There seems to be a lot of focus lately on the number of female bishops in the Episcopal Church, and the fact that it is very low - only 18 out of 178, only 20 ordained since the first woman was made a bishop in 1989. There is no denying the numbers - many more men than women are bishops in our church, and this is also true of cardinal rectors, deans, and other large leadership posts, despite the fact that men and women graduate from seminary in about equal numbers and that women make up about 40% of those ordained.
What is not so clear to me is that we really know why this is. I am not denying that there is sexism in the church, as there is pretty much everywhere. And I am extremely grateful for the ministry of the women who are called to be bishops, and those who fought to see the day when women were ordained at all. At the same time, though, I wonder if we should stop there when we consider these number differences.
Because when I ponder these unequal numbers, I wonder how much of it is because women are being denied or kept out of certain roles, and how much of it is that women simply don't feel called to them. And I am a bit mystified that our only collective answer to the fact that there are so few female bishops is, 'let's make more female bishops', and various sorts of encouragement and support of women's ministry. I wonder, instead, if the realization of these facts about Episcopal ministry might not result in a collective consideration of what women are trying to tell the church about Episcopal ministry.
Why don't women want to stand for Episcopal election? Is it just that we are being kept out? Or are there other answers? If we truly value the thoughts and contributions of women in ministry, isn't it worth wondering why a dearth of women in highest leadership makes us assume something is lacking for women, instead of something is lacking with leadership?
I don't ask these questions lightly, or neutrally, of course. I am a woman, in the prime of my career, in an excellent leadership position in the Church. I know that I could be considered for Episcopal election, but I won't be. I don't want to be, and not because I have not been 'encouraged'. I personally find the whole idea that I would need encouragement because of my gender slightly condescending. And if anything, I feel that being a woman has enhanced, rather than inhibited, my vocation thus far.
What I will say is that my own view of a successful and fulfilling vocation for myself includes many things that I don't see reflected in the positions that the church defines as the highest or most powerful. Is this because I am a woman? Perhaps. It could also be part of a larger conversation about how the church defines 'success' and 'leadership' and how we reflect our Christian values in every vocation at every level. This is a conversation I would love to have.
- a reminder that all views expressed here are solely mine, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, or any other organization or individual.