A Woman’s Right to Life

by Rev. Pamela Pirtle, Director of Leadership Development & Accountability, GCSRW

It was the year 1851, in Akron, Ohio when Sojourner Truth gave her now-famous speech at the Women’s Rights Convention.  Sojourner emphasized the phrase “Ain’t I a Woman?” four times as an expression for equal rights for African American women.  She spoke of the equality that was due to all women regardless of the color of their skin.  It has been 169 years since that day when she spoke up for African American women to be given the same rights as their non-Black counterparts.  Though we have made many milestones during the course of 169 years, we are still seeking equal rights for Black women in comparison to others.

Breonna Taylor was a daughter, a big sister, a niece, a dear friend, and someone who cared for those who were vulnerable due to illness.  She loved her work as an emergency room medical technician and hoped to continue her education in healthcare.  Her friends and family describe her as someone who enjoyed putting a smile on the faces of others.  She seemed to have a happy disposition and a smile that would light a room.

But on the morning of March 13, 2020, her light was snuffed out.  While she lay sleeping in her bed, law enforcement officials entered her apartment under a “no-knock warrant” in an effort to capture another individual who did not live there.  The details of this incident are still under review.  However, what is troubling is how this information did not reach mainstream media attention for almost two months after her violent death.  Where is the outrage?  Where is the accountability?  Was Breonna’s life of any less value because she is a Black woman?  We must ask why this case, and so many others, have been disconnected from the broader narrative of police brutality against Blacks.  Unfortunately, Black women have too often been the invisible victims of police violence.  For this very reason, activists have used the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the countless Black women who have lost their lives due to police brutality.

Some have argued that in many ways, women are not equal to men, or that women are in some way lacking virtue.  Unfortunately, being both Black and female can be a double negative that makes suffering in silence a daily part of life.  Breonna’s story was handled by media and others like an unfortunate casualty rather than the violent murder that has been expressed for the senseless deaths of Black men.

As Christians, we are reminded of ourselves in Genesis 1:27 that everyone is made in the image of God and therefore, should be treated humanely and with respect.  If being created in God’s image means that we are, an image of God the Creator, a representation of who God is, then how can we devalue one group of persons over another?  If we believe we are made in God’s image, then our view of God and our relationship with our Creator are also intertwined.  Therefore, we must believe in the sacredness of all human life, regardless of gender, race, or any other demographic that has been used to divide us.

We must recognize that every human being has been created in God’s image.  Everyone then becomes one of God’s image-bearers.  This knowing should guide how we conduct ourselves toward others at all times, remembering the least of these.  Every woman has a right to live and prosper.  “We affirm with scripture the common humanity of male and female, both having equal worth in the eyes of God.  We reject the erroneous notion that one gender is superior to another, that one gender must strive against another[i]…” Therefore, let us work to create a more just society where the lives of all persons are held as sacred.

GCSRW stands against racism graphic_upload

Contemplative Moment and Reflection

What phrase resonates with me?  Why should I care about this?  What can I do about it?

Prayer

Gracious God, thank you for your loving-kindness that extends to all humanity.  Help us to live by your principles of freedom and justice.  Oh God, in these turbulent times, help us to remove the barriers that separate us from one another.  Make us one to walk in holy peace together.  Amen.


[i] Book of Discipline Part V, Social Principles, Paragraph 161.F.

Broken Glass

by Dawn Wiggins Hare

In 2015 when announcing his diverse cabinet to the citizens of Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau famously retorted when asked why he implemented diversity, “Because it is 2015.”  Church, it is 2020!

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Dawn Wiggins Hare

For more than 24 years, the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women has sought to amend Paragraph 4 of Article 4 of The United Methodist Church’s Constitution to add the word “gender” to the list of discriminatory categories that will not be tolerated to exclude persons from membership in the church The word “gender” is used 64 times in The Book of Discipline in our shared acknowledgment that women are created in the image of God and are to be equal in the church and in our communities.

Why is the amendment necessary?  Because we know that women are discriminated in the life of the church.  We know that women who are divorced or who are in polygamous relationships have been denied membership in churches across the connection, and in some areas, women have been denied the sacrament of communion.

In 2016, for the very first time, the amendment to add “gender” as a protected category passed General Conference with the requisite two-thirds majority vote.  Screams were heard across the floor of the convention center in Portland; friends ran toward one another in celebration, as women and men who support equality felt the crash of a pane of the stained-glass ceiling.

Because this was a constitutional amendment, the next step was for the legislation to be ratified across the connection by a two-thirds cumulative vote.  Over the next year, annual conference by annual conference voted on the legislation.  The votes were tallied, and the Council of Bishops announced in May of 2018 that the ratification had failed to pass.  The amendment received only 61.3% of the votes. There were 29,049 votes for the amendment and 18,317 votes against.  Really?  18,317 votes AGAINST in 2016?

Why? Why in a church that seeks to include women could this amendment fail?

Why in a church with petitions pending before the next General Conference to dismantle the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women because the commission’s work and independence is unnecessary, would this vote be the outcome?

Why in a church with female clergy making $.84 on the $1.00 compared with male clergy in the United States, would this ratification vote fail?

The mandate of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women by General Conference through The Book of Discipline is to challenge The United Methodist Church.

Church, it is 2020!  Consider yourself challenged.


Dawn Wiggins Hare is an attorney and the first woman elected in the 35th Judicial Circuit as circuit judge in Monroeville, Alabama. Hare was named General Secretary of The United Methodist Church’s General Commission on the Status and Role of Women in January 2013. She served on the governing board of the UMC’s General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits from 2008 to 2012, where she was recording secretary and a member of the appeals committee. Hare was a General Conference delegate in 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2019 elected from the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference. She served as delegate to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016. Served on the Appeals Committee and chaired its Investigation Committee. In 2012, Hare received the Alice Lee Award from the Alabama West Florida Commission on the Status and Role of Women. She has been a member of First United Methodist Church of Monroeville, Alabama since 1988 and holds bachelor of science and law degrees from the University of Alabama. She and her husband, Nicholas S. Hare, Jr., are the parents of two adult sons.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GCSRW Statement Regarding Proposed Constitutional Amendments One and Two

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

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

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

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

Today, we give thanks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Blessings,

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Bishop Tracy S. Malone                                             

President of the Board

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

hare sig

Dawn Wiggins Hare

General Secretary

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


Find a PDF of this statement here: GCSRW statement

 

#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.