The church’s agency for women’s advocacy lays out accomplishments in its 2016 Agency Report.
The United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women introduced two new resources in 2016 for local churches and annual conferences — one designed for clergy family care and another to address the frequent perception of God as exclusively male.
Charged with ensuring the full inclusion of women in the life of the church, the commission continued to monitor every level of the denomination, from the local church to General Conference.
In response to questions from United Methodist News Service, executive staff of the commission discussed the agency’s role and accomplishments in the past year.
What were the top three to five goals for your agency in 2016? Were you able to fully or partly accomplish these goals? How was that done?
In the area of leadership and education, a goal for the 2012-2016 quadrennium was to “increase the vitality of local churches’ and annual conferences’ Commissions on the Status and Role of Women by increasing resources and communication.” We were able to introduce two new resources for the local churches and annual conferences: the “Clergy Family Care” webpage and “God of the Bible” Bible study.
The “Clergy Family Care” webpage came out of the Clergy Family Care Task Force that the commission coordinated with several United Methodist general agencies, including Discipleship Ministries, Wespath Benefits and Investments, Finance and Administration, the Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the Commission on Religion and Race. After the Clergy Family Care summit, it was decided that there needed to be one location for annual conferences and local churches to find resources, best practices, etc. — information was not easy to find, and each conference had its own policies. The webpage is housed on gcsrw.org and it is being maintained and updated. The commission will continue to promote this website throughout the denomination.
“God of the Bible” came about because there were so many questions and concerns related to how God was perceived. The commission formed a small group of theologians and local church pastors to create a Bible study to help people explore the various images of God that is mentioned throughout the Bible.
In addition to the resources, the commission also had a goal to “evaluate … General Conference to ensure full inclusion of women at all levels of church life.” In 2016, the year of General Conference, jurisdictional conferences and episcopal elections, GCSRW analyzed data on the delegates of General Conference and jurisdictional conferences. In addition, we looked at how the bishop election has impacted the demographics of the Council of Bishops. All the reports are located in the “Women by the Numbers” section on the gcsrw.org website. It is important that women have a voice and a vote when making decisions impacting the life of The United Methodist Church. By giving attention to the number of women (or lack of women) represented, we help local churches and annual conferences see who they are electing (or not electing) to give voice and vote.
In the area of sexual ethics, the commission’s goal was to “work collaboratively with other agencies to provide resources and training for the prevention of sexual abuse and harassment.” In 2016, interagency collaboration resulted in resolutions passed at General Conference regarding sexual ethics, which will have an impact throughout the United Methodist connection. Additionally, the commission has been invited to give presentations on sexual ethics in several legal forums of annual conferences. Trainings were provided for annual conferences on the subjects of healthy boundaries for clergy and the development of Response Teams for congregational healing following sexual misconduct in the church.
The commission continues to provide advocacy for victims of clergy sexual misconduct through information and support to victims through the complaint process in the annual conferences. Consultation to leadership of annual conferences in handling complaints is an ongoing service. Additionally, the commission maintains the only dedicated website to sexual ethics in The United Methodist Church at www.umsexualethics.org.
What was your budget for 2016?
The budget for 2016 was $978,000. About half the program budget was used for the above goals.
Please give a specific example of how one of your programs benefited a United Methodist, a church or a specific community.
Victims of sexual misconduct who contacted our office received the highest level of skill to walk them through the complaint process in their annual conferences. Not all conferences have highly skilled advocates to assist persons who file a complaint.
Leadership in annual conferences received guidance in handling sexual misconduct cases. Leaders are usually grateful for the information we provide to them in these situations.
There were women at General Conference who were grateful about the video we produced celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first elected clergywomen delegates to General Conference. By naming the injustices toward women — patriarchy to be specific — we validated their experiences.
Persons who have used “God of the Bible” have commented how it helps them see God as more than just a male image, as God is commonly portrayed. By seeing many facets of God, it gives men and women a richer understanding of the world.
What particular challenges did the agency face in accomplishing these goals?
Even though The United Methodist Church is very clear on its stance concerning women, many still do not value women in leadership — nor are women being given similar opportunities and support in their ministries. Just like our secular communities, the church still has bias structures in place. As we include women in every aspect of life and the church, we are slowly altering the structure to include both men and women. It is not enough to have a sprinkling of women; we are working for the “commitment to the full and equal responsibility and participation of women in the total life and mission of the Church” (2012 Book of Discipline ¶2102).
Some annual conferences continue to not make use of the Response Teams or make trained support persons a priority in responding to the chargeable offense of sexual misconduct. The commission is challenged with continuing to provide training, education and awareness on the importance of these resources for accountability and healing in all cases.
If the goals are ongoing, what do you plan to accomplish in 2017?
The emphasis for 2017 will be on Paragraph 4, Article 4 of The United Methodist Church’s Constitution. All annual conferences will vote in 2017 (and some in 2018) on changes approved at General Conference 2016 to the section regarding the Inclusiveness of the Church. The amendment guarantees membership privileges to all, regardless of ability, gender, age and marital status.