By Craig this
Women, whether lay or clergy, bump into
a glass ceiling in their attempts to serve
as voting members of the various boards
and commissions of The United Methodist
Church, according to 2006 Council,
Board or Commission Annual Members
Profile jointly conducted by the General
Commission on Religion and Race (GCRR)
and the General Commission on the
Status and Role of Women (GCSRW).
With the exceptions of the General Commission
on Christian Unity and Interreligious
Concerns (GCCUIC), General
Commission on Religion and Race (GCRR),
and the General Commission on the
Status and Role of Women (GCSRW),
women do not serve in equal numbers to
their male counterparts (see Table 1).1
Prior to the start of each new quadrennium,
men and women, both lay and clergy, are
elected from their Jurisdictional Conferences to serve on the various boards and
commissions of the church. The boards and
commissions appoint additional members.
The Central Conferences and various other
constituencies also elect voting and nonvoting
members to the boards and commissions.
(The 2006 Book of Discipline,
¶705 recommends that the make-up of
each boards and agencies, such as one-third
clergy, one-third laymen, and one-third
laywomen.) Service on boards and commissions
is crucial, as it is the members of
these boards and commissions who will
help implement, shape, and guide legislation
passed by General Conference.
Men are clearly in the majority in serving
as members on the four general program
boards of the church—General Board of
Global Ministries (GBGM), General Board
of Discipleship (GBOD), General Board of
Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM),
and General Board of Church and Society
The percentage of men elected or
appointed from the Jurisdictional Conferences
ranges from 63% for GBGM to 53%
for GBOD. When the percentages of men
and women appointed by the agencies are
included, it is noted that an agency like
GBHEM does appoint more women than
men; however, it is not enough to overcome
the initial election by Jurisdictional
Further hindering the female voice on the
boards is the lack of representation
for female bishops. The General Board
of Church and Society (GBCS) has an
even 3-3 split, but both GBGM (7 male; 4 female) and GBOD (5 male; 1 female)
have more male bishops than female
while GBHEM has 6 male bishops
and no female bishops (see Table 2).
GBHEM has as part of its responsibility
the standards for ordained ministry.
The general commissions tend to have a
better representation of women and men
serving as members. While some may argue that this tends to even things out
between the boards and agencies, in terms
of membership, it does not. The boards
have larger budgets, broader oversight,
and significantly wider-ranging responsibilities
than the commissions. The commissions
are mandated by the church to
advocate for racial and gender inclusiveness
and provide our representation in
interfaith and ecumenical relationships.
Nevertheless, it is worth noting that
the three commissions that have an
equal number of women and men serving
or a greater number of women
serving than men all are commissions
focused on inclusivity, diversity,
and equality of representation.
While women do have better representation
on some agencies, they lack
in representation on the two agencies
charged with communicating with the
world about The United Methodist
Church—United Methodist Communications
(UMCom)—and publishing educational
material for the church—United
Methodist Publishing House (UMPH).
Neither of these commissions have
female bishops in their membership.
A recent United Methodist News Service
article asked, “Is Church Too Feminine
for Men?” (July 19, 2006). The article
commented that The United Methodist
Church is “‘feminized to a degree’
because a disproportionate number of
women are present as the power players.’”
While the article examined several
factors as influencing the “feminization”
of the church, one key factor repeatedly
highlighted was the number of
women members in the church today.
From the standpoint of numbers, then,
yes the commissions are feminine and
the boards are masculine. It can also
be concluded, based on the numbers,
that men get elected to boards and
women get elected to commissions.
This dichotomy, however, is not based
on male or female gender differences.
The question is (based on budgets and
responsibilities) are tasks having to do
with money management and agenda
setting in the church “men’s work”? Is
it “women’s work” when the subject is
relationship building, anti-bias concerns
and budgets are significantly less?
Further, if a disproportionate number
of women were present as the power
players, as the article states, then it
would be expected that women would
have equal or greater representation
on the boards as well as the commissions.
The article seems to imply that
women, through these power players,
are able to leverage greater representation
in the church. This is not the case.
Not only were women underrepresented
as board members in the
2005–2008 quadrennium, women are
less likely to be elected as leaders (see
Table 3). Women are not able to overcome
the bias and culture that tends to
elect men to serve on the boards and
men to serve in leadership positions,
whether on a board or commission.
Since the representation on the boards and
commissions is largely based on electing
people from the Jurisdictional Conferences,
then women must work hard to
get elected at Jurisdictional Conference.
However, women are more likely to be
elected to agency membership at Jurisdictional
Conferences, if they get elected
as Jurisdictional Conference delegates.
To do all of the above, jurisdictions must
work to elect women—and more women
than in the past—as jurisdictional delegates.
It is only through this process that
women can and will be elected to serve on
both boards and agencies. And it is only
through this process that women can ensure
that the church will continue to value
inclusivity, diversity, and equality
The General Council on Finance and Administration,
the General Commission on Archives
and History, and the General Commission
on United Methodist Men each have unique
methods for selecting their voting members
and for this reason all three are not included
in the analysis presented here. However, their
memberships are included in the tables for
informational purposes only.
Please note the data examined in this article
looks at individuals elected from the U.S.
jurisdictional conferences and appointed by
the agencies themselves. Individuals elected
by their Central Conferences or appointed by
the agencies from the Central Conferences are
not included in these data. Further, individuals
appointed or elected from special groups, such
as Women’s Division, are not included. These
data look solely at the jurisdictional conferences
and their impact on agency membership.
Craig This is a faculty member of the
Department of Sociology, Geography, and
Social Work at Sinclair Community College.