by Elaine May*
According to the denomination's most recent figures (2009), men hold 73% of the top staff
leadership positions in the U.S. annual conferences, women hold 27%.
"Top positions" in an annual conference include bishops, directors of connectional
ministries (DCM), district superintendents (DS) and treasurers. Women—who make up
more than 50% of total United Methodist membership in the United States—are least
represented as district superintendents (26% are women), while the highest number of women in top leadership
are treasurers and directors of connection ministry (33% in each category).
As of 2009, the highest number of women in top-level
conference positions was in the Western Jurisdiction
(41%) and the least positions in Southeastern
Jurisdiction (20%). Western Jurisdiction also has the
highest percentage of clergywomen and laywomen
serving in these leadership positions (36% and 5%).
Southeastern Jurisdiction has the lowest percentage of
clergywomen and laywomen serving in these
leadership positions (17% and 3%).
The highest percentage of women bishops is in the
Western Jurisdiction (50%) and the lowest percentage
is in the South Central Jurisdiction (18%). The highest
percentage of women DCMs is in the Northeastern
Jurisdiction (46%) and the lowest is in the Western Jurisdiction (14%).
The largest percentage of women superintendents is in the Western Jurisdiction with 44%, and the lowest is in
Southeastern Jurisdiction with 17%. And the largest percentage of women treasurers is in North Central
Jurisdiction with 45% and the lowest is the South Central and Southeastern jurisdictions, which each have about
27% women as superintendents.
Does the face of top leadership in U.S. annual
conferences represent who we are and who we want to be as The United Methodist Church? Do our conference
leaders reflect the people of God whom we serve? For example, 19% of all the leadership positions held are by
racial-ethnic persons, yet the United States has 35% racial-ethnic people. And 28% of all the positions are held
by women; meanwhile 50% of the population is women. 92% of the leadership is clergy, while most of the
denomination is laity.
If we want our leadership to represent the people they serve, we may need to change some of the ways we
train, nurture, call, hire and elect our leaders. We need to be intentional in looking at clergy/lay, women/men,
racial ethnic/white balances in our conference offices and committees. We need to look at how the existing
structure helps or hinders us from becoming all we want to be.
Neither the United Methodist Church nor the wider society have an extensive track record of including women
and racial ethnic persons in leadership. Valuing gender and racial inclusion as a part of our organization DNA is
a relatively new addition. If our call is to nurture and making disciples of Christ to transform the world, we need
to start close to home and broaden our concepts and diversify our pool of present and future leaders at all levels
of church life.
There are 50 United Methodist bishops in the United States. Of those, 74% (36) are men and 26% (14) are
Women bishops range from 18% to 50% of the total number of bishops in their respective jurisdictions. (South
Central has 18% women bishops and Western has 50%.) Even though the percentages may seem impressive,
given that our first woman bishop was only elected in 1980, the church only has two or three women bishops in
Of the 14 women bishops, two are racial ethnic (Black and Hispanic). Racial-ethnic women bishops account for
15% of the women bishops and 4% of all bishops in the United States.
Men bishops account for 50% to 82% of the bishops in each jurisdiction (Western has 50% and South Central
has 82%). The total number of bishops range from three to 10 bishops per jurisdiction. Of the 36 men bishops,
15 are racial ethnic (10 Black and five Asian). Racial- ethnic men bishops account for 42% of the men bishops
and 30% of all the bishops in the United States.
The percentage of women bishops (26%) is higher than the percentage of United Methodist women elders
(19%). The percentage of racial- ethnic women bishops (4%) is lower than the percentage of racial ethnic
women clergy (10%). Of clergymen, 8% are racial ethnic, but they comprise 42% of the male bishops.
Why is there such a high percentage of racial-ethnic men bishops when they have such a low percentage of
male clergy? What dynamics are at work while the Episcopal elections are being conducted? (Note: not all
racial-ethnic groups are represented among the active U.S, bishops. Currently, there is no Native American or
Pacific Islander bishops, no Asian female bishops, and no Latino/Hispanic male bishops.)
— Elaine Moy is assistant general secretary of finance and administration for GCSRW.