In 2015, The Episcopal Herald published this piece on women in the episcopate and sexism in the church. Considering the current and timely momentum around #metoo and the incredible work being done in around this issue in all facets of the Church at this General Convention, we decided it was time to revisit this article. Has there been any progress? Perhaps a decline?
The overall picture of women in leadership in the church is still quite inadequate. The pay gap is large, and it begins early. In fact, the 2016 compensation report put out by Church Pension Group shows us that the only time clergy are paid at the same rate by gender is in the first five years of their ministry. After that, the gap quickly rockets to a difference of almost $10,000. Put another way, if two clergy worked for 25 years, and their highest average compensation were equal the average for a clergy person with over 20 years of experience as reported in that same compensation report, a male clergy would retire with a pension of $40,875 and a female clergy would retire with a pension of $36,475. That’s almost $367 more a month for the life duration of a man over a woman with the same experience and credited service.
Beyond that, while seminaries are graduating classes that are roughly equal in gender, the percentage of active clergy still skews male by a considerable amount (about 65/35). It’s hard to be hopeful about the the role of women in the church when the statistics are so daunting.
Forty and more years have passed since we approved women’s ordination. Thirty years have elapsed since we elected our first female bishop. But the truth of these figures tells us that we have spent every single one of those years proving, in one way or another, that women are worthy of that vote. And that is unacceptable. As St. Peter was admonished by Christ, so should we be: make your yes, yes. It seems not much has changed since The Herald reported on this issue in 2015.
But, there is some good news. If ordination rates continue and retirement rates increase (which seems to be the case), we’ll soon see a church that is fully vested in the 50/50 split across gender in the clergy. Now, there’s a larger question here about employability and if women are offered jobs at the same rate at men, but that’s for another time. At the current rate, the clergy will be diversified by gender before a new prayer book could be rolled out and approved. That widens the pool, so to speak, as we work our way through the orders.
This leads us to the other piece of good news. Trends show us that we’re on the right track. Perhaps we’re not picking up ground quickly enough, but we are indeed picking up ground. From 2010-2012, 33 bishops were elected. Of those, four were women, and only one of those women was elected bishop diocesan. This is a 12% rate in total. From 2013-2015, 15 bishops were elected. Of those, three women were elected, and again only one was elected bishop diocesan. This is a 20% rate in total. From 2016-2018, 21 bishops were elected and five of them were women, four of which were elected bishop diocesan. That’s 24% in total.
There has been a clear increase not only in election rates to the episcopate at large, but particularly in the office of Bishop Diocesan. This is good news, but there is so much more work to be done. As evidenced by the more than dozen resolutions dealing with women and their place in the church, their abuse in the church, and their future in the church, we are not even close to truly embracing and celebrating women in ministry. We must keep going, purple scarfs and all, with more than just words. Actions must follow. The stained glass ceiling approaches, but we have not busted it to pieces yet. Perhaps the hammer of leadership which resides in every woman can crush it to oblivion if we all swing as one.