Delegates Meet, Apply Gender Justice Lens to General Conference Legislation
United Methodist Women and the Commission on the Status and Role of Women co-hosted a Women’s Delegate Briefing.
Eighty delegates to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church attended a briefing critically analyzing the impact of proposed legislation on women in advance of the quadrennial policymaking event, to be held in Tampa, Fla., from April 24 to May 4, 2012. Both lay and clergy delegates from U.S. Annual Conferences attended as well as several Women’s Division regional missionaries from Central Conferences.
The briefing, held in St. Louis, Mo., February 17 to 18, 2012, assigned delegates to groups based on General Conference legislative committees, applying gender analysis to proposed legislation most likely to affect women and other marginalized groups. The Women’s Division and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) co-organized the event.
Proposed Structural Changes
Garlinda Burton, general secretary of GCSRW, led a plenary session on the several recommendations including the Call to Action Report and the resulting Interim Operations Team (IOT) proposed legislation for organizational restructuring coming to General Conference. She outlined the timetable for implementation if the legislation passes and answered delegates’ concerns about potentially losing diverse representation of the church to the proposed 15-member board.
“Every restructure of the church is messy and scary,” she said. “Table discussions and analysis will help in this process, and delegates have to decide if it [the IOT report] is theologically sound.”
Harriett Olson, deputy general secretary of the Women’s Division, explained and answered questions about the proposed legislation to make United Methodist Women its own independent entity, structurally separating the Women’s Division from the General Board of Global Ministries, while remaining connected in mission. She also clarified the core purposes of United Methodist Women and GCSRW in light of suggestions that would combine the two church entities focused on women.
“GCSRW and United Methodist Women have slightly different missions,” she said. “Both are concerned with the whole personhood of women through Jesus and with women children and youth around the world. United Methodist Women is women organized for mission. It doesn’t describe mission as monitoring the church for inclusion of women; we are glad GCSRW exists to do just that.”
She continued, “Full inclusion of women is not just the work of women. That is the work of the whole church. These aren’t appropriate assignments to make to United Methodist Women, a laywomen’s organization. The church as an institution needs to own this concern in as part of its proper work.”
While leading delegates through gender analysis of legislation, GCSRW assistant general secretary of finance and administration Elaine Moy said, “The General Conference is a political process; let’s not pretend it’s not. Let’s instead be ready with information.”
A gender analysis tool adapted to assess the legislation at General Conference helped raise questions such as where women are and where they are not within legislation. It was adapted from GCSRW’s “Equity Impact Assessment Form” and National Council of Churches of Christ Justice for Women Work Group’s “A Radical Act of Love” brochure.
Facilitators encouraged delegates to take this tool home and adapt it to analyze any marginalized group, in addition to gender.
Becoming an Effective Delegate
Attorney and six-time General Conference delegate Beth Capen led discussions on how to become an effective delegate and how to take back what was learned at the briefing to the conferences. Women’s Division director and twice-serving General Conference delegate Judith Pierre-Okerson encouraged delegates to stay informed and know the hard issues, even if it doesn’t apply to their legislative committees.
“This meeting [in St. Louis] was the first of its kind,” said Sung-ok Lee, assistant general secretary of Christian Social Action of United Methodist Women and one of the key organizers of the gathering.
One outcome of the meeting was a discussion on holy conferencing, also known as holy conversation. “Holy conferencing began to look as if it could silence people at General Conference, but it should be a tool for allowing one another to be fully present, expressing the wholeness of the church through Jesus Christ," Ms. Lee said. "This is part of United Methodist Women’s purpose—to experience freedom as whole persons through Jesus Christ. That’s what holy conversation is—to promote dialogue where everyone is at the table. So we’re talking about inclusiveness and diversity.”
“We celebrate that there are women delegates from Central Conferences,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Tapia, who co-led the worship with the Rev. Debra Tyree, both of the General Board of Global Ministries. Ms. Tapia, director of mission theology, noted a “wall of sexism” in many areas of the world that restricts membership in United Methodist delegations to only men.
“It was a challenging day, but that is what we do,” said Catherine Akale, regional missionary in sub-Saharan Africa for the Women’s Division.
During evening prayer, the community prayed for diversity at the table, recalling the words from, Joy to the World, the 2010 United Methodist Women mission study written by Dana Robert: “For mission to be effective, the good news must meet the real world. ... There are many other ways to be in mission.”
“At General Conference and beyond, we bring our collective wisdom, transforming disciples and practices, and we seek the divine wisdom of God. Wisdom is knowledge, intuition and experience combined to guide us in thought and deed,” said Ms. Tapia during the worship.
“Our faith journey and our church journey will go beyond General Conference. God’s church goes beyond May 5th. The journey continues,” said Ms. Tyree, who shared this insight during evening prayer. “They [the delegates] all laughed and smiled and nodded their heads.”
To learn more about news for United Methodist Women at General Conference, visit: www.unitedmethodistwomen.org/news/eventsnew/gc2012/
Leigh Rogers and Mary Beth Coudal are communications staff for the Women's Division.