Amendments to the Constitution of The United Methodist Church intended to affirm and protect women and girls narrowly failed. A variety of explanations have surfaced and voting patterns also raise questions about voting processes.
Pained, yet resolute, responses have come forth from female bishops and organizations such as the Commission on the Role and Status of Women, United Methodist Women, and even United Methodist Men. At question is how the equality of women, given the ever increasing leadership of women, could have been missed yet one more time in 2018. Another question that begs an answer is why the entire Council of Bishops did not issue its own episcopal response to this failure to affirm the equality of people who identify as women.
We received important information about why the amendment failed when the United Methodist News Service interviewed Rev. Randy Burbank, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Alabama (a U.S. conference that defeated the first amendment). “On the surface it seems innocuous, but without a traditional explanation of those terms it would have opened the door to acceptance of people’s sexual orientation as a means of identifying gender.” This was further seen in the UMNS article when Rev. Taylor Walters Denyer, an ordained elder in the North Katanga Conference (a central conference that defeated the motion) agreed, “some no votes came because people feared that they were a legal trick for opening a door to full LGBTQ inclusion.”
Here we see with clarity that the reason why the amendment on the equality of women failed relates to why LGBTQ equality perpetually fails to be affirmed. The reason is patriarchy and the affirmation of the hierarchical superiority of gendered maleness that lies at the heart of Christian tradition. The reason is sexism. The reason is misogyny. The reason is trans/homophobia. The reason is Christian theology where God is male, and where God is the head of man, and man the head of woman, gender-complementarity, and so on. THIS formulation is what is at stake for the right-wing forces of our denomination and why the “women’s equality” amendment failed.
Rev. Dr. Tiffany Steinwert of the New England Conference commented, “It is all indicative of a hegemonic, heteropatriarchy. If God is male, then the male is God. These ideas are connected and dependent one on the other.” She went on to note, “I am disappointed in the responses of many in the church that, after the failure of the amendment, only highlighted equity for women. The reality is that this amendment was defeated because of concerns this would also include queer folks. To highlight equality for women and not name the (not-very-hidden) disdain, disregard, and marginalization of the queer community undermines every call for justice.”
Beyond this latest insult to people who identify as women by General and Annual Conference leaders, there lies a whole web of leadership unable to name harms that are being done and to stand in solidarity with every individual and group of people marginalized by the violence of patriarchy and its attendant sexism, transphobia and heterosexism/homophobia. Those leaders, particularly bishops, who are risk-averse to naming harm have boxed themselves and the whole denomination into a cage of their own constructing that will allow pockets of one discrimination or another to continue infecting the whole body and failing to name the intersections.
Without constitutional affirmation, women and girls will continue to be at risk if they are in a pocket of discrimination within a currently proposed One Church model. The likelihood is that any context that will discriminate against women will also be discriminating against LGBTQ+ persons.
Love Prevails acknowledges the affirmation “She Prevails” as attempting to right the wrongs of sexism. Nonetheless we are committed to the even more fundamental affirmation that gender differences are of no account in the eyes of God. We affirm the gendered body and the a-gendered, non-binary, Queer body and spirit. We call for an expansive and expanding understanding and appreciation of the wideness of an Image of God. While a re-vote may be in order, a first act of necessary affirmation is the very simple removal of “incompatibility” from The United Methodist Book of Discipline with no provisos for a local option to discriminate.