“In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew,
slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal.”
--Galatians 3:28 The Message
The purpose of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) is to “challenge The United Methodist Church…to a continuing commitment to the full and equal responsibility and participation of women in the total life and mission of the Church, sharing fully in the power and in the policy-making at all levels of the Church’s life.” Paragraph 2101, The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2016. We began the quadrennium by examining our mandates and evaluating their relevance, as well as our capacity to create and deliver resources capable of making a difference across the connection.
The quad had barely begun when awareness of the continued inequity of women in the church and in the world increased dramatically due to the #metoo movement. The timing of this movement coincided with our receipt of a grant from the Connectional Table for expansion of our Leadership and Sexual Ethics work into the Central Conferences. We honored this grant as an opportunity to multiply our work akin to Jesus’s directive in the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30.
Leadership and Accountability
Challenging The UMC, requires that we collect and evaluate data to determine whether a challenge is justified. Data frames our monitoring work. This quad we completed multiple research projects and provided traditional monitoring at General Conference 2019.
In 2017 in collaboration with Wespath, GCSRW completed a salary study that indicated that female clergy within the United States were paid $.84/$1.00 compared with male clergy. The results of this study were published in our “Women by the Numbers” series causing several bishops to ask us to repeat this study and annual conferences to explore their inequities.
We also performed a Sexual Harassment study to compare the current state of sexual misconduct within The UMC to the findings in prior studies. The results were published and indicated that the abuse of power exhibited through sexual misconduct continues across the church and in the world. Our initial study was limited to the United States as it was intended to be a comparative study, but the climate of the #metoo and #churchtoo movements exposed the need to collect data in the Central Conferences. We began collection of data and published preliminary findings indicating the existence of sexual misconduct across the global church.
Our free trainings and resources are available to all. They were specifically shared with bishops, annual conferences, the African Clergy Women’s Association, the North Katanga Annual Conference, the summit for Women Leaders in Eurasia, and will be shared at the Women’s Leadership Summit to be held in Chicago in August of 2020.
One of our profound discoveries this quad was that key paragraphs of the Book of Discipline which relate to the equality of women in the Book of Discipline are not translated into the official languages for use in trainings. We had the sections translated and they are available on our website (Portuguese, French). We continued providing additional translations of our Women Called to Ministry theological study and created a video to accompany our expansive language resource, God of the Bible.
At General Conference 2019, our president, Bishop Tracy Smith Malone, led a plenary training which explained monitoring and raised awareness of being intentional in how we treat, listen, and speak with one another. We collected data on those chosen to speak and reported the findings to the church through the Daily Christian Advocate. We will be providing trainings to leadership and monitoring the body at General Conference 2020 and issuing reports of our findings.
Finally, we supported the collection and publication of the stories of Women Bishops of The United Methodist Church, Extraordinary Gifts of the Spirit. This collection represents messages of hope exhibited by the example and perseverance of our female episcopal leadership.
Sexual Ethics and Advocacy
Our Sexual Ethics and Advocacy ministry is only as effective as the support of episcopal leadership. A pivotal moment occurred this quad with the issuance of a joint statement by the Council of Bishops and our agency naming sexual misconduct as a sin. In response to the #metoo and #churchtoo movements, the statement identified the ministry of GCSRW as providing training and resources seeking both accountability for perpetrators and healing for victims and committing The UMC to justice. The Council further identified the need for trainings, policies, and resources within its own ranks and GCSRW assisted with development of those.
GCSRW provided help and guidance to victims and church leaders through the confidential “hot-line” and the umsexualethics.org website. GCSRW coordinated the Interagency Sexual Ethics Task Force which convened the “Do No Harm” event in 2018. All but four annual conferences in the United States sent representatives to be trained. Sessions included clergy self-care and personal boundaries, development and staffing of response teams, supervisory and judicial complaint processes, advocacy and healing for the victims, and providing pastoral ministry to the accused.
The need for this training to be replicated across the Central Conferences led to our development of a strategic plan to expand our sexual ethics and advocacy work within the capacity of our staff and agency through the following steps: 1) listening to identify and assess pilot areas with supportive episcopal leadership, 2) providing scholarships for representatives to attend “Do No Harm”; 3) developing contextual resources; 4) supporting local trainings; 5) guiding development of strategic plans for ministry.
Our work in the pilot areas included the following: boundaries trainings in Peru (in collaboration with Global Ministries), Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, North Katanga; and a mini version of Do No Harm in the Philippines Central Conference with all three episcopal areas represented.
The trainings from the Do No Harm event together with the following resources are available for free on our website: the #MeToo tool kit; the Integrity in Ministry study which explores being in right relationship with God, self, and others; the Understanding the Role of Power brochure; and the animated film Whisper with Stones which explores the abuse of power manifested through sexual misconduct (translated into ten languages).
Legislation, past and present
In 2016, General Conference passed legislation promulgated by GCSRW which sought to affirmatively end discrimination against women in the membership of The UMC by adding the classification of “gender” to Paragraph 4, Article IV of the Constitution. The amendment passed, but when the votes were taken across the connection, ratification failed. The results were devastating to women (and men who support equality) across the church. Our Board of Directors is again proposing legislation to amend Paragraph 4, Article IV to affirmatively state that we as a church will not discriminate against women because of their gender in determining membership within The United Methodist Church.
We are also proposing legislation related to Response Team Ministry for Sexual Misconduct (#2043), Sexual Misconduct within the Ministerial Relationship (#2044), Prevention on the Use of Pornography within the church (New), Eradication of Sexism within the church (#3443), and an Apology to the Victims/Survivors of Sexual Misconduct in The UMC (New).
Our mantra at GCSRW is “our programs are our people.” This quad has given us the opportunity to maximize the talents of our staff and the resources entrusted to us by developing productive ministries for the broader connection. We continue to take what has been invested in our ministries and create free resources for use across the church. In multiplying the talents that we have been given, we trust that Christ and the church find us faithful.