, placed in powerful positions, will use that power for the good of women, although statistically it would be nearly impossible to measure.  Anecdotally we learn that women who are raised to more influential positions lose their voice, or become part of the existing power dynamic that continues to marginalize those who are already pushed to the sidelines.   It is too easy for those in advantaged positions to lose touch with the struggling.  Rather than give away influence, those with power, even women, tend toward accumulating more, even if it means ignoring their greatest supporters.               

The local church has no bias toward womenOur local churches are full of wonderful, spirit-filled people.  Many of them understand that society has changed dramatically in the last 60 years.  However, even churches who believe they are welcoming to women treat them dramatically different than they do men.  Women are asked about their plans to have children, their income compared to a spouse, their nail polish, shoes and weight and their menstrual cycles.  Churches will even accept a woman pastor for a year or two, with the stipulation that they never be asked to do so again.

Women don’t want to lead.  This may be the biggest stigma of all against women.  Women want to lead and have led in our churches.  Perhaps the bias is that women’s leadership does not look like men’s.  Women bring a new set of skills and methods to the task of leadership.  This may turn the arena of leadership, established by men, on its head.  It might also be uncomfortable for those accustomed to old leadership motifs.  However, it does not mean that women don’t want to lead or can’t lead.

Women across the United Methodist Church are still hitting their heads on the stained-glass ceiling.  It is a painful reality that the Church still discriminates against women.  Yet, Jesus Christ, in the tradition of the prophets before him, implored us to make level the mountains and valleys so all might have equal access to power and influence.  What are the possibilities if we let go of our fears and allowed all people the opportunity to lead in the United Methodist Church?  What might it look like if we acknowledged the statistics, let go of the stigma, and broke through the stained glass ceiling?  Perhaps we might see the kin-dom of God.


 

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 contributing editor of this publication.  You can read more about her here.