Women in leadership?

Women in leadership?

A recent discussion string on insights email list coincided with a front-page story and follow-up correspondence in the Sydney Morning Herald about marriage vows and the place of women in the church.

Andrew Watts had done some homework as a result of the election of the church’s next president. “I have worked out that by the time our church has its 40th anniversary in 2017 we will have been served by 14 presidents. One of those 14 is a woman, Jill Tabart, President from 1994 to 1997. I think this raises some questions about our church … A reasonable cross-section of the church can be involved in the nominating procedure … When the question is put — who would be a great visionary leader for our church — roughly 93 per cent of the time we think of a man and 7 per cent of the time we think of a woman … Something seems lopsided here …

“The other input I have to throw into this pondering is that every now and then I hear from women (lay and ordained) about negative experiences they have had as a result of men’s behaviour in the church. This can be along the lines of bullying but often it is more subtle passive aggressive put-downs or a lack of acceptance, acknowledgement or respect for a woman’s skills and/or experience.

“These sorts of experiences range across all parts of the church. Some of the women actually say they are respected more outside the church than within. Is this a worrying part of our church culture we need to address? … Does it reflect a socially, sexually, gender conservative membership?”

The question was then asked about synod moderators. In New South Wales and the ACT four out of 26 moderators have been women.

Jonathan Arthur wondered if the skewed ratio of male to female leaders at various levels of the church was due to the predominantly male imagery and language used for God.

Glen Powell thought it might be good to get the Assembly to resolve that if there were ever three male presidents in a row the next one would be restricted to female candidates. He noted that a 50:50 gender balance would be an over-representation of males (because there are significantly more females than males in the church).

Clare Pascoe wondered if it was because women were generally more interested in emotional connections and less interested in political playing that they were by far more heavily involved in religion at a grass-roots level rather than in the administrative echelons. “I doubt that that’s the only factor, but it may account for some of the disparity even in a denomination that has an established gender-equality principle.”

The conversation moved on to consider the roles of presidents and moderators; whether they were about power or symbolic, offering a vision, a prophetic voice, wisdom and insight. And, then, who in their right mind would want to be one?

To join insights-list, email stephenw@nsw.uca.org.au.

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