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 The outdated leadership model of command and control must be replaced with transparency and inclusion.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.