|Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
When I heard the results that two amendments for gender equality which passed at the 2016 General Conference but did not pass annual conference voting, I thought about Rosa Williams, GNJ’s Lay Leader who has been a faithful servant to our ministry together for the last eight years. I wondered how Lynn Caterson, GNJ’s Chancellor, would feel about this news after working tirelessly on behalf of GNJ and our churches. I imagined Shawn Calendar Hogan and Gina Kim, outstanding pastors and leaders, trying to find the right words to share the news with their congregations. I couldn’t even imagine the pain of Harriett Olson, another GNJ leader who now leads the denomination’s United Methodist Women. I asked myself how I would face these vital leaders and all the women who have led the church with Godly wisdom and Holy Spirit passion.
Today I face that difficult task. The two amendments regarding gender equality passed by the 2016 General Conference were not approved by the annual conferences. In our polity, any change to our constitution must be approved also by the clergy and lay members to our annual conferences.
These amendments included
- The first amendment proposed a new paragraph between current Paragraph 5 and Paragraph 6 that would have provided gender justice.
- The second amendment proposed changes to the wording in Paragraph 4 in The Book of Discipline. If it were ratified, the proposed amendment would have added gender, as well as ability, age and marital status to the protected membership groups.
First let me say how grateful I am for the United Methodists of Greater New Jersey. You approved these two constitutional amendments by more than 90%. Thank you. You worship each Sunday with congregations that have gifted and strong women disciples. In fact, on most Sundays women outnumber men in our worshipping communities. You are a part of a conference in which 47% of our 2018 appointments are women. You serve in a conference that has an executive leadership team that is 50% women leaders. The women leadership in our congregations and conferences has made the difference in our mission. Thank you.
I also want to thank the men who have championed women’s equality. You are part of God’s unfolding story for a more faithful and just church and world.
So how is it that in the 21st century something so obvious to the people of GNJ is not as obvious to others?
In the United States and in Europe, Asia and Africa where our United Methodist churches are located, there continues to be discrimination, harassment and even psychological and physical harm to women. A male dominated culture has created a bias within the world and the family of God. We must continue to resist such biases and work toward equality.
It is also a narrow reading and understanding of the scriptures. People continue to say that Jesus only selected male apostles, that the Apostle Paul spoke clearly about women’s roles in the home, society and the church, and that God in the creation of Eve made her less than Adam. This type of theology does harm to women, men, the church and the culture. It gives permission for discrimination and abuse. It is a complete misunderstanding of the scriptures and the culture in which the scriptures were written.
There are areas in our nation and in nations around the world where United Methodist congregations serve that still have a bias against women in leadership. In fact, 12 of our conferences voting on the amendments have zero votes for the constitutional amendment. One of our U.S. conferences voted 2-1 against the amendments.
Being a part of a theologically diverse and global denomination is challenging because there are significant cultural differences. This will not change with a single vote or a constitutional amendment. The journey for equality in the U.S. and The United Methodist Church has been part of our national work since our inception and still continues today.
The day after I told my wife Beverly of the news of the vote, she got up early the next morning, prayed for the church and the world and then began her work on behalf of the church. Beverly’s attitude is that her love for the church and the work of the church is not dependent on the church’s love for her. It seems that is the way Jesus loved.
I recognize that many women will be confused and even hurt by this lack of action by our global church. I invite our pastors and lay men to be a source of healing and affirmation for our women.
I call the church to continue to give thanks for the gift of women and to honor their gifts for leadership and service at every level of leadership in the church. Let us continue to love like Jesus, even in the midst of our differences. Let each of us stand up to gender and racial discrimination and ensure equality for everyone.
Today, I want our women to know that I am sorry for our past and present discrimination and I pledge that I will continue to serve and lead so that all experience the grace and affirmation of God and the church.
Keep the faith!
John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
of Greater New Jersey