The nominees are:
- The Rt. Rev. Thomas Breidenthal, 64, Diocese of Southern Ohio
- The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, 62, Diocese of North Carolina
- The Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, 56, Diocese of Connecticut
- The Rt. Rev. Dabney Smith, 61, Diocese of Southwest Florida
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|
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|
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|
(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|
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?"
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.