By Kirk Petersen

The Executive Council focused on two major race-related initiatives at its online meeting June 25-28: Starting the development of a racial truth and reconciliation proposal to be considered at General Convention next summer; and reviewing a menu of possible actions to support the deradicalization of people in white supremacist groups, for further discussion at the council’s October meeting.

The truth and reconciliation effort grows out of the “Racial Justice Audit of Episcopal Leadership,” which was commissioned by the 2018 General Convention. The 72-page report of the audit was released in April 2021, and a five-page executive summary is also available. The audit was conducted by the Mission Institute, a Massachusetts-based firm with Episcopal roots that supports white-majority churches in resolving racial inequities. The audit was based on surveys, from 2018 to 2020, of more than 1,300 Episcopal leaders from the various governing bodies of the church and from 28 dioceses.

The audit found nine “dominant patterns of systemic racism,” which were reviewed one by one for the council. A few highlights:

  • Persons of color reported feeling both hyper-visible and invisible in interactions with the church. They are often “pigeonholed into work that revolves around diversity, anti-racism, or global mission,” while being overlooked for other important roles, “it being assumed that they are ‘new’ to being Episcopalian.”
  • Anti-racism efforts too often are transactional — hiring a person of color, attending an anti-racism workshop — rather than transformational — aimed at effecting cultural shifts and systemic truth-telling.
  • Political polarization has intensified since the murder of George Floyd, and some people of color detected “an uptick of instances of blatant racism within The Episcopal Church.” The polarization results in “both an urgency around anti-racism work and a nervousness about how to navigate it, especially among white people.”

The council authorized Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry and President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings to appoint a working group of bishops and deputies who will develop “a plan and pathway for a process of truth and reconciliation in The Episcopal Church,” Curry said. The group will begin meeting in September and will submit recommendations for the General Convention by March 2022.

Deradicalization and white supremacy

When Executive Council last met in late January, memories of the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol were fresh, and council members were appalled by the fact that some of the rioters paired Christian images with symbols of white supremacy. At the council’s request, Director of Government Relations Rebecca Blachly led a staff team that developed a list of ways the council could support efforts to deradicalize white supremacists.

The team grouped its recommendations into three levels of investment:

  • Baseline investment, including greater publicity for existing deradicalization work, and authorizing Government Relations to advocate that homeland security funds be directed to groups that deprogram radicalized individuals.
  • Moderate investment, such as supporting and partnering with nonprofits that work to deprogram radicalized people, including Life After Hate and the Free Radicals Project.
  • Substantial investment, such as hiring a full-time staff member to oversee partnerships with nonprofits and manage church outreach and education efforts.

Council will discuss the proposals at the October meeting.

Fort Worth

The Executive Council heard an emotional presentation from the Episcopal Church in North Texas, the new name for the organization that earlier this year lost the right to call itself the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in February, which left standing a Texas Supreme Court ruling that awarded $100 million in church property to the group that left the Episcopal Church in 2008.

After 12 years of litigation, Bishop Scott Mayer said “we got the bad news that we had lost in the courts. Lost our name, lost our corporation, lost property and assets, lost our diocesan office, lost a school, lost outreach locations, and six more congregations were displaced.” Mayer, who called the outcome “incomprehensible and disillusioning,” has served as provisional bishop for the diocese based in Fort Worth since 2015, while continuing to serve as Bishop of Northwest Texas, an adjacent diocese.

Episcopal Migration Ministries

A council committee heard from Demetrio Alvero, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries, that “EMM is in a rebuilding mode now that the government has set an operational placement capacity for resettlement at 65,000.”

Late this year or early next, Alvero said “EMM will be reaching a milestone soon of assisting its 100,000th refugee in its forty-plus years as a national resettlement agency. It’s a milestone that we’re proud of and this church should be proud of.”

Diocesan Relief Grants

In April, Executive Council voted to make grants of up to $40,000 to each of the 109 dioceses of the church, to help them weather the financial storms of the pandemic. Because of canceled events and a moratorium on travel, expenses for the Church Center had fallen dramatically, and the council wanted to distribute some of the savings to the dioceses.

Dioceses must apply for a grant, and Finance Chair Mally Lloyd said 55 diocese had applied so far, all for the maximum amount, while other dioceses were doing discernment about whether to apply. The relief grants were structured as a flat dollar amount rather than as a percentage of a diocese’s budget as a way of focusing the relief on smaller dioceses.

“Lift Every Voice” and Debate

A symbolic resolution helped illustrate the nuances and pitfalls inherent in racial reconciliation efforts, even among people who respect each other, as do the members of Executive Council.

In the final plenary session on getaway day of the four-day meeting, the council spent a full 30 minutes debating whether to support a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would establish the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as the national hymn.

In addition to being the namesake of one of the authorized hymnals of the Episcopal Church, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” has informally been known for decades as “the Black national anthem.” A handful of White council members spoke against the resolution, over concerns that it is not inclusive enough to serve as a national hymn, focused too much on the Christian God, or that the lyrics should have been included as part of the resolution and open for discussion.

Eight Black council members spoke in support of the resolution, as did one White member. An amendment was proposed and voted down. The resolution ultimately was passed in an electronic vote. Church officials declined to release the vote total.