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Saturday, May 02, 2015

Where are the women?

The nominees for Presiding Bishop were announced yesterday.

 The nominees are:
Le sigh.

Okay, so yes. There are some good, strong candidates in that list. And, yes, okay, the point is not the gender of the person but the qualifications.

As Susan Russell wrote on the FaceBook page of The Episcopal Women's Caucus: 
The nominee pool is bishops diocesan with at least 5 years of tenure and the only woman with that standing -- Mary Gray-Reeves -- didn't stand for election. The list is not an indictment of the search process -- it's an indictment of a churchwide process of undervaluing and under-deploying the gifts of women in senior leadership and an indication of how deeply systemic sexism continues to challenge us.
the Rt. Rev'd Thomas Breidenthal
Which is why I'm sighing.  There has been a real dearth of women elected bishops anywhere. We are seeing the result of that in the nominations for Presiding Bishop. 

We have not only not made progress, we have not kept up with the progress we once made. 

As women bishops retire, we are not reelecting them. 

Indeed, make no mistake: We are going backward.

With the exception of the one African American male, this list of older, straight, established men is a glaring reminder of that fact.

So, where are the women?

I have - as have many in The Episcopal Women's Caucus membership - spoken to several women about putting their names forward for election to the episcopacy. The responses have been overwhelmingly negative based on a variety of negative issues. 

Here's a brief summary:

(1) When we say "bishop"we really don't know what the word means, much less what we want.

The position of bishop as currently defined is more CEO than spiritual leader. Indeed, with the exception of a notable few, there are not many dioceses willing to live into the tension of what it means to be a "Spiritual" person who is a "Leader." 

the Rt. Rev'd Michael Curry
Admittedly, that's not an easy combination to attain or maintain. 

Try this:  Entertain an exercise of "free association" and put those two words, "Spiritual" and "Leader" in two columns on a sheet of paper. In each column, write down the first words that come to mind, first "Spiritual" and then "Leader". 

I'm betting that by the fourth or fifth round, you will see such a conflicting set of definitions as to wonder whether or not the term "Spiritual Leader" is an oxymoron. 

You know. Like, "jumbo shrimp". 

What does it mean to be bishop in a post modern world which is still doing battle with ancient evils like sexism, racism, slavery, government and political corruption, greed, and poverty? 

Indeed, what does it mean to be a Christian in the Third Millennium in a wildly diverse global village which holds pluriform religious beliefs and truths? 

What kind of Christian leadership is required in our current reality and desired future at the local, diocesan, national and international level?

(2) The election process reveals our ambivalence about women in leadership.

The election process - intentionally or unintentionally - often sets up two women nominees who split the "woman" vote and the white, straight guy gets elected. Meanwhile, search committees pat themselves on the back saying, "But, we nominated TWO women!!" 

I should note that, in those places where women have been elected, it's because the women who are of the laity and ordained have caucused and developed a strategy for election.

The other part of the election process - intentionally or unintentionally - sometimes sets up a woman and a person of color who also split the vote and the white, straight guy gets elected.

the Rt. Rev'd Ian Douglas
Don't believe me? Go look over the last few episcopal elections.

(3) When women are nominated, it's often the most conservative women who get the nod. 

Here's the truth: The church is, basically, a not-for-prophet organization. We don't elect prophets to be our leaders. Not any more. Gone are the days of John Hines and Jack Spong. 

But, a woman who is a truth-teller? With a real vision for the church that does not involve "speaking eloquently" while keeping things pretty much the same? As a bishop? 

Not. Going. To. Happen.

Someone once said, "Prophets don't get paychecks." That was nevermore true these days.

Or, as they say in the South, "Heavens! You don't want to scare the horses!" Especially when the horses are already nervous about whether or not they are going to get their next bale of hay. You definitely want to keep the "nags" out of this. Unless, of course, they are suffragans.

(4) Truth be told, many women I've spoken with are not at all interested in being bishop. 

I know many, many women who are priests who act like bishops and talk like bishops and have all the "gifts and graces" to be bishop and seem genuinely called to be bishops but they are unwilling to put on a purple shirt and deal with all the non-relational crap that the office seems to call for these days. 

One woman said to me, "I know it's said that when all the bishops lay hands on the head of someone who is being ordained, they are really removing the spine. That may be true, but, I think they are actually removing the soul."

the Rt. Rev'd Dabney Smith
Another example: I was consulting with two congregations recently - one white, one Hispanic - talking about merger. 

The white congregation thought their bishop was "a real leader, really helped to organize this diocese, has helped the diocese to make a real financial turn around." 

The Hispanic congregation made polite noises about the bishop until one woman said, almost above a whisper, "I don't know. I mean. Well. I just wonder. Do the man pray? I mean, do he know Jesus?"

Le sigh. 

Anyway, that's what I've heard from women around the church. This is what I've learned.

Unless and until we - and, I'm talking 'us' here, you and me, the baptized, laity and ordained - can re-imagine what it means to be bishop . . . . .

. . . . . as long as we call bishops to "talk" mission but allow them to maintain the status quo . . .

. . . . . who talk about being "nimble" but don't do anything to "nimblize" their own diocesan staff . . . 

. . . . . who talk about "sacrificial giving" but show no shred of evidence of that in their own lives - professional or personal . . . . .

. . . . . whose travel budget is more than the total budget of half the congregations in their diocese - or, who allow the building and maintenance costs of the diocesan offices to be more than the salaries of half their diocesan clergy . . . .

. . . . . who are deeply spiritual but not leaders;  or who are leaders but not spiritual. . . . 

. . . . . who know the joy the apostles once knew and are not afraid to express it and share it. . .

. . . . . who do not feed the hunger and thirst for justice with the Bread of Anxiety and the Wine of Complacency . . . . .

. . . . . who strive daily to model the unconditional love and acceptance of God in Christ Jesus for all - yes, ALL - of God's children of whatever color or gender or sort and manner of condition - and, oh yes, even Creed . . . . .

. . . . . as long as we continue to treat Bishops like ecclesiastical royalty and not as ways to see God more clearly and love God more dearly and follow Jesus more nearly . . . . .

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . we're not going to get women - or too many Christian spiritual leaders - in the episcopacy. 

Le sigh. 


Unknown said...

I had a similar reaction when I saw the slate. I think my thought process was something like "well *that* says something about the church." :\

I'm one of those women priests who gets teased about being a bishop and responds "don't you curse me." Bishop as currently expressed in the church? Not a chance. And yet there *are* so many good strong women leaders. Hell, there are strong prophetic male leaders too but the good ones have no interest in the office of "administrator of the sinking ship."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for your comment, Josephine. Hopefully, this slate will be a real wake up call to the women of the church. My standard line when people have said to me, "You should be bishop," is to smile broadly and say politely, "Thank you, but I'm so glad God loves me more than that."

SCG said...

There's another issue that still exists, especially in some places in the church: women can be priests, if they'll be an associate. There are still parishes where the laity want "a bloke, beard, bad breath," as was once described on the Vicar of Dibley to be the rector. How many women are deans of cathedrals? And isn't it telling that the one woman who was eligible for nomination to be PB said, "Nah, that's OK."
There's a need for a whole lotta shaking up...from the ground up... in the church.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You're right, of course, SCG Women are rarely in those "fast track positions" from whence bishop nominees come. So, even if women feel called to the episcopacy and wish to be "seen", they remain "invisible".

Sexism stinks.

But, in terms of the one woman who was eligible, in all fairness, her husband had recently died in a tragic bike accident. She's still grieving. Can't really blame her.

8thday said...

I am not Episcopalian nor have I ever belonged to a church that had a hierarchy of individuals. I have no knowledge of your different levels in terms of responsibilities or power. That said I am wondering if there is something about the job of bishop you think women are better suited to? Or is it just that you think leadership should be a better reflection of membership? Or something else?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Absolutely: Leadership ought to be a reflection of membership. And, prejudice doesn't belong anywhere in the church.

I happen to believe that, as the job is presently described, women are not well suited for the role of bishop. However, many of those bishops who are women have made a substantial change in the role and have done exceptionally well in creating a healthier diocese where they are. If we could elect more women into the episcopacy, I think we really could change the church.

Someone else's mileage may vary.

RevSylvia+ said...

I was a nominee for 12th Bishop of New Jersey in 2013. It was an extraordinary experience. I'm still discerning whether it was a blessing not to be elected because though the Diocese has many challenges to face, I truly felt called to lead the diocese through those challenges. But it would have meant a huge shift in how the Diocese operates. Maybe the church is not ready for the kind of radical shift in leadership that women and ethnic minorities represent. I figured I was a long shot because I'm a woman and also of Mexican ancestry, but it was a great honor and a deeply meaningful experience. I'm glad I traveled that road. When will the church be ready for the shift in leadership needed?

Grace said...

I mentioned the "diocesan, with five years of service" qualification to my bishop (Rob Hirschfeld - a [straight, white] man of deep prayer still feeling his way into what it means to be a leader in the church as currently configured, and we love him for it) last night and he said there is no such requirement. Who is correct?

(And I'm sitting right here on the bench of "women who, when someone says 'You'll be bishop some day,' reply 'Good Lord, deliver us'.")

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Rev Sylvia - I remember talking with Marge Christie, one of the founders of EWC and asking when she thought the first lesbian would be elected bishop. She said - rather emphatically - that the first gay bishop would be male. And, Caucasian. "The church can't deal with two things out of the "norm" at once," she said. "It's enough to be a woman, not a lesbian woman."

I think she's right. So, NJ may have been ready for a woman as bishop, but a Mexican woman as bishop? No, not yet. It's horrible, isn't it? And, their loss.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Grace - turns out Susan, and all the rest of us were wrong about the 5 year minimum for PB. It's a 5 year minimum ordained as priest before one can be elected bishop. Not PB. Bishop. And, no restrictions on diocesan or suffragan, although no suffragan has ever been elected PB.

Which, of course, makes it even worse. It was somehow a little softer when we thought there was a five year minimum.

Charlotte Weaver-Gelzer said...

Very odd but interesting article. Two points at the least, to make. This slate for PB follows the double term of a very inspiring and very unexpected woman bishop, who, be it noted, had never served as a parish priest before becoming bishop--so, I wonder about the sweeping generalizations made about how women are elected, or not. Second, the recent election of Canon Audrey Scanlan to position of 11th Bishop of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania was not at all achieved by any sort of caucus of women in the diocese. Not only is she female, she is not conservative. The search committee alone did the work, found the candidates, did the discernment with an intense focus on FIT between candidates and needs of the diocese, and nominated one woman and two men to the slate. There were more than two women who submitted their names among the more than 40 candidates from which the search committee chose their nominees. I suggest that something other than 'women' 'gays' 'lesbians' 'people of color' 'spiritual' and 'leader' is essential for true FIT between diocese and candidates for the episcopacy. Real discernment is not about categories at all. It's about who you all are, when you are, where you are, and how smart your search committee is, or at the least, your Standing Committee is about the members and chair of the search committee. Come on. Spend some time reading Russell Crabtree and Bob Gallagher (sorry, both men but both with a better bead on congregational/diocesan health than any women who've written on the subject). Then figure out how to talk about health and change. You'll stand out, whether you're male, female, gay, straight, of any race or nation, liberal or conservative. All the rest is talk.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

So, Charlotte - the 11th Bishop of DioCPA not withstanding, the statistics reveal a very different picture. Very. Different.

To suggest that those women who have submitted their names for election to the episcopacy haven't read up on what the "experts" have to ssay, much less studied the the diocesan profile and other information about the people and place to which they feel they are being called, much less spent countless hours in personal prayer, private therapy and colleague groups is to suggest something really insulting about women which I don't think - at least I hope - you intend.


You say, real discernment is "not about categories" and then present a different set of categories. Truth is: it's about both. If it weren't, we'd have a whole lot more diversity in the HOB.


Here's another piece of truth: Many dioceses - the DioCPA not withstanding - are not healthy places. Indeed, many of them are decidedly not healthy. They've been playing shell games with the budget and living on "dead people's money" for so long their anxiety level is palpable. So, the FIT you talk about - the DioCPA not withstanding - is often someone who will hold their hands while everyone rearranges deck chairs on the Titanic.


I'm afraid I've been around the church - including the DioCPA - for many, many years. I've been in one episcopal election, held the hands of and prayed without ceasing for several women who have been in episcopal elections, and been on three search committees for bishops. I know stuff. A lot of it is written in this blog.

I'm fully willing to admit that there are exceptions to the rule - the DioCPA seems to be one of them - but the statistics back me up.