General Conference GCSRW Legislation Update #3- General Conference Adopts GCSRW Petition Regarding Membership

by Jenn Meadows, Director of Communications

Delegates to the 2016 General Conference adopted the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women’s (GCSRW) petition #60162 Membership from the Consent Calendar Saturday morning, May 14th.

GCSRW apologizes for the delay in reporting this information, it was an oversight. This Consent Calendar was presented before breaking into legislative committees on Saturday morning.

Petition #60162, Membership, was adopted 43 for, 1 against, 0 abstaining in the Independent Commissions Committee. It was placed on the Consent Calendar of Friday, May 13th ‘s edition of the Daily Christian Advocate (DCA) and adopted on the floor Saturday, May 14th morning. The adoption of this petition will amend 2104.1 b, c, h of The Book of Discipline, which defines the membership of the GCSRW board. This legislation modifies United Methodist Women’s representation on GCSRW’s board from being a voting board member to being a non-voting liaison who sits on GCSRW’s board. This not only maintains the historic working relationship between the two organizations, it also ensures that GCSRW’s board, with only 19 members, is able to commit specifically to GCSRW’s work. This amendment also avoids potential conflicts of interest and conforms to 710.5 and the Code of Ethics for general agencies.

“We are so happy to continue to clarify and reinforce the historic partnership we have established with United Methodist Women,” Senior Director of Education and Leadership Rev. Leigh Goodrich stated. “It is our great joy to work hand-in-hand with them for the empowerment of women.”

GCSRW would also like to lift up that today is Nan Self’s 86th birthday. Self was one of the first co-secretariats of The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women when it was established in 1972. Due to health reasons, this is Self’s first General Conference she’s missed since becoming secretariat. We want to extend birthday greetings to her on this special day.

DCA 7: Monitoring Report (Wednesday, May 18)

Now that we are in plenary, rather than legislative committees, we are led by our Bishops who are great presiding officers. All have been exceptional to this point, and we expect nothing less throughout the coming week. We do want to offer a bit of special appreciation to Bishop Stanovsky who reminded delegates, if they had already spoken, to consider letting other people speak. Thank you Bishop! We all know who those people are, but evidently they themselves do not. Keep those gentle reminders coming.

Up until now, the participation of men and women across the committees was fairly equal to the gender representation of the delegates overall. That is, women delegates make up just over a third of the delegates, and have been speaking about one third of the time, more in some committees, less in others. Notably though, during the Tuesday morning plenary, women made up only 22 percent of the speakers. So, while some might consider limiting their voices , others should consider the opposite.

Finally, as we have mentioned in earlier reports—and as we’ve now heard from visitors in the stands calling out—where are the women? The constant references to God, clergy and people as only male does not present the inclusive church that we claim to be and for which the Commission on the Status and Role of Women stands.

General Conference GCSRW Legislation Update #2- General Conference Adopts Two of GCSRW’s Petitions on Second Full Day of Plenary

by Jenn Meadows, Director of Communications

Delegates to the 2016 General Conference adopted the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women’s (GCSRW) petitions #60164 Pornography and #60161 Membership from the Consent Calendar Tuesday morning.

We at GCSRW are grateful the General Conference recognizes and affirms GCSRW’s work within the denomination and throughout the globe. With today’s adoptions, we continue our ministry with our sisters and brothers across the connection to eradicate sexual misconduct within The United Methodist Church (UMC) with a commitment to spread the work of justice for women throughout the globe.

Petition #60164, Pornography, was adopted 68 for, 2 against, 1 abstaining in the Church and Society 2 Committee. It was placed on the Consent Calendar of Tuesday, May 17th ‘s edition of the Daily Christian Advocate (DCA) and adopted on the floor. Until this recent adoption, The Book of Discipline did not address pornography. Pornography is notoriously difficult to define. GCSRW’s experience working within the Church in prevention and response to sexual misconduct reveals a disturbing growth of the pornography industry. Considering pornography’s pervasiveness, it is important for the Church to address the harm that pornography can cause to individuals, families and communities. This legislation defines what it is about pornography that we find objectionable. The adoption of petition #60164 will add a new Social Principle to 161 in The Book of Discipline addressing pornography.

The text we presented of petition #60164 to the legislative committee was amended. Following the second paragraph, after words, “ruin lives, careers, and relationships”, the following was inserted:

We grieve the pervasiveness of Internet pornography, including among Christians, and especially its impact on young people and marriages.

Before the last sentence (after the words, “issues of addiction”) add:

Further, all churches are encouraged to review and update appropriate child, youth, and adult protection policies to reflect The United Methodist Church’s position that the use of pornography is a for of sexual misconduct.

“The inclusion of a new Social Principle in The Book of Discipline about pornography reflects The UMC’s understanding of the prevalence of the multi-billion dollar industry in our society and the negative effects in brings to individuals, families and communities,” Senior Director of Sexual Ethics and Advocacy, Becky Posey Williams said of this adoption. “This Social Principle helps us as a denomination define pornography, which is included in the chargeable offense of sexual misconduct.”

“This is a piece of legislation that faced some procedural hurdles in 2012 and ultimately was not considered by the plenary,” GCSRW board member Rev. Tyler Schwaller said about today’s adoption. “This will be an important resource for the kinds of very real sexual ethics concerns GCSRW works regularly to address throughout our connection.”

Petition #60161, Membership, was adopted 61 for, 2 against, 0 abstaining in the General Administration Committee. The General Conference adopted this petition off of Tuesday’s DCA’s Consent Calendar. The adoption of this petition will amend 705.4c of The Book of Discipline to conforms with 2104 (GCSRW Membership) that mandates four Central Conference members on our 19 member board. This will clearly reflect commitment to the global life of the Church and harmonizes the two current provisions regarding GCSRW membership.

“This adoption makes sure that we conform to all paragraphs mandating our board membership in The Book of Discipline, thus, keeping our board inclusive globally,” Senior Director of Education and Leadership Rev. Leigh Goodrich stated. Moving onward, GCSRW will continue its commitment to being a global Commission with a global vision.

DCA 6: General Commission on the Status and Role of Women Monitoring Report (Tuesday, May 17)

We ended our first week of primarily legislative committee time with a few more wonderful and some not-so-wonderful examples of inclusiveness. First, we want to recognize the stars:

Bethany Amey of Greater New Jersey, mistakenly named in an earlier report, now correctly deserves recognition. Bethany, while chairing the Church and Society I legislative committee, never called on people by name, even when she knew them. In that way, a chair doesn’t imply connection to specific people or any particular positions. Bethany seemed to do that intentionally, which was much appreciated. Some of the other chairs called on some people by name and not others, a few calling on men by name, but women more vaguely, such as “the woman at the back table.” If all names are known, they can be used fairly, but it is often impossible to know everyone’s name. In those cases, it is a “best practice” for chairs to equalize the session by using no names at all, which is what Bethany did – a subtle but notable equalizer.

We would also like to recognize Isaac Chukpue-Padmore of Liberia. He was one of the sub-committee chairs in the Local Church legislative committee. Many in that room appreciated his use of inclusive “humankind” language when praying. It stood out because it was so rare. We also want to note his regular and active invitations to make sure that everyone had a chance to speak.

There were two legislative committees that also warrant recognition. The Faith and Order legislative committee ran business in ways that delegates and monitors described as civil and kind, despite the deep disagreements about petitions assigned to them. They even finished their work on time, graciously thanking each other, chair and delegates alike, for being inclusive. A Central Conference delegate in the Independent Commissions legislative committee made a powerful comment as well. He said that because a few petitions came late to the group, referred from other committees, he and some other non-English speaking delegates had not had a chance to study them as carefully as they would have liked. Still, because they had developed a sense of trust in the legislative committee, he was willing to trust his sisters and brothers and their explanations of the issues. That sense of trust started on the very first day, in the Christian Conferencing session, and carried through their work right to the end.

There have been some problems as well: gendered language, speaking for others, and insensitivity. All of these impact our ability to work with full inclusiveness.

In regard to gendered language, some have referred to women delegates as “girls.” In another case, when a woman identified her work as farming some thousands of acres, the chair later referred to her as a “farmer’s wife.” In the first case, adult women are reduced to the status of a child, and in the second, a woman is seen only as a partner (which she may or may not be), and not as a professional in her own right. Rarely do such speakers MEAN to demean, and women have frankly gotten quite used to these references, so rarely are they met with objections. As the Commission on the Status and Role of Women, it is our job to speak up and try to make us all aware of what these seemingly kind, but also subtly negative messages convey. We also ask for more attention to gendered God language. There’s nothing wrong with using “Father” for God, but if that’s all we hear, it is simply not inclusive of God’s richness, as described in the Bible. Many here yearn for more diversity in the ways we talk about not only humans, but God.

Regarding speaking for others, monitors have observed delegates reading from scripts that seem not to be their own, and at least once not on the topic being discussed. It was the bad timing that made it stand out. They have also observed American delegates getting up after non-English speaking delegates have made a speech, to rephrase or summarize what has already been said. There have also been a number of older male delegates interrupting and/or speaking over younger female delegates. Unlike the stars named above, we don’t want to name anyone here, but hope this gentle reminder will be received by everyone, as we ALL try not to speak for anyone but ourselves.

There have been quite a few insensitive comments, probably more than we can count. The worst example was after a heated debate about Native American mascots. A bit later, having moved on to another topic entirely, one delegate got up and introduced himself as from Atlanta and as an unashamed fan of the Braves. Ouch! Why did that seem like a good idea? While everyone is entitled to his/her position on the issues discussed here at General Conference, we must all be gentle with each other, careful to communicate our opinions and ideas as messages, not using them as weapons to do harm. Another example has happened more than once – delegates apologizing for hurting someone else, but not saying “I’m sorry I hurt you by saying” this or that, but rather, saying “I’m sorry YOU were hurt by what I said.” Again, to make sure everyone feels welcome and a full member of the body, we need to beware of language that shuts others down. Apologies are ALWAYS welcome, but not for someone else’s feelings. We can only apologize for our own words and actions.

Finally, when one of the monitors gave the report in one of the committees, noting that some of the women delegates had reported feeling bullied by others, one male delegate leaned over to a woman near him, snickering, and said, “That wasn’t me, was it?” Indeed sir, it MAY have been you. And bullying is NOT funny. In general, we would request that everyone put their own egos aside and seek better to understand the position, the ideas, and the feelings of others. And saying you were “just kidding” doesn’t help, and it cannot fall to the targets of the jokes to continually explain what is and isn’t funny.

So, our brothers: we are women, not girls, just as you are not boys. We are farmers just as you are, not wives. Like you, we can speak for ourselves. And please don’t interrupt us or make jokes when some of us feel bullied. We often laugh to be polite and so YOU don’t feel bad, but it’s really not funny.

GCSRW Legislation Update #1- General Conference Adopts Three of GCSRW’s Petitions on First Full Day of Plenary

by Jenn Meadows, Director of Communications

Delegates to the 2016 General Conference adopted the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women’s (GCSRW) petitions #60165 Functions of AC COSROW, #60166 Eradication of Sexual Harassment in The UMC and Society, and #60108 Every Barrier Down from the Consent Calendar Monday morning.

We at GCSRW are incredibly happy that the General Conference recognizes and affirms GCSRW’s work within the denomination and throughout the globe. We hope to continue our ministry together with our sisters and brothers across the connection to eradicate sexism and sexual misconduct within The United Methodist Church (UMC).

Petition #60165, Functions of AC COSROW, was adopted 33 for, 8 against, 1 abstaining in the Independent Commissions Committee. It was placed on the Consent Calendar of Monday, May 16th ‘s edition of the Daily Christian Advocate (DCA) and adopted on the floor. The adoption of this petition means a new resolution will be added to The Book of Resolutions that will describe the functions of an Annual Conference committee designed to extend the work of GCSRW’s mandate on the conference and local level. This new resolution offers a comprehensive plan to effectively live GCSRW’s mandate in ministry to all in The UMC challenging each of us to accept Jesus’ instruction to go out and make disciples in all nations.

Petition #60168, Every Barrier Down, was adopted 44 for, 1 against, 1 abstaining in the Independent Commissions Committee. The General Conference adopted this petition off of Monday’s DCA’s Consent Calendar. The adoption of this petition updates Resolution #3442 in The Book of Resolutions with the most updated and current information GCSRW has regarding the state of clergywomen leadership in The United Methodist Church. We also will continue our work making sure that every barrier is down to make way for more women’s leadership throughout the denomination.

We are grateful for the acknowledgement by the General Conference of ongoing discrimination against women in our Church and in the world,” Senior Director of Education and Leadership Rev. Leigh Goodrich said. “At GCSRW we are dedicated to the continuing work of ‘full and equal responsibility and participation of women in the total life and mission of the Church.’  We ask for the prayers of the entire Church to accomplish this mandate.

Petition #60166, Eradication of Sexual Harassment in The UMC and Society, was adopted 43 for, 3 against, 0 abstaining in the Independent Commissions Committee, It was adopted by the General Conference off of Monday DCA’s Consent Calendar. The adoption of this petition renews GCSRW’s commitment and work to eradicate sexual harassment in both the Church and society. We will continue to be accountable to The United Methodist Church reporting our findings to the Church.

GCSRW applauds the delegation of General Conference in the re-adoption Resolution #2045 ‘Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Church and Society’,” Senior Director of Sexual Ethics and Advocacy Becky Posey Williams stated. “This resolution is very important in naming the problem of sexual harassment and identifying the eradication of it as a value and priority of The United Methodist Church. GCSRW is committed to interagency work in the development of resources which promote communities of faith living in relationships which promote integrity, respect, and deep honoring of one another.

DCA 5: General Commission on the Status and Role of Women Monitoring Report (Monday, May 16)

We begin today with a quote from Yogi Berra, famous for his use of paradoxical or contradictory images that convey both humor and wisdom – both much needed here at General Conference and in life. Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” While the delegates are busy talking and listening and discerning, the monitors are watching to find patterns in your participation that might enable or hinder full participation of all persons. So first, thank you for including us and also for soliciting our observations and allowing us to share with the group what we have seen. Many of the delegates have made notable changes to their participation based on our ideas, and we have been SO impressed.

We also must humbly offer a correction. In yesterday’s report, we lifted up Bethany Amey as a star of inclusion. While reports are that Bethany has been a great chair, leading with both calm and firmness, trying to make sure everyone is heard, it actually was Bill Junk of Oklahoma who should have been noted for taking such care with everyone’s names. In case anyone missed it yesterday, Bill made a notable effort to correctly pronounce everyone’s name and ask for forgiveness when he made mistakes, making everyone feel included as full members of the conference. Today we ask for that forgiveness – SO sorry for mistake in naming – it was Bill who deserved the recognition yesterday.

The data collected from the legislative committee monitors indicate a common pattern: some people (most are men) speak quite a lot and end up dominating the conversation, while others say little or nothing. It’s not that the chairs are or are not recognizing people. It’s that the same people ask to be recognized over and over again. Bishop Harvey said in the morning plenary, when calling on one delegate for a second time, “I usually refrain from calling on a person more than once in a session,” but she felt she needed to do so for a point of order. In general, her comment points to a good practice – that chairs try to call on people only once in a session, or a second time only after many or all others have spoken, and even more, that delegates themselves try to limit their contributions to one or two per session. Of course, depending on the issue being discussed, someone might have quite a lot to say, due to professional expertise, or even deep personal interest. That is fine. But there are precious few of us who can or should speak to EVERY issue. And in fact, we undermine our own effectiveness if others tire of hearing from us before we even get to the mic. One delegate in the Ministry and Higher Education legislative committee actually moved his chair next to the mic so he could be recognized to speak more quickly. Yeah…no, not cool.

Also related to the problem of too frequent and/or missing voices is the size and style of the discussion. In a number of committees, smaller groups were formed to discuss certain topics, and translators were invited to sit at the table as well. Both the small size of the group along with the proximity of the translators seemed to make it possible for some delegates to speak more easily. In fact, some delegates ONLY spoke in such sessions.

With that in mind, today’s first star of inclusion is Kimberly Reisman of Indiana, chair of the Judicial Administration legislative committee. Kimberly specifically reminded the dominant speakers that there were had not yet spoken, thereby inviting new voices into the mix. Thank you Kimberly! There was another star in that committee as well – Lidia Gulele of Mozambique South. When the self-monitoring question was asked about adequate time for translation, a delegate asked if the question could be directed at the Central Conference delegates alone. Lidia got up and in French, said, “No, because you are supposed to be using headsets to understand us – it is not just about us understanding you.” Indeed, a number of the monitors have reported that when non-English delegates are speaking, many English speaking delegates are NOT using the earbuds. Totally not cool – everyone MUST use the headsets! Et merci pour votre observation Lidia; merci beaucoup! Vous êtes la deuxième étoile d’inclusion aujourd’hui.

So, in our attempt to include and hear all voices, perhaps another Yogi Berra-ism would help. He once said, “It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.” Indeed – do you have a real conversation going in your committee, or is “everyone” talking too much? More pointedly, are YOU talking too much? And are you listening to everyone who DOES speak? A little more self-monitoring would help.

DCA 4: General Commission on the Status and Role of Women Monitoring Report (Saturday, May 14)

We want to begin today’s report with a shout-out to Pope Francis who announced the formation of a special Commission to study the possibility of women serving as Deacons in the Roman Catholic Church. As notable as the content of his announcement was, it is also important for us to note HOW he made it. The New York Times said it was “consistent with his style: a seemingly off-the-cuff remark that opened a broad horizon of possibilities.” Here at General Conference, a lot of our communications are formal therefore more easily monitored, but we too must pay attention to the “off the cuff” remarks. They too, can broaden our possibilities, or shut others down.

We’re delighted to report that the large majority of the committee and sub-committee chairs are doing an outstanding job of making sure everyone is included. Bill Allen of Upper New York, Chair of the Conferences Legislative Committee, slows down regularly and repeats himself as many times as it takes to make sure everyone understands exactly what is being voted on. He has also encouraged patience while the interpreters do their work to make sure everything is clear. At the same time, there are members of the committee who do not wait to be recognized, and often speak out of turn, while others wait patiently with their hands raised. It cannot fall only to the chairs; the delegates can also contribute to the full participation of all persons by being as or even MORE interested in hearing the voices of others than in voicing one’s own.

In Church and Society II, while discussing a petition, one delegate asked for a definition of the term, “gender identity.” Another delegate offered a definition, which was received well by some, but with a few snickers and eye-rolling by others. Sub-committee Chair, LaTrelle Easterling of New England, immediately spoke up and reminded everyone to react more carefully, especially in regard to issues that are sensitive for many. Again, a great chair, but the onus is on all of us to remember how much our verbal and non-verbal reactions can hurt feelings and shut down others.

Another way off-handed, well-meaning remarks have been problematic is regarding people’s names. In one committee, during the nominations process, one delegate introduced himself as having a name that is “easy to say and easy to spell.” That, after a number of people had been introduced with non-English names. Unfortunately, the unintended implication of such a statement is that some belong because we “know” their names, while others are “foreign” and therefore challenging to include. In a more inclusive style, Bethany Amey of Greater New Jersey, chairing Church and Society I, went out of her way to carefully pronounce everyone’s name, and asked for grace and forgiveness as she made her way down the list of names, intentionally learning each one.

So, our three NAMED stars of inclusion today are Bill Allen, LaTrelle Easterling and Bethany Amey, but there is one more story of note, though the stars are nameless. In one of the sub-committees in the Faith and Order Legislative Committee, a number of delegates were overheard saying to each other that they need to self-monitor more and reminding each other to be better at making sure everyone is heard. THAT is the goal – 100% self-monitoring, which requires a tendency to want to hear others, even at the expense of occasionally silencing oneself.

Lest we think that is easy, we must also remember the complications that arise in our richly multicultural gathering. One of the challenges that has come to our attention is the dominant voices of white American delegates (male and/or female, depending on the committee) and African males. Because those groups are simply the most numerous, it may take a bit more intentional effort to make sure others are also heard. Added to that, we need to be sensitive to the fact that it might be less common in some cultures for some persons to speak. In particular, when a few African men speak for their delegations, and we don’t hear from others, especially the African women, some might be concerned. On the one hand, it could be a wise and strategic approach meant to put forth the most persuasive voice, or the person best able to speak English. There may also be cultural values that assume men will lead in public gatherings. We don’t want to insist that everyone speaks equally, or that everyone speaks at all, but we do want to be sure to hear from everyone, while also being sensitive to the political strategies and cultural practices that we all bring. In other words, we must monitor both our speaking AND our listening.