UMC 2022 — Rational Creatures

Part 2b — Gender and Sexuality

The History of the United Methodist Church, Its Record on Issues of Social Justice, and Its Relevance Today

A History of Dissent

Women’s Suffrage

Women march in the 1913 Women Suffrage Procession in Washington organized by the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Methodist women played a significant role in the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Photo from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | UMC News

“The word suffrage comes from the Latin word suffragium, meaning voting tablet. Still, opponents were happy to play on its similarity to another English word. With women’s suffrage, critics argued, men and families would suffer.

UM News

  • Harry T. Burn, who at 24 became the youngest member of the Tennessee General Assembly; he cast the vote that tied the count on the law granting women the right to vote and pressured a fellow legislator to give the 49th vote out of 96 needed to pass it; his mother was Methodist Phoebe “Febb” Bur, who had sent him a letter (which he carried in his pocket on August 18, 1920) urging him to vote for suffrage
  • Anna Howard Shaw, one of the first women to be granted a license to preach by the Methodist Episcopal Church and ordained in the Methodist Protestant Church (though it was later ruled out of order) as well as the first woman to graduate from Boston University School of Theology
  • Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who was born a slave and baptized in the Methodist Episcopal Church, then went to college and became a journalist and social rights activist, frequently bringing attention to the injustice of lynchings
  • Frances Willard, who led the temperance movement and was president of the largest women’s organization in the United States; she and five other women were elected to serve as delegates to the 1888 General Conference in New York, though Willard ultimately did not attend because her mother was ill — and General Conference refused to seat the women delegates
  • Dorothy Height, who was born in 1912 (eight years before women earned the right to vote) and was known as the “Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement”, continued the work of earlier suffragists and helped ratify the 24th amendment, which eliminated poll taxes in state and federal elections, and was instrumental in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, she was the only woman besides Coretta Scott King on the platform

Women as Ordained Clergy

  • some congregations’ refusal to accept female clergy members (particularly those of a race different from the majority of the congregation and those who refused to wear dresses to “prove they are a ‘real lady’”)
  • general apathy and dismissal of sexual harassment in the church and ministries related to empowering women and addressing sexism as “political crap,” which “has nothing to do with spreading the good news of Jesus Christ”
  • women clergy being called “bitches” [I found multiple instances of this happening across the last 20 years in addition to the example provided by UMC Justice]
  • several prominent Church leaders — including bishops — have joined with secular society in decrying “the tyranny of diversity” and retreating from the work of undoing racism and sexism; such things as: “We need to stop worrying about politics and focus on the gospel …” (from UMC Justice: that is, as long as the gospel is interpreted in a way that continues to privilege North Americans, white people, and males); and “We’ll accept a woman or person of color as long as she’s qualified” (again, from UMC Justice: Could this infer that white men are automatically assumed to be qualified and that women and people of color get their jobs because of some other criteria, not because of their gifts and talents?)
  • complaints about women, particularly within the context of the organization United Methodist Women, having “too much money and too much power in the hands of a women-controlled board of directors,” which has led to pushback by opponents who have proposed limiting the number of UMW directors who can also serve on the General Board of Global Ministries in the interest of “gender balance”
  • complaints of alleged sexual abuse of women by lay and clergy leaders in church settings are on the rise, according to the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women
  • in a 2007 survey of local United Methodist congregations, 18 percent said they do not have women serving as ushers (an increase over 2004), and local church chairpersons of the church council, finance, and trustees are still overwhelmingly men and not women
  • United Methodist membership in the US is declining among young women (and men) and people of color, particularly among those in low-income communities
  • women comprise 54 percent of total members of our denomination, yet account for less than 30 percent of ordained ministers, and only 27 percent of the top-paying offices in US annual conferences (treasurers, chancellors, and directors of connectional ministry)
  • of 20 active bishops who oversee the work of the church in Europe, Africa, and the Philippines, only two are women

LGBT Issues

A gay pride rainbow flag flies along with the U.S. flag in front of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kan. In late April, the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops acknowledged the inevitable breakup of their denomination — a schism that’s widening after the launch of a global movement led by theologically conservative Methodists | KERA News



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