Contiuing with my theme of the "Year of the Woman," I wanted to both celebrate the election of the first female Presiding Bishop of the Episcopalian Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and analyze what is a familiar pattern of demonizing women leaders. The Episcopalian church is nearly 400 years old; it did not allow women to become priests, let alone bishops, until 30 years ago. Hence, the election of Jefferts Schori, wherein she won over 6 other candidates is an amazing feat for not only women, but for the direction of the Episcopalian Church. Before turning to ministry, Jefferts Schori was an Oceanographer with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle. She is married to a theoretical mathematician, Richard Miles Schori and they have one daughter, Katharine Johanna, who is a second lieutenant in the Air Force. She is a feminist, supports teaching Evolution, she voted for Gene Robinson, the first gay Bishop of the Episcopalian church, and she supports the blessing of same-sex partnerships.
Echoing my theme from yesterday, when women finally accede to positions of real leadership and authority, everyone benefits from a fresh perspective and different style. However, it is precisely this difference that causes panic, that rouses latent sexist attitudes, and that inspires the more conservative forces to belittle this remarkable woman. 3 diocese have called for a more conservative bishop to preside over them: Quincy, Ill., San Joaquin, CA, and Ft. Worth, Tx. None of these diocese believes that women should be ordained. Conservative pundits characterize her as "eliminating Jesus' teaching." And, of course, she has not healed the deep rifts in the Anglican church over the consecration of a gay bishop.
So, what we have here, is the "Nancy Pelosi" of the Episcopalian church. I don't mean to suggest that they are identical on positions, character, or temperament, but rather they are equally lambasted, mischaracterized, and maligned by not only the predictable conservative forces out there, but by well-meaning individuals who haven't taken a good look at how profoundly entrenched ideas of female leadership threatens them.
While women continue to earn positions of leadership in traditionally male dominated fields, the way that we characterize those leaders belies our lack of faith in their competence. We either paint them as "shrill," in the case of Nancy Pelosi or "fractious" in the case of Katharine Jefferts Schori. If these women, furthermore, stand up for the civil rights of gay people, or fight for women's equality, they are destroying our "American Values." They are, after all, liberal. And, thanks to the success of malicious campaigns against liberal values, to be liberal is to embody everything that is wrong with America.
Jefferts Schori, despite the poisoned well, is focusing on her mission, and hoping it will heal the church. And, if you want to get a sense what sort of dangerous message this liberal female Bishop has to share with the world, read a portion of her sermon, from her investiture on November 4th:
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