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Let’s do the math

This year elections for synod bishops will be held in 25 of our 65 synods. Currently, seven of our 65 synod bishops are women, or 10%. At the same time, nearly 62% of frequent worshipers in ELCA congregations are women. You know where I’m going with this, right? Given the makeup of our congregations and the number of women clergy, more women should be bishops. Ten percent is not enough.

Society increasingly reflects that. For example, our newly-elected 113th U.S. Congress includes nearly 20% women. One-third of the U.S. Supreme Court justices are women. Even our clergy roster reflects that: of the total number of active ELCA clergy, 3,300 or 31.9% are women.

As columnist Maureen Dowd noted yesterday in The New York Times, writing about President Obama’s new cabinet, “We’re equal partners in life and governance now, and we merit equal representation, good traits and bad, warts and all.”

It’s not just about numbers. To respond to the needs facing the church and society in the 21st century, a collaborative leadership style is needed, and studies show that women more naturally use this form of leadership. The outdated leadership model of command and control must be replaced with transparency and inclusion.

“Women employ a more participative leadership style, are more likely to share information and power, and have strong relational skills that make them seem empathic to their staffs,” writes Carol Kinsey Goman, in The Washington Post. In these challenging times, those are qualities that would aid a bishop as she or he carries out the constitutional mandates of the church (see chapter 8 of the model constitution for synods).

I’m not suggesting that all male bishops exert a hierarchical, command-and-control leadership style. And I know that generalizing about men and women can lead to some inaccuracies and stereotyping. But what I am suggesting is that there’s room in the church—and especially within its bishops—for the more collaborative style of leadership that comes most naturally to women.

An introduction to prayer resources found in that toolkit for synod bishop elections prepared by the ELCA Offices of the Presiding Bishop and Secretary includes this language:

As an election, it is a process governed by the constitution, bylaws, and continuing resolutions of the synod; however, it is also a call process. As such, it involves discernment, from the perspective both of individual potential nominees and of the synod as a whole. Thus, engaging in prayerful reflection and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit are indispensable aspects of the process of nomination and election, regardless of the particular provisions in the synod’s governing documents.

Whether or not you are a voting member at your synod’s assembly this year, you can be involved in the discernment process. Find out what nomination process is used in your synod so you can understand how to advance names. Consider the leadership qualities most fitting for your synod at this time. Consider clergy from other areas outside your synod. Pray for and with the pastors of your synod and the whole church.

In our Purpose Statement we commit ourselves, among other things, to support one another in our callings. That includes supporting women clergy as they are called to the office of bishop. We all have an important role in helping to shape the future of our church. Don’t ignore it.

Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director.

Comments (5)
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David Thomas says:
Jan 14, 2013

At last year’s Rocky MountainSynod Assembly, my first choice on the first ballot was a woman. She had submited biographical information for the members of the assembly to review, and I thought what she had said fit what I wanted in a bishop.

She was in the top twenty for votes.

She withdrew her name before the second ballot.

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Pastor Anna Haugen says:
Jan 14, 2013

I’m torn. I agree with the general principle (and yeah, we need more women bishops), and yet I think “30% of clergy are women” is a bit misleading in this case. Because it’s true … but most of the women pastors I know are relatively new to ministry, having been ordained in the last five to ten years. This is true of all ages of women pastors, because of the large numbers of second-career women who couldn’t be pastors when they were young and then concentrated on their first career and family until the kids went off to college. As a feminist, if given the choice in an election for bishop between an experienced male pastor and an inexperienced female pastor, I’d still be more likely to vote for the man who has a longer experience in ministry. (Not always, but it would be my general tendency, because I value experience and my idea of feminism isn’t to put women at the top but to make sure women have an equal chance. I don’t want women to be elected because they’re women any more than I want men to be elected because they’re men.)

In my seminary class, the genders were split pretty evenly. Ten years from now, as the Baby Boomers (overwhelmingly men) have mostly retired and the women who’ve become pastors in the last few years gain more experience, I expect the number of women bishops to shoot up dramatically just because the pool of women candidates with the amount of experience people look for in a bishop will have greatly expanded. I’m patient and willing to wait, because I think it will happen on its own with just a few nudges.

But it’s good to have this pointed out, so that we can be thinking about the issue even if we do (mostly) wait for it to correct itself.

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Valora Starr says:
Jan 21, 2013

Interesting analysis Pastor Anna. However, I’m not sure that early feminists would agree. Also, over time thoughts of experience, tokenism, ageism, etc. have entered the conversation to distort any strides of women and people of color. These distractions institutionally hold the status quo in place. If women did not boldly raise the issue and work the vision in the mid 60′s there would be no ordained women today. Individual choices are great but, it will take a collective and bold effort to assure that little girls today can say ‘yes’ when God calls them to serve as bishops! Realizing a vision is the easy part…sustaining it is work for a lifetime.

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Linda Post Bushkofsky says:
Jan 21, 2013

It would be great if a seminary registrar or two could jump into the conversation here to share some statistics. My husband graduated from seminary in 1986, and his class was at least 50% women. If that were true in 1986–27 years ago–I’d guess it was repeated many times in the three decades following. So while most of the women pastors you know, Pastor Anna, might be new to ministry, there are a whole lot of women pastors who’ve been engaged in ministry for a long time. And a great number of those women are more than qualified to serve as bishop, and it’s those women we all need to be supporting as they discern their calls. And we need to work together in synods across the church to support the synods as they discern their futures.

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Raeann Purcell says:
Jan 30, 2013

Thank you all for these insights. My job for our conference will be to orient the voting members for our synod assembly so they will be aware of the process for electing a bishop. I am excited to recieve all comments so I am prepared for this orientation

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