Testimony for Women, Truth & Reconciliation

I speak in favor of Resolution D016 because it calls for confession of and repentance from the sins of gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence, especially how they have denigrated and devalued women’s ministries in our church. It calls for our church to collect, review and publish research regarding discrimination and violence. This resolution also calls for the creation of a Task Force for Truth & Reconciliation regarding such sins. The writers of the resolution are hoping for a new process modeled after the similar efforts of the Anglican Church of Canada and The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

My personal story speaks to the fact that this Truth & Reconciliation Task Force is needed. My spouse, The Reverend Guillermo Arboleda, and I are exactly 22 days apart in age. We met in Divinity School as evangelicals looking for tradition. I convinced him to get confirmed in the Episcopal Church with me. We got convinced to join The Episcopal Church not because the liturgies were to my preferences or adequately inclusive but because of the Anglican via media. People assured us that when Anglicans disagree, we make room for all points of view and cling to the essentials necessary to keep everyone under a “Big Tent.”

Since our confirmation, my husband and I have done much together: graduation from Duke Divinity School with the same honors, nomination for ordination, internships in similar places, ordinations to the diaconate and priesthood in the same Diocese. I love my husband and he’s a great priest. We have felt the love in Georgia, by people of all stripes and conditions. Thankfully, my bishop, canon and the Diocese of Georgia have so far been very helpful in keeping our experiences and compensation equitable.

But already two years into our priesthood, I worry about our remaining forty or more years in ministry. When I consider the reports from the Church Pension Group and The Reverend Helen Svoboda-Barber and others on gender-based discrimination in hiring practices and compensation (addressed by Resolution A091), I see that we have systems of subconscious injustice.[1]

Looking at that resolution, you can see that women face discrimination in hiring and compensation. You can see that only twenty two (22) percent of senior clergy roles are filled by women and forty (40) percent of priests are women, twenty (20) percent Head-of-Staff clergy are women, less than ten (<10) percent of bishops are women. Forty-three (43) percent of female clergy have applied for rector/vicar positions but never been chosen whereas only eighteen (18) percent of male clergy have applied for rector/vicar positions but never been chosen. Hiring and compensation is just the tip of the iceberg and only one of the many facets of injustice, most of which cannot be discussed in polite company.

After the service of lament at General Convention, I wonder if I’ll face discrimination or, God forbid it, something worse. My husband and I worry that, even though we have the same credentials, my husband will (and probably already has) unjustly benefitted from the church’s unconscious bias and that I will hit a ceiling in the ways I can serve God and the church because of nothing but my gender identity. I worry about the women and girls of the present and our future.

Well-meaning churchfolk have advised my husband, “You should reconsider becoming part of a clergy couple, because being yoked with a woman-priest is going to stunt your career.” I was warned by a well-meaning, senior woman priest that the church “will chew [me] up and spit me out.” I could tell other stories, but this shows you that there is an ugly underbelly that needs to be healed by the love of Jesus. And these stories are most appropriately channelled into the forthcoming truth and reconciliation process itself. Overall, this has been made clear to me: being a woman in this church is full of love and joy but it is also difficult and sometimes dangerous. As an individual, I have done my personal healing work but I am at a loss about how to uproot this problem.

But together, with careful and concerted effort, the we and the Task Force can take the next step and move the needle. One Task Force from General Convention 79 can’t do everything but it can start the process of building a gospel-based Truth & Reconciliation commission. We can repent and turn to God, confess our sins and grow reconciliation and our Anglican Big Tent.

I -- and the other “liberal” and/or female deputies I have talked to -- do not want a “gender crusade” against older white men or “conservatives”. We want a fair and bipartisan movement toward a more just church, one that doesn’t blame, shame, or leave anyone behind. I want to have my own biases challenged in favor of a win-win Gospel. I want all of our biases addressed as we keep and grow the Anglican Big Tent. I want all peoples participating in courageous dialogue and constructive proposals. We need a generous, consensus-building approach that invites people on “thick ice” and the people on “thin ice” to dismantle injustice and proclaim the gospel together.

Truth-telling and reconciliation takes concerted effort. We need a group dedicated to making reconciliation possible to everyone on the national and local level. I want to be able to confidently share this reconciling work, to show that the Jesus Movement is good news to the women and young girls in our congregations and those looking in from the outside. Let’s make things right, together!

---Works Cited---

[1] Svoboda-Barber, Helen. "Women Embodying Executive Leadership: A Cohort Model for Episcopal Discernment" DMin diss., Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Austin, TX, 2017

[2] Clergy Compensation Report put out by the Church Pension Fund [CPG]

[3] Called to Serve: A Study of Clergy Careers, Clergy Wellness, and Clergy Women, pages 14-15, by Paula Nesbitt

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