By Kirk Petersen
The format was similar to a presidential debate. The tone was anything but.
Five candidates for leadership in the House of Deputies made their pitches online at a forum on Saturday afternoon, June 4, the first of two such events. If any of the 120 people on the Zoom call were looking for a food fight, they went away disappointed.
Not only was there no conflict, there was no disagreement. The candidates repeatedly praised each others’ responses to the moderator’s questions. If any of them objected to anything said, they kept it to themselves. After watching the 98-minute forum, I saw no compelling, issues-based reason to favor one candidate over another.
None of this is necessarily a criticism. Think of the forum not as a vehicle for assessing the issues, but rather for discerning who is called to be the second-most influential leader of the Episcopal Church for the next three years.
Four candidates for president of the House of Deputies (PHoD) met the May 31 deadline for submitting candidate materials before the first forum, and their names below are linked to their profiles. They are:
- The Rev. Devon Anderson, Diocese of Minnesota;
- Julia Ayala Harris, Diocese of Oklahoma;
- Ryan K. Kusumoto, Diocese of Hawaii;
- The Very Rev. Ward H. Simpson, Diocese of South Dakota.
The only declared candidate for vice president also participated in the forum: the Rev. Rachel K. Taber-Hamilton, Diocese of Olympia.
An additional candidate emerged, too late for the forum. The Rev. Edwin Johnson, Diocese of Massachusetts, declared his candidacy in a Facebook post on June 3. House of Deputies spokesperson Rebecca Wilson said that although Johnson had a scheduling conflict for the June 4 forum, and missed the May 31 deadline for candidate materials, he will participate in the second forum on June 13. He did meet the March deadline for agreeing to a background check.
The president and vice president, one of whom must be a priest and the other a lay person, will be elected at the truncated General Convention in Baltimore, July 8-11. TLC‘s stories of the PHoD election and all things related to General Convention are being collected on our GC80 homepage.
The forum was moderated by the Rev. Albert Cutié, a talk-show host and author, who posed a series of questions including why the candidates feel called to run for office, what they would hope to accomplish if elected, “what’s the most challenging or negative experience you’ve had as a deputy,” and “what would you do to help elevate the voices of marginalized communities within the Episcopal Church?” Each candidate was given two minutes to respond to each question.
The responses offered windows into the personalities of the candidates. Nobody made any cringe-worthy comments, and each raised thoughtful nuances at various times.
The lack of focus on specific issues reflects the fact that unlike at the last General Convention, there are few if any major areas of conflict. Same-sex marriage is settled. Prayer book revision is off the fast track. The only issue generating any social media buzz has more to do with theology than governance: Resolution C028 proposes to eliminate the canon stating “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.”
The issue has flared only in the past few weeks. There are passionate advocates on both sides, and it could generate quite a floor fight in the House of Deputies, before losing with little or no support in the House of Bishops. For those very reasons it is unlikely to get a hearing in the drastically shortened 80th General Convention. A couple of the candidates on the forum mentioned communion-without-baptism in passing, but nobody took a position on it.
Reaching out to the marginalized was a common theme. The candidates included a Latina (Harris), an Asian-American (Kusumoto) and an Indigenous priest (Taber-Hamilton.) Johnson, who will participate in the next forum, is Black. It was a stark contrast with the all-white-male candidate slate at the Diocese of Virginia annual convention, which began earlier in the day. (The Rev. Canon Mark Stevenson of the presiding bishop’s staff won on the second ballot, about which more in the coming days. In the meantime, here’s the diocesan announcement.)
Here is a sampling of statements by the candidates, in chronological order during the forum.
Kusumoto: “Before COVID, health used about how well I ate or how much I exercised. But now if one person in the community has COVID, that impacts our health. It reminds us how connected we are. If you’re not well, that matters to me.”
Simpson said that at his first General Convention in 1997 — a time when battle lines were being drawn for the schism to come — he was a deputy from the Diocese of Eau Claire, which he described as a conservative diocese with a moderate to liberal delegation. “During one of the Eucharist services, as we were sitting around doing Bible study, one of the members of one of the other, more conservative dioceses approached us to try to talk about not participating in the daily Eucharist, but having an alternative Eucharist.” Eau Claire rejected the idea. “We are the Episcopal Church. We are a church not united by common belief, but united by common prayer.”
Taber-Hamilton: There’s “a real need to make sure everyone who is being invited, and has the opportunity to come to the table, has the technology they need,” a particular problem in her Indigenous community and for people of color. “There seems to be a challenge around the technology. Not everyone has it, not everyone has access to it. … so I want to make sure we have the right tools.”
Anderson: “For me, the core of everything is working on some culture change around relationality. A lot of places where we govern and make really critical decisions are not collaborative. There’s not trust-building, there’s not relationship-building. To me, that is the primary work that any group in governance has to do, is to build relationships with each other.”
Harris, in response to a question about the appropriate relationship between the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops: “There is this inherent, creative tension between the two houses. I think sometimes when we create friction together we can end up with something a bit more beautiful in the end. It’s the same thing as when you bring people together with different world views, and you’re able to come up with something more complete by working through it together.”
The second forum will be Monday, June 13, at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Persons interested in attending need to register in advance. Maybe there will be more discussion of issues, perhaps even some disagreement.