Women by the Numbers, Part 5: Who is on the Legislative Committees?


United Methodists from around the world will gather next week in Portland, Oregon for General Conference 2016. Among the thousands gathered will be 864 delegates elected by their annual and central conferences to revise church laws, adopt new ones and approve plans and budgets for church-wide programs. Half of the delegates are laity, half are clergy, and the number of delegates representing each jurisdiction and annual conference is proportional to the jurisdiction and annual conference’s membership. Women by the Numbers takes a closer look at who will be at the decision-making table in Portland, this time regarding the representation of women within the legislative committees during this General Conference session.

Each of the 864 delegates elected is assigned to one of the 12 legislative committees. These committees meet during the first half of General Conference to review and make recommendations on the more than 1000 petitions submitted from across The United Methodist Church for consideration on the plenary floor during the second half of the quadrennial gathering. These committees include Church and Society 1 and 2, the committees on Conferences, Discipleship, Faith and Order, Financial Administration, General Administration, Global Ministries, Independent Commissions, Judicial Administration, the Local Church, and the committee on Ministry and Higher Education/Superintendency.

The number of delegates each annual conference receives is proportional to their membership, and how the delegates are assigned to each legislative committee depends largely on the order in which they were elected to the delegation during their respective annual conference sessions. The first elected delegate for example, usually gets first choice in legislative assignments. Whether that is the first elected clergy or lay delegate alternates every four years. This year, the first lay delegate elected will get to choose their legislative assignment before the other delegates elected. Of the 1st lay delegates elected, 44% were female, and of the 1st clergy delegates elected (2nd delegate elected overall), only 20% were women.

Who Is on the Legislative Committees? [1]

Women by the Numbers analyzed the delegates in each legislative committee and each legislative committee by jurisdiction/region. Church and Society 1 and 2 have the largest representation of female delegates with 44% and 47% respectively. The committees with the lowest percentage of female delegates are Conferences at 18% and Financial Administration at 21% female. In addition, of the 21 clergy delegates on the Financial Administration committee, only 1 (or 5%) is a woman, and in the Conferences committee, only 18% of the 44 clergy delegates are female. There are also only 2 clergy women (20%) serving on the General Administration committee. Again, Church and Society 1 and 2 have the highest representation of women delegates, with 31% of clergy being female in Church and Society 1, and 47% in Church and Society 2.

Comparison to the 2012 General Conference Delegates

The percentage of female delegates dropped in every committee, except for General Administration and Judicial Administration where there is an increase in female delegates from 2012 to 2016 (see Women by the Numbers, March 2012). Like in 2012, when men outnumber women delegates (56% to 44%), women delegates again are outnumbered in 2016 (63.5% to 36%). Unlike 2012, where women held the majority of seats in 3 legislative committees, in 2016 women are outnumbered in all of the committees by over 50%. Why the drop in representation on the committees? One answer could be that 11 delegates were not assigned to a committee as of when the data was collected.

Jurisdictional/Regional Representation on the Committees

The jurisdictions and regions with the most members, obviously have the most delegates, and therefore the largest representations on the various legislative committees. The South Central and Southeastern delegations are pretty evenly distributed among the committees, as are the delegations from the central conferences. The Northeastern, North Central, and Western jurisdictions however are smaller, and therefore not represented as equally on all committees. For example, there are not female clergy women delegates from the Northeast serving on the Discipleship, Financial Administration or Local Church committees. The North Central Jurisdiction does not have female clergy represented on the Financial Administration or the General Administration committees. There is at least one female clergy delegate from the Western jurisdiction serving on each of the legislative committees, except for the committee on Independent Commissions. That is because there are no delegates from the Western jurisdiction assigned to that committee as of this moment.

There is only 1 female clergy delegate from the Southeastern jurisdiction serving on the Financial Administration, General Administration, Global Ministries, and Independent Commissions committees. The South Central jurisdictional delegates are also more evenly distributed due to the delegation’s size, but there are still no female delegates from this jurisdiction serving on the Conferences, Discipleship, or Financial Administration committees.

Delegates from the Central Conferences are more evenly distributed among the committees, but there are only 90 (25%) female delegates from the Central Conferences. That means that female delegates from the Central Conferences are underrepresented on the committees. For example, there are not female clergy delegates from the Philippines serving on the Conferences, General Administration, or Judicial Administration committees. In addition, there are no female delegates from the Philippines serving on the Church and Society 1 or the Conferences committees at all. There are no female delegates from Europe/Eurasia serving on the Conferences, Financial Administration, Independent Commissions, or Judicial Administration committees. There are no female clergy delegates from Africa serving on Church and Society 2 or the Financial Administration committees.


In summary, because there are less female delegates overall, there are fewer female delegates on the various legislative committees.  That should not be a surprise, only a clarion call for all of us to work more intentionally to recruit and encourage women to take on leadership roles, including becoming delegates to annual, jurisdictional, and, of course, general conference.

However there is another interesting trend in these numbers.  While women are not represented uniformly across all legislative committees, it is stunning to see the trend in women not on Financial Administration.  Among female clergy in the North East and North Central Jurisdictions, there are none assigned to Financial Administration.  In the South East Jurisdiction, only one female clergy is on Financial Administration. In the South Central Jurisdiction, there are no female delegates at all serving on Financial Administration.  In the Central Conferences, the trend is the same.  In Europe/Eurasia and Africa, there are no female delegates on Financial Administration.

This is a frightening trend for the Church.  We can pass legislation to create all kinds of necessary and useful programs, but if we are unable to fund them, we have no chance of bringing them to fruition.  Let’s remember that we are called “to make disciples for the transformation of the world.”  No disciples means no transformation. Sadly, no funding also often means no transformation.

This trend also begs a number of questions.  How are individuals assigned to legislative committees?  If the delegation leader is doing the assigning, do they perceive women as being less financially savvy?  If the members of the delegation are self-selecting, are women shying away from being financial decision makers in the church?  More importantly, in this critical area of church administration, how can we encourage more women to engage in the important work of financial administration?

The United Methodist Church still has a long way to go in the proportional representation of women in our decision-making table, particularly in the area of financial management.

[1] See tables in addendum (as of January 2016 data)

For more Women by the Numbers, including the articles that examine Annual, Jurisdictional and Central Conferences, please visit the Archives on our website

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