Over the past few days, I have experienced a wave of emotions due to the announcement of the defeat of two constitutional amendments in the United Methodist Church.
The first proposed amendment was for gender justice, which would have given a voice to women and girls around the world. The new paragraph in the Book of Discipline would have read: “Men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God.” In addition, it also would have stated that the church should “seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large.”
The second proposed amendment would have changed the wording in our Book of Disciple’s paragraph 4 to add the words “gender,” “ability,” “age,” and “marital status” to the protected groups as those included in the church. Essentially, we would be saying that none of these groups of people could be discriminated against in the church.
And yet, these two amendments failed to pass a 2/3 majority vote around the globe and in our own conference.
Men and women around the world who have been chosen as voting delegates by their churches, some ordained in the church as elders and deacons, some as laity, boldly claimed that women and girls are still not embraced and affirmed as equal worth within this body of believers. This group of voters failed to claim that the United Methodist Church should never discriminate against people due to their gender, their ability, their age or their marital status.
For this, I grieve.
I grieve because as members of the United Methodist Church in the United States of America, we should be the first to stand in the trenches for the women and girls around the world who are still deemed second-class citizens, at best, and just property, at worst. But our own delegates could not affirm the equality and worth even here in this great nation. If we can’t affirm this, what does that say about us?
I know that many read these two amendments with fear and distrust, certain there was some underlying scheme hidden within to further enhance some issue they disagree with. But that simply wasn’t the case. If you read the Book of Discipline’s first seven articles, you will find that women and girls are excluded from protection. Why? Because women and girls are not viewed as equal worth in many of the countries around the world. The Book of Discipline is the unifying church constitution. It’s what makes the Methodist Church “United”. It’s why we are called a connectional church. But here in the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences, we couldn’t even agree that women are equal and should be free from discrimination.
Having spent time in Africa last year, I met with several ministers of the UMC in the country of Tanzania. They were all men. And they all had a sense of suspicion around this group of American women clergy who were visiting. They were welcoming and friendly but also kept us at arm’s length. I dare say for some, we were the first women they had ever heard preach. And preach we did. We shared the Gospel… the very same Gospel that they share. And yet, women are still not included as equal and worthy. So, I grieve.
But while I grieve, I also know that I must acknowledge that not every Annual Conference failed women and girls, young and old, married or single, of all races, and all abilities. For that reason, I will stand alongside the Annual Conferences who unanimously affirmed women and girls — Finland, the Philippines, Mozambique, and South Africa.
Yes, women have been ordained in the United Methodist Church for 60+ years. But there are still many many churches here in the United States that simply will not accept women in the pulpit. There are still many United Methodists who verbally assault women who preach. Some people like to misuse Scripture as a way to marginalize women. Yet they conveniently forget that Jesus himself chose Mary Magdalene as the first apostle, revealing himself to her after the resurrection and giving her the commandment to “go and tell the others”. Women have been used throughout the pages of Scripture to proclaim God’s Word. Sarah, Deborah, Hannah, Ruth, Mary, Joanna, Susanna, Priscilla, Phoebe. And God continues to use women and girls today.
No vote. No debate. No paragraph in a book that is barely followed will ever define me. My definition comes from the ordination that I received at my baptism. I am a child of the one true God. As a deacon, my calling is to Word, Service, Compassion, and Justice. I take that very seriously. I will fight for the marginalized around the world, including the women and girls who continue to be abused, raped, sold, and persecuted. I will speak for the women who feel they cannot speak in the United Methodist Church around the globe and close to home.
For the ones who have been told God does not hear them or see them as worthy, I pray.
For the ones whose churches won’t allow women to preach… or even speak out loud, I pray.
For the ones who have had their cries ignored by the church, I pray.
And for the men and women who have affirmed these anti-Christian behaviors, I pray.
I am a woman.
I am a minister.
I am a deacon.
I am a mother.
I am a wife.
I am a daughter.
I am a sister.
I am a disciple.
I am worthy.
I am made in the image of God…. and so, my dear sister, are you.