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Sunday, September 08, 2013

Good girls and bad girls

There are still many questions and concerns swirling around in my head about the whole mess with 815 and the Executive Council and the Board of UTO (United Thank Offering).

I am deeply concerned that, in 2012, the Executive Council's Advisory Committee may have inadvertently and unknowingly set up the UTO by it's recommendations. The advice was to live into the "creative tension" between the "autonomous nature of mission" and the "increasingly regulatory nature" of the institutional church and find a way to the path that leads to good old Anglican both/and: autonomy and interdependence.

Any lawyer who works with contracts and bylaws would have a good laugh at that.

Laws are laws. They are pretty black and white. They are not marked by "creative tensions". It's a great idea - indeed, a noble idea - but these don't always find their way into the "Article I, Section 2" model of laws and bylaws.

I'm also struck by the irony that, while this conversation was going on, the COO of The Episcopal Church was talking about eliminating CCABs (Commissions, Committees, Agencies and Boards) so we could be more "nimble for mission". Indeed, at the 2012 GC, we voted to form our own Task Force to revision and restructure the church.

Mary, the BVM
And yet, what is being proposed by the institutional church is to have the UTO become a CCAB - instead of encouraging the UTO to incorporate as a 501 (c) (3) and have the same kind relationship the church has with, say, Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD - formally, Presiding Bishop's Fund). Or, for that matter, the way hospitals and clinics and educational institutions have with congregations and/or diocese.

As one wise woman once whispered to me at the end of a Very Long and Non-Productive diocesan meeting: "This is why God so loved the world that God sent an Only Child - and NOT a committee."

There will be more information revealed in days to come. This situation didn't happen overnight. Indeed, it's been going on at least since 2007 when the Presiding Bishop first called for a study to learn about CCABs and their relationship to the institutional church.

Here's my deepest concern: Women. Women and their ministry and sense of mission. Women and their autonomy and power and their relationship with the institutional church.

That is not going to be a surprise to anyone who knows me or reads this blog.  I am a self-avowed, unrepentant feminist. I am a feminist because I am a Christian. I am a feminist because I believe Jesus was a feminist in his own way and for his own time. I believe there are more than a few men in The Episcopal Church who are feminists.

So, if a feminist perspective isn't your thing, stop reading now. You'll only make yourself upset. 

The institutional church will do what the institutional church will do, and the institutional church still operates, for the most part, on the dominant male paradigm. Yes, we have a woman who is Presiding Bishop and the last two Presidents of the House of Deputies have been women. Yes, the ordination of women is not the Very Big Deal it once was.

That does not mean that there isn't misogyny and sexism in the church. That does not mean that we aren't still a hierarchical church, with all the attendant structures and canons.

Indeed, it does not mean that women have the same opportunities for advancement within the institutional church. We don't.  In fact, in terms of the election of women to the episcopacy as compared to the rate of women in the episcopacy who are retiring, we are actually losing ground.

It also doesn't mean that changing the faces at the top necessitates change within the system. There are still far too many women in the church who know how to play hardball with the big boys and "go along to get ahead".

Which may be one reason it's so hard to get women to stand for election as bishops.  Too many women don't want to play the game. They'd rather focus their energies on the work of the Gospel.

That's not to say that there haven't been women in leadership who have made systemic changes and have taken prophetic roles in the church. Barbara Harris, of course, springs immediately to mind, but there are others who - lay and ordained - in small, quiet but significant ways, are making changes.

Slowly, slowly, slowly.

It takes time, I know. Here's what else I know: Patience has never been my strong suit.

So, here's my concern: There were eight women on the UTO Board. Four resigned in protest.

Let me say that again: Four resigned IN PROTEST.

They did not simply resign. They did not whine or snivel. They resigned because it was the only way they knew to bring to light that which had been going on in secret.

Remember: the UTO board was required to sign a Statement of Confidentiality in which they pledged not to discuss their .... 'negotiations'.... outside of their group. 

Raise your suspicions much?

So, four resigned and four stayed on. Let me say this: It takes courage to do both.

It takes courage to blow the whistle and call attention to something going on that's wrong with the process. It takes courage to stay and hold a place so that the UTO might continue to have something of a Board of Directors.

The UTO now needs to elect eight more women, in accordance with the bylaws that were approved by their organization as well as General Convention in 2012. I hope everyone will keep them in the deepest part of their prayers.

The danger here is to see "good girls" and "bad girls".  The good girls stayed. The bad girls left.

That is NOT true and don't buy into that crap for one red hot New York second.

We've seen this dynamic many times in the church.  Here's one example.

The original plan for the "Philadelphia Eleven" was to have twelve women irregularly ordained to the priesthood at the Church of the Advocate. Elsa Phyllis Walberg - the first woman to be ordained to the diaconate in the Diocese of Massachusetts in 1972 - was supposed to have been among the twelve but, at the last minute, was persuaded to decline. She had the unanimous approval of the Standing Committee to be ordained to the priesthood.

What I remember (some of my books are still in storage) is that her bishop wrote a public letter, lauding her decision and calling her "one of the good deacons". Elsa was furious! She wrote back and said, in essence, "Do not ever again put me in a situation where I have to choose between my sisters and the church."

That's the real danger of this whole mess that keeps me up at night - that women will be pitted against each other in the name of the institutional church.

The "good girls" in scripture are those who were obedient: Sarah, Hannah, Deborah, Ruth, and the ultimate "be it done to me according to thy word," Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

The "bad girls" are those who were disobedient or selfish or "wanton": Eve, Hagar, Bathsheba,  Jezebel, Rehab, Delilah, Sapphira - to name just a few.

And then there are those who present ethical dilemmas - like Judith or Ester who committed murder in order to save their people.

Mary and Martha
Their stories - even the ones about the "good girls" - are only known to us through the perspective of men.

All of them - even the "bad girls" - have a role in the ongoing story of our redemption. 

I hope we don't get caught up in the male-constructed tension we see in the two sisters from Bethany. 

We are Martha.  We are Mary. 

We are Episcopal Church Women and Episcopal Women's Caucus  and the Daughters of the King and the National Altar Guild, and The Women's History Project and Girls Friendly Society and the Church Periodical Club and Anglican Women's Empowerment and the Commission on the Status of Women, and, and AND . . . the United Thank Offering.  

The words of Elsa Walberg continue to ring in my ears: "Do not ever again put me in a situation where I have to choose between my sisters and the church."

We women are beloved of God who seek to prosper the Gospel of Jesus, in and through the church. Each in our own way. Living in the "creative tension" of the autonomy necessary for mission and the regulatory nature of the institutional church .

And, don't let anyone tell you anything different.


Michael Hartney said...

Of course you mean that the last two Presidents of the House of Deputies have been women, not the House of Bishops (would that it was so).

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Wishful thinking on my part. LOL. Mistake noted. Correction made. Thank you, Michael.

Sextant said...

Don't know what any of this means as i am not familiar with the structure and the hierarchy of the the Episcopal Church. Your command of the use of acronyms is stunning in this and the previous post, and I am therefore recommending you for a chair on the National Security Council.

Sorry I sometimes can not resist being a wise ass.

Despite my ignorance in the matter and the structure in hand, I believe I have a rudimentary inkling of what is going on.

Some ladies have a rather big pot money, and bureaucrats of both genders are seeking to relieve these poor overwhelmed ladies of the responsibility of all that money. Why its enough to put you in a swoon! What will we ever do with all those millions?

Something like that?

Hang tough Elizabeth, fight them tooth and nail. I don't know which acronym to root for but I am rooting.

If nothing else I did love the image in the previous post. Never underestimate the power of an extremely pissed off woman! Indeed it is a force of nature, and I have full confidence that you will have no trouble living up to that ideal!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, thank you for your part in documenting and clarifying the positions of UTO the Executive Council to help me understand a bit better. My sorrow is that the manner in which the matter has been addressed may harm the mission of UTO, which has done so much good over the years and may also reflect badly on the Executive Council. Whatever is "right" or "true" in the situation, there has to be a better way. If I have difficulty understanding what's happening here, I'd guess I have company.