A Time to Listen, A Time to Speak

General Commission on the Status and Role of Women will be around for the next 4 years.  It was because of a judicial decision that the “Plan UMC” structure was unconstitutional, not because it was the will of the body, the 1,000 delegates in plenary.

The designers of “Plan UMC” said that the new structure was about accountability.  I also agree with accountability.  And I support gender and racial justice.  And there can be both at the same time, it isn’t one or the other.  When a group of people design a structure without including various parts of the denomination to the table, then there will be viewpoints missing.  That was why we want the table bigger to include the different voices.

By using Roberts Rules for conducting the plenary sessions, it was hard to determine what the hindering issues were for GCSRW and GCORR to be independent agencies.  Was it that these issues were not relevant for the delegates?  Was it because of money – which was the same amount with the structure change or not?

When looking at the demographics of US delegates who was in the plenary – it was easy to see what was missing from the US.  The delegates were mostly white, mostly older adults, mostly male and at least half had a household income of $100,000.  Do they represent the majority of UMC?  Can they vote to help the majority of the UMC or to move the UMC into a different place?

There were racism, sexism and classism running throughout the sessions.  Unfortunately there wasn’t time to unpack some of the episodes so all people can see how one situation can be interpreted many different ways.  And it is unfortunate that we as a global church only meet once every four years because normally in our daily lives, most people do not live in such a diverse community of people.  Therefore we do not know or understand each other lives and experiences.

Some delegates spoke about how they were saddened or upset by how the delegates were voting on important issues.  But some were silent, not wanting to speak out.  For a democratic process to work, all who can vote have a duty to speak up.  It isn’t about relying on others to speak for them, but for each person to voice their own opinion.

Some people felt that most of the votes were against women, people of color in the US, young people, homosexuals – people on the margins.  People who are not normally part of the “power” within the church.  The history of these persons are important because we didn’t all start at the same place – none of these groups had power, they all had to fight to get whatever power they currently have.  To think we are all equal and can be treated without any thought to where each group came from is to forget the realities in life for many people.  The only group of people that didn’t have to fight for their power was white men.

There was an Asian American young woman who was actively participating in her group.  After the vote was taken, an older white man told her that she was not a team player; she needed to go along with the group.  So do we want her to make the “year book picture” more colorful or did we want her because of her experiences and perspectives?  Would this encounter hinder her participation with future UMC related activities?

It was clear that the UMC wants to bring in more young people as clergy and in membership.  Do we think we will have more people within our churches by not listening to their experiences and their desires?  Do we believe people will join our churches to follow those before them without having any voice of their own?  We have been losing membership for the last 40 years, when the older adults were in leadership.  If we are to bring in more people, different people, we may need to start listening to them.

The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women has been and will continue to listen to women – young women, older women, white women, women of color in the US, women in Africa, Philippines, Asian, poor women, wealthy women, lay women, clergy women, working women, etc.  And help the UMC to be more inclusive of all women in the life of the church.

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