By Kirk Petersen

Dioceses around the Church can look forward to some financial help later this year from the Church Center, as the Executive Council has unanimously supported a previously reported effort to determine the best way to provide such help.

The Executive Council also voted to support the development of carbon-capture technology as a tool to combat climate change, and separately urged the Church staff to develop a strategy for counteracting white Christian nationalism, as it concluded a four-day online meeting on January 25.

Financial Aid to Dioceses

The Rev. Mally Lloyd, head of the finance committee, told the council the plan raises complicated legal and canonical issues that affect even what to call it — a gift, a rebate, a waiver of assessment, a grant, etc. She said the committee wanted to craft the package carefully to avoid unintended consequences.

She stressed that this is separate from the existing waiver process, which is aimed at individual dioceses in financial difficulty for specific reasons. This initiative is intended to benefit all 109 dioceses, recognizing that COVID has caused financial strains everywhere. “The goal here is to get something substantial to each diocese around the church, in a timely way,” she said.

“We want the church to hear that this council is concerned about the church and intent on providing relief, we’ve just got to work out the details,” said Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry.

A small committee will begin meeting to resolve all of the questions as quickly as possible. She declined to specify a time frame, but all parties are committed to moving as quickly as feasible. The amount of aid has not been determined, but the discussions revolved around a hypothetical pool of $2.5 million. The various considerations are discussed in greater length in a previous article.

Carbon-Capture Technology

After addressing some procedural concerns, the council endorsed research and testing of carbon-capture technologies, with a proviso that the use of such technologies should not contribute to environmental racism.

The Very Rev. Mark Goodman, a council member from the Diocese of the Rio Grande, said “carbon-capture and storage is one of those technologies that produces waste products, and where are those waste products going to be.” He said the committee was concerned that the location of waste storage and production facilities “not fall disproportionately on poor, minority, and indigenous communities, like so often has happened in the past,” citing nuclear waste disposal as an example.

Carbon capture occurs naturally in the life of trees and certain ecosystems such as bogs and estuaries, but technological methods of capturing carbon from the air are in development. Carbon capture is distinct from reducing carbon emissions, and the latter is considered by many to be the more important priority.

Several council members spoke against the resolution because it had not been submitted to the whole council in a timely way. Under changes adopted last year to the council bylaws, resolutions are supposed to be submitted to all council members not later than five days before the meeting, “except for exigent matters and budget adjustments.”

This was followed by some discussion about whether reducing climate change should be considered an exigent matter. The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, explained that the Office of Government Relations was eager to have the resolution to support their lobbying with the new Biden administration, because it might provide a vehicle for bipartisan agreement.

After it was explained that the bylaws also allow for waiving the advance-submission requirements for non-exigent reasons, the council voted through an online app to approve the resolution. The vote total was not announced.

White Christian Nationalism

The council voted to ask staff to coordinate with ecumenical and interfaith partners to develop a strategy for combating white Christian nationalism, which is fueled by white supremacy movements. Julia Ayala Harris, a lay council member from Oklahoma, said the measure was prompted in part by the riot at the United States Capitol on January 6. The resolution notes that the event “included sacred Christian symbols, signs, banners, and flags carried by the insurrectionists who declared allegiance to both Jesus and the former president, sometimes conflating the two.”

The resolution originally passed without debate, but was brought back for reconsideration after concerns were expressed about wording. The resolution refers to “violent white supremacy,” and multiple council members said white supremacy should be opposed even if it is not violent. After 24 minutes of debate on procedural issues, amendments made and withdrawn, the council voted a second time to approve the original resolution.

Biden Administration

Staffers involved in public policy told the council that the start of the Biden administration five days earlier was breathing new life into the Church’s advocacy. “We’re very encouraged and hopeful again on probably hundreds of issues I could speak to,” Director of Government Relations Rebecca Blachly said with a laugh.

The most dramatic change relates to immigration issues. Instead of acting aggressively to limit immigration of all kinds, the new administration seeks to increase the annual ceiling of refugee admissions from 15,000 to 125,000. Demetrio Alvero, director of operations for Episcopal Migrations Ministry, said it will take time for migration agencies to rebuild the infrastructure that will allow them to resettle that many refugees.

Blachly noted the flurry of executive orders that President Biden has signed in his first few days in office, and said “We’re overwhelmed with how many there are already that are in line with our asks.” She cited the decisions to rejoin the World Health Organization and the Paris Agreement on climate, an extension on a nuclear non-proliferation treaty set to expire in February, LGBT rights, human rights, immigration, a moratorium on drilling in the Arctic, provisions for people in poverty, among other things.