By Kirk Petersen
The second and final pre-convention candidate forum had the same tone of mutual respect that characterized the first forum. This time, there was more focus on specific issues that will face General Convention in Baltimore, July 8-11. While the questions point to topics that may lead to floor debate, they didn’t produce any conflict among the candidates — although a hint of disagreement crept in.
The candidates for president of the House of Deputies (PHoD), and links to their profiles, are:
- The Rev. Devon Anderson, of Minnesota;
- Julia Ayala Harris, Diocese of Oklahoma;
- The Rev. Edwin Johnson, Diocese of Massachusetts;
- Ryan K. Kusumoto, Diocese of Hawaii;
- The Ward H. Simpson, Diocese of South Dakota.
There is one declared candidate for vice president (VPHoD): the Rev. Rachel K. Taber-Hamilton, Diocese of Olympia. All six participated in the second forum, while Johnson missed the first event because he declared his candidacy too late for inclusion.
Future Venue Controversy
Some of the questions focused on specific resolutions, and one of them initially seemed an odd choice. The candidates were asked to take a position on Resolution A001, regarding the site for the 82nd General Convention in 2027. (The 2024 General Convention is to be held in Louisville, Kentucky.)
The questions were submitted by members of the House of Deputies, and some but not all of the questions were conveyed to the candidates in advance. They knew this question was coming, and in the responses it became clear that there will be a motion to remove Orlando, Florida, from the list of potential 2027 sites. The effort is in response to recent legislation passed by the State of Florida regarding LGBTQ issues (the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill) and access to abortion. The other proposed venues are Phoenix, Arizona; Charlotte, North Carolina; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“While I generally believe we should stay in communion with each other,” Kusumoto said, “there are instances I believe we need to take a stronger stand. When an individual’s civil rights to live as who they are, are threatened due to local laws, this church can’t be silent.” In addition to LGBTQ issues, he said “what happens to a deputy if she has complications with her pregnancy during General Convention? How would they get appropriate care on time, if the location doesn’t allow it?”
He noted that General Convention was moved to Honolulu in 1955 because of segregation issues. (The event had been scheduled in Houston, which continued to have segregated facilities.)
“Executive Council met in Oklahoma despite regressive state laws, and this enabled us as a body to learn more about radicalization of white nationalism by visiting the OKC bombing site,” said Harris. “We also visited Alabama shortly after a restrictive abortion law passed, which allowed us to experience the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and Memorial.”
However, she said, “meeting in places where people don’t feel safe is a problem.” She recently joined other deputies of color in drafting Resolution D067, committing the church to hold events only “in locations where the state and local jurisdictions do not infringe upon the rights and dignity of all attendees.”
“The church makes a public statement with its presence and money in cities where it holds General Convention, and I’m not inclined to want General Convention to happen in places that have laws that are contrary to our very hard-won resolutions, and our baptismal vows,” Anderson said.
Johnson said “I’m happy with the list as it is,” but he would want to consider the opinions of other deputies. Taber-Hamilton raised LGBTQ issues as a concern, and said she would want more information before making a decision. “I support the resolution, but I wish there were a way for us to have more input earlier in the process,” Simpson said. He also said it was appropriate to consider “are the values in the community reflective of the Episcopal Church.”
It seems likely that the Diocese of Central Florida would oppose removing Orlando, its see city, from the list. Bishop of Central Florida Gregory O. Brewer did not respond to a request for comment.
Based on past precedent, the Executive Council is likely to finalize a decision on the 2027 host city early next year.
The candidates expressed support for Resolution A129, calling on church leadership to “conduct a forensic audit of the financial assets of the church that are directly tied to historical and current racial injustices.” This resolution is one of a package of measures centered on racial “truth-telling,” focusing on such matters as historical complicity with slavery and church involvement in assimilationist Indigenous boarding schools.
“I think a forensic audit will reveal some hard, and probably some devastating, truths” about the origins of church land and financial resources, Harris said. “I think it’s going to be really necessary for us to sit with the pain,” before moving to reckoning and healing.
The last question was a curve-ball. The Rev. Albert Cutié, who served as moderator, noted that Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry had established three priorities upon his election in 2015: racial reconciliation, evangelism, and creation care. “What priority would you add to that list? And then a follow-up question as part of this: which one would you remove from it?”
Cutié had been calling on candidates in seemingly random order, and you could practically hear the six candidates praying in unison: “please don’t call on me first.”
Anderson drew the short straw, and bought some time by saying “let me think about this for a minute.” She quickly came up with an answer that would be echoed by the other candidates: “I don’t know how anybody would remove any of these from this list. Maybe this question has one answer,” she said with a laugh. Other candidates came up with potential additions including truth-telling, joy, youth, and community development, but there was no appetite for torpedoing any of the presiding bishop’s priorities.
Deputies will have a difficult decision to make, as all of the candidates established themselves as thoughtful, prayerful people who love the Episcopal Church. “I don’t think I heard a bad answer” in the 90-minute forum, Cutié said. There is no reason to believe any of the candidates would seek to move the church in a substantially different direction. The choice will come down to discerning who is called.