Dec. 17, 2004
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
Jan. 1, M. Garlinda Burton officially becomes chief executive of the
United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women. She has
served in that position on an interim basis since November 2003. Burton
is the former editor of Interpreter magazine and was a longtime staff
member of United Methodist Communications. United Methodist News Service
interviewed her about the commission and its goals.
The Commission on the Status and Role of Women provided monitors for
the 2004 General Conference. What were the monitoring results of that
The commission first monitored General Conference proceedings in 1992,
and we were seen by many as a bunch of rabble-rousing interlopers.
Twelve years later, the Commission on General Conference invited me to
address the entire legislative assembly on issues of gender and racial
2004, we saw more English-speaking delegates speaking up about the
needs of non-English-speaking delegates, and several delegates were
extremely vocal about what they observed as gender or racial bias. Those
were good things and showed real growth. At the same time, I’m still
concerned that women from outside the United States did not speak nearly
as much as men. I got to know one African clergywoman who confided that
she felt pressured to vote with the male leaders in her delegation.
I’ve watched General Conferences for nearly 20 years, I noted that
white men — many of them treasurers — still make up the majority on the
financial administration legislative committee and, therefore, dominate
discussions about how the church spends its money. White women and
people of color need to question this recurring pattern because the
person who controls the purse controls the missional direction of our
church. If we are not at the table, our concerns and our input are
Q: Will monitoring continue to be a priority?
Yes. We’re reaching out to several groups in the church and to our
commissions on the annual (regional) conference level and will offer
training and tools for monitoring such events as annual conference
sessions, board of ordained ministry meetings and seminary classes.
goal of monitoring is to hold up a mirror to the church and say, “This
is who we routinely include in decision-making. This is who we routinely
exclude. This is who we say we want to be, but this is who we are.” We
have “talked” inclusiveness for so long that many in the church think we
have reached the goal of true equity just because we use the right
words in a resolution to General Conference. In fact, clergywomen across
the denomination make less money than their male counterparts. Women
who report sexual abuse by a male pastor still have problems getting
their complaint heard or addressed in some of our conferences. So we
will continue to train monitors and use them at all levels of church
Q: What specific changes will we see under your leadership at the commission?
We’re going to spend more energy engaging grassroots laywomen and
clergywomen, and create ways to communicate directly with them about
what advocacy and support the commission offers them. We’re putting more
emphasis on pushing resources that churchwomen need in order to network
with one another and challenge the church’s still-male-oriented power
a professional journalist, I want to see the commission listen to and
tell the stories of everyday United Methodist women who are working for
women’s empowerment. Also, we are going to collaborate with bishops,
superintendents and pastors to address issues of clergy sexual
misconduct and to make sure that our churches and related agencies are
safe and women who place their trust in our church and its leadership
are safe from abuse by the people in power. In fact, the Council of
Bishop has offered to support us as we distribute a churchwide survey on
sexual misconduct in early 2005.
Initially, a proposal was sent to the 2004 General Conference
suggesting that the Commission on the Status and Role of Women and the
Commission on Religion and Race combine into a council on inclusiveness.
That proposal was effectively withdrawn. Are there any other plans for
COSROW to work more closely with Religion and Race in the future?
At the 2004 General Conference, the women’s commission and Religion and
Race worked cooperatively to create the presentation on inclusiveness,
which I presented to the delegates. In fact, the General Conference
asked us to work together in 2008 — along with the United Methodist
Board of Global Ministries — to do training for delegates on addressing
sexism, racism and international bias.
think what we’ve learned is that we are two distinct agencies with
distinct mandates, but there are creative ways that we can and must work
together for the good of the church. And I believe we must work to hold
one another accountable.
an African-American woman, I know that women’s empowerment movements —
particularly in the church — have been bastions for white women. At the
same time, I’ve been accused of being disloyal to my race because I
challenge sexism as expressed in my community, particularly in the
traditional black church. For us to remain viable as truth-tellers to
the larger church, both commissions need to have some “come to Jesus”
meetings about our own “isms.”
Q: What are some of the commission's other priorities?
This quadrennium, we hope to find funding for a churchwide conference
addressing the needs and concerns of clergy spouses (most of whom are
women) and clergy families. General Conference passed our resolution on
this issue, and we are committed to helping clergy families — and the
congregations the pastors serve — understand the issues confronting
today’s clergy family, from housing to the spouse’s career concerns.
current system is based on a 1950s, middle-class notion of a male
pastor, a stay-at-home-wife and three kids in a parsonage. That’s not
the way the world is anymore, but we’re not set up as a denomination to
embrace the new clergy family.
also be stepping up our efforts to examine the intersection between
racism and sexism by hearing more from women of color — and women from
Africa — who deal with both forms of bias.
exciting for me is the chance to work more collaboratively with Jan
Love and the Women’s Division of the Board of Global Ministries. We’re
both new to our roles, and are talking about ways to bring laywomen and
clergywomen together to talk about common concerns. That’s not been done
in a long time, which is ironic, since the Women’s Division helped give
birth to this commission.
Q: How do you work on an annual conference level?
We work mainly through our annual conference counterparts, encouraging
them to design programs that address gender bias in the candidacy and
ordination process; to ensure that conference leadership includes women
and men in various posts; to urge the conference to enforce a solid
sexual ethics policy, and train pastors and laypersons to recognize and
address sexual abuse issues; to monitor annual conference sessions and
the appointment-making processes to make sure women are given equal
access and voice; and to find creative ways to engage women of color,
younger women, older women and girls in the church’s full mission and
Q: COSROW is mandated to address sexism in the church,
but you also speak out on social issues. What concerns you about the
current status and role of women?
Around the world, women are the primary labor force, yet they have
fewer rights and protections — and they make less money than men in
comparable situations. In many nations, women and girls walk miles just
to get potable water for drinking, cooking, bathing and watering their
oxen or horses or crops. In the United States and Africa, AIDS is a
leading killer of women, yet funding for research and medicine is a
pittance compared to what we spend on war.
scares me that the church will spend more energy trying to bar people
from our sanctuaries, when what I feel is an appalling need for us to
throw the doors open and offer open arms and alms and food and medicine
and peace to those who are just beaten down by trouble.
Q: Who were the role models who helped prepare you for this job?
For as long as I can remember, my grandmother, mother, aunts and female
cousins worked in the church. They did everything from helping pastors
serve communion to offering food to a bereaved family after a funeral to
rocking and fanning babies on hot summer nights when community
organizers gathered us in to mobilize church folks as civil rights
stuck with the Methodist Church through segregation and upheaval,
because we believe that God has called this church to help transform
this world. I guess I still believe that, even when I’m totally
frustrated with the church bureaucracy and our squabbles and missteps. I
believe we have a calling to leave this world better than when we came
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.