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Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Body Politic

There's a line in Shakespeare's Richard II (act iii, scene 2), "O call back yesterday, bid time return."

It was written during the last days of Elizabeth I's reign, when, because she had no heirs, conversations about succession to the throne was hot on everyone's lips.

One of the themes of Richard II is the tension between the King's natural body and the 'body politic' - a spiritual body which cannot be affected by mortal infirmities such as disease and old age.

These two bodies - natural and politic - form one indivisible unit, with the body politic superior to the body natural.

"The Body Politic" has come to mean the people of a politically organized nation or state considered as a group.

I don't know how "spiritual" the 'Body Politic" is, but I think it still enjoys superiority to the body natural.

I have been thinking about both definitions of the term as I read the March 4th, ENS article: "Income trends for female clergy mirror U.S. averages: 'Called to Serve' report shows women's status 34 years after ordinations began by Mary Frances Schjonberg.

You can find the article here.

The report begins:
According to two recently released studies, the pay disparity between male and female clergy in the Episcopal Church mirrors the rest of the United States.

Data in "Women in America," a statistical portrait released March 1 by the White House, show that women earned about 75 percent of what their male counterparts earned in 2009.

"Called to Serve," a Church Pension Fund study of clergy women and their families released in late January, found that women earned $45,656 on average compared with an average for male clergy of $60,773, or 75 percent.

There are 5,542 ordained women in the Episcopal Church, including 12 bishops, and 12,464 male clergy.
Okay, so move along. Nothing to see here, folks. Just almost 1/2 the ordained women in The Episcopal Church making 75% of what men do. It's just business as usual.

Never mind that the church is called to excellence. Never mind that the church is called to usher in the Realm of God. Never mind that our Baptismal Covenant and the teaching of our Catechism call us to the great prophetic commission to "do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God".
"Despite the presence of women clergy in the church for over thirty years, there are still significant gaps when comparing compensation and years of service between male and female clergy, pointing to the significant obstacles that women clergy face," Matthew Price, Church Pension Group vice president and director of analytical research, wrote in the report's introduction.

"Women's ministry also takes place in a wider society that influences and constrains what women can do," said Price of the other study's findings. "Family roles that still place on women primary responsibility for the raising of children and the care of elderly parents constrain the opportunities that women have to pursue opportunities in ministry."
Never mind that it is the year 2011. To paraphrase a quote from Bette Middler, it seems that when the ball drops in Times Square on New Year's Eve, no matter what year it actually is, it's still 1950 in The Episcopal Church.

The ecclesiastical 'body politic' has spoken about the status of women in our culture and in our church and they are speaking the same language of resignation to and consignment with the status quo.
The report examined service and compensation gaps between clergy men and women, looked at "formal structural barriers, but also at the subtle steering currents that lead clergy women into career backwaters," and lastly examined forces outside the church that may contribute to the gaps, according to the introduction.

The study showed that married men receive greater compensation on average ($61,964) than men who are not married ($55,388), and the inverse is true for women. Married women receive significantly less compensation on average ($44,544) than non-married women ($47,455). And men were significantly more likely than women to have successfully negotiated a greater compensation package than what had been offered.

In addition, men show significantly higher employment ratios, defined as years of employment with respect to years since ordination. Married men have greater employment ratios (65% on average) than non-married men (59%), while married women have lower employment ratios (47% on average) than non-married women (51%).

The study found that clergywomen traditionally have been challenged in being able to move from an associate rector or other staff-level placement to a rectorship or other position where they are the principal or senior ordained leader. "Research over the past thirty years has shown a persistent trend of men called to rectorships by their second placement, on average, while women typically have moved laterally to another staff position," researcher the Rev. Dr. Paula Nesbitt wrote.

She noted that being a rector is seen as "the normal expected experience for clergy to be called to high-level leadership within the church, such as cathedral dean or bishop." Men were also significantly more likely to have applied for a position as cathedral dean or bishop.

A press release from the Committee on the Status of Women noted that at present, less than three percent of diocesan bishops are women.

"I sorely wish I could say that there has been great progress for women in the almost 40 years women have been ordained priests, but if the "Called to Serve" report shows us anything, it's that we still have a long way to go," said the Rev. Cynthia Black, chair of the Committee on the Status of Women, and a priest in the Diocese of Minnesota.
The ecclesiastical 'body politic' has spoken about the status of women in our church. It shall mirror our culture. It has ever been thus. It is most likely to stay that way.

But, it doesn't have to.

In the past, the Committee on the Status of Women and The Episcopal Women's Caucus have tried to hold up these statistics as a way of shaming the church - at national, diocesan and local levels - into some action.

It hasn't worked. Obviously.

It is clearly time to take another strategy. A more pro-active one. Dare I say, a more demanding one.

It's time for women to relinquish the role of "royal martyr" and advocate for ourselves and our families.

Shakespearean critic J.D. Wilson notes that, in Shakespear's Richard II, the King's double nature as man and martyr is the dilemma that runs the course of the play, eventually leading to Richard's death.

Richard acts the part of a royal martyr, and due to the spilling of his blood, England continually undergoes civil war for the next two generations.

What's that old saying about those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it?

I don't know about you, but I think the time has come and now is to come out of the closet of sociocultural gender politics of the 1950's.

This political body thinks its time for a shift, change, transformation, revolution in the Body Politic which may well have been fighting so long about sexuality as an excuse not to work on other issues of justice and mercy and walking humbly with God.

I do not want to "bid time return" and "call back yesterday". Whatever we take from the past, let it be that which was good. That which served to bring out the best in each of us.

Let what is the very best about "yesterday" serve the present and lead us into the future, not keep us - especially "the little woman" - marching in place - three steps behind men.

To paraphrase political comedian Bill Maher, "I don't want my church 'back'. I want my church 'forward'."


Malinda said...

"I don't want my church, back, I want my church forward." Sigh. Fighting words, words that mean change and nobody wants change - unless it is the change they want which is usually not change but some other thing that fills a personal need. Sigh. I want my church forward. Tell me how to do that.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I think you're doing it, Malinda