Women can bring two distinctive gifts to the episcopacy, and indeed to many forms of leadership. Their presence in leadership expands the image of what it means to be made in the image of God. And women’s awareness and experience of marginalization can motivate compassionate response within the body of Christ. I don’t believe it is helpful to paint with too broad a brush, for the unique gifts of each human being are involved. Some women have no consciousness of marginalization, and many men also do, though from different perspectives…
Women leaders serve both as iconic images of the complexity and otherness of God and by representing and raising the concerns of the marginalized, having known that reality themselves. Both are basic to following Jesus, who spent most of his active ministry with the marginalized, seeking to make them and their communities whole. It doesn’t mean that men cannot also do that work, but that women by their social location are often closer to the reality of the oppressed and unfree.
That gift of a different (ab-normal?) social location often brings with it the willingness to build bridges across boundaries in order to confront the principalities and powers. Jesus’ willingness to dine with the unclean is one example. Think also of the non-violent witness of Liberian market-women in the peace process, or the Nigerian women who finally got executives of polluting and exploitative oil companies to pay attention to their grievances by sitting down in the street in front of their offices and removing their shirts. Like Lady Godiva, they shamed their oppressors, rather than themselves.
Creative leadership uses the gifts at hand to foment transformation. Women have rarely been able to rely on traditional modes of power and control to energize change. Jesus used the tools of the least of these, rather than those of rulers, to lead us toward the Reign of God, and those are the gifts that we are looking for. Women (and men) who can lead from below are particularly needed in an age when the Church is rediscovering its position on the margins of society. That is the native home of the body of Christ, and indeed, of all the world’s great religious traditions.