By Mark Michael
412 resolutions were filed for the four-day 80th General Convention, which begins July 8 in the Baltimore Convention Center. In a mere 22.5 hours of legislative sessions, the House of Deputies also needs to elect a president and vice president, and both houses must approve the Episcopal Church’s budget for the next two years, which currently tops out above $100 million. Even with an extra six hours of “as needed” evening session time in the schedule, it’s going to be very tight, and probably exhausting.
In response to concerns about COVID transmission, far less time is set aside for social gatherings and joint informational sessions of the Houses of Bishops and Deputies than was common in the past. But each of the four days will have at least an hour of worship, as well as two-hour breaks for lunch and dinner (since attendees complained so forcefully about boxed meals). Theoretically, legislative committees can meet, especially to iron out differences as legislation makes its way through both houses, but finding time for that won’t be easy.
For comparison’s sake, the last General Convention, in Austin in 2018, considered 540 resolutions, but bishops and deputies had 11 days to do it, and 43.75 hours of legislative sessions, almost twice as much time.
The 2022 convention’s 28 committees have been holding online hearings since February to receive testimony about the 412 resolutions. Since the shortened convention timeframe was announced in mid-May, they’ve also been trying to winnow down the number of resolutions that will make it to the floor for debate, using stringent guidelines including the questions: (1) “Would this resolution require significant floor time for debate that might not be available at the 80th General Convention?” and (2) “Could this resolution be addressed at the 81st General Convention without significantly impeding the church’s ability to respond to God’s mission in the next two years? Would it benefit from more study?”
The committees have slated 118 of the resolutions, just shy of 30 percent, as “reject” or “take no action,” and otherwise referred them to one of the church’s interim bodies for further study. Among the axed was a resolution authorizing Holy Communion without baptism that was sharply criticized by 22 Episcopal theologians; one that branded Israel as an apartheid state; and 15 separate resolutions that the Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris be added to the calendar of commemorations (Harris died in 2020, so this would violate a 50-year delay standard for new commemorations advocated in a different resolution).
That leaves 294 resolution that are recommended for adoption or adoption with amendment or substitution. Sixty of these are privilege and courtesy resolutions (A165-A225), mostly thanking leaders for their service. But that leaves 234 that could be well be consequential, some of them with budget implications.
Consent vs. Floor
This makes crucial the work of the two committees for the dispatch of business. They determine which resolutions make it to the floor of the houses for debate and potential amendment, and which ones get slated for the consent agenda. The HOD’s committee has 44 members, the HOB’s eight.
Plenty of the 234 are probably headed for the latter, if the consent calendars for the first day of business are any indication. The House of Deputies’ calendar has 134 resolutions on its list, proposing to handle only 26 (several of them procedural) on the floor (the House of Bishops’ calendars haven’t yet been published).
Theoretically, any of the 412 resolutions can make it to the floor (even the ones committees slated as “reject” or “take no action”), but the bar for this will be much higher than in the past. At recent conventions, a resolution could be moved from the consent calendar to the floor when requested by the deputies of three different dioceses or by three bishops. Under special rules of order proposed for 2022, in the House of Deputies, a full third of the deputies would have to agree to remove an item from the consent agenda (the bar in the House of Bishops is even higher, a majority vote). One of the first things each house will do on July 8 is approve (or amend) the special rules of order.
Items from the consent agenda may also make it to the floor if a full tranche of them is voted down by a house. But then, each resolution in the tranche must be considered separately. The dispatch committees face a balancing act: If they keep the consent agendas small, there won’t be enough time to handle all the legislation. But if they slate too many substantial measures for consent approval, the sessions could be swamped in procedural votes picking apart their choices.
Beloved Community and Parish Ministry
It’s harder than usual to predict the issues that will be important or controversial at this convention, with such a limited timeframe for debate and compromises to be brokered. The union of the former Diocese of Fort Worth with the Diocese of Texas (D050) is important, as is Puerto Rico’s move from Province IX to Province II (C020), but neither is controversial.
Many of the convention’s most-high profile and expensive resolutions focus on “Beloved Community” initiatives, a concept that is explored in a recent book-length report from the House of Bishops’ Theology Committee. These seek to understand the church’s past complicity with racial injustice more clearly, and to invest in the communities most deeply affected by racism.
Resolution A127 would allocate $125,000 to “a comprehensive and complete investigation of the church’s ownership and operation of Episcopal-run Indigenous boarding schools,” while A129 would conduct a forensic audit of the church’s funds, seeking to discover which assets “are directly tied to the enslavement of humans, the slave trade, and historical and current racial injustices. Resolution A126 commissions the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to work with Episcopalians of color to examine the prayer book, hymnal, and other authorized liturgies “in regard to the colonialist, racist and white supremacist, imperialist and nationalistic language and content and develop proposals for amending texts.”
The “intergenerational trauma” caused by the church’s ministry to Native Americans is the focus of Resolution A128, which allocates $300,000 for community-based spiritual healing centers and trauma counseling for those most impacted. Resolution D004 designates an additional $550 million, mostly in grants for racial reconciliation programs sponsored by Episcopal institutions. Several resolutions, including C058, call for response to the racial audit commissioned by Executive Council with improved anti-racism training and diocesan-level action to encourage leadership by people of color; D044 would set up a commission for a churchwide reparations fund.
Several resolutions could significantly impact parish ministry. Resolution C047 would require that parishes pay deacons at least $25 a month for their ministry, a symbolically important step, as they are barred from receiving any pay in some dioceses. A156 would set up a Task Force on the State of Membership in the Episcopal Church, charged with assessing different local understandings of membership and the relationship between membership and confirmation across the church. The aim would be to develop “new and relevant membership definitions that reflect the experience, practices, and needs of congregations.”
Several resolutions focus on leave and medical insurance coverage for church employees, including A003, which encourages all dioceses to adopt a uniform family leave policy, and C065, which recommends that the Church Pension Fund equalizes maternity disability coverage for clergy and lay employees. D034 would establish a task force to identify options for reducing the cost of insurance under the denominational health plan but stops short of its proposers’ original aim of allowing dioceses to opt out if premiums have become egregiously high.
Politics, Sex, and Liturgy
Familiar topics of controversy will likely make some appearances at this convention, though legislative committees have sanded off the rough edges of a few of the most potentially volatile resolutions.
The deadline for resolutions was June 6, more than two weeks before the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs case, but several abortion-related resolutions may spark impassioned support from pro-choice advocates. Resolution D083 states that “all Episcopalians should be able to access abortion services and birth control with no restriction on movement, autonomy, type, or timing;” D076 denounces the work of crisis pregnancy centers, which often advocate against abortion while offering practical support to women who choose to carry unplanned pregnancies to term.
The major restrictions imposed in some states after Roe’s demise may also fuel debate over where the church chooses to gather in the future. Resolution A001, which sets out possible venues for the 2027 General Convention, was amended in recent weeks to include a requirement that the “Joint Standing Committee on Planning and Arrangements consider the physical and emotional well-being and safety of all members of The Episcopal Church when choosing a host location for any General Convention.” This language was added in response to efforts to remove Orlando from the venues under consideration, because of Florida legislation on LGBT issues. Moving the 2024 convention out of Louisville, Kentucky, which now has one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws, isn’t currently on the table, but it’s not impossible that it would be taken up.
Most of the controversial resolutions related to the State of Israel and Palestinian rights have been slated for rejection or “take no action.” However, C012, which rejects the theology of Christian Zionism espoused by many American evangelicals as “inherently antisemitic” is slated for approval, as is C013, which condemns the anti-BDS laws on the books in 30 states that restrict government business with companies that participate in boycotts against the State of Israel.
There are several LGBT-related resolutions, though few concern canonical changes or liturgies (the latest revision of The Book of Occasional Services (A006) does include a liturgy intended for a renaming after a transgender transition). Resolution D026 would allocate $100,000 for a task force on LGBTQ+ inclusion, charged with conducting “a churchwide audit of how the Episcopal Church has lived into its 1976 commitment to provide full and equal claim to the love, acceptance and pastoral concern and care of the Church to its LGBTQ+ members.”
Resolutions D029 and D030 would create new educational resources to help churches welcome transgender and non-binary people, and A068 promotes the expanded use of new Safe Church training resources, which focus heavily on acceptance of sexual minorities alongside attention to abuse prevention. An earlier proposal that the training course be taken by every member of the church was struck by the legislative committee.
The liturgical resolutions are also rather tame and technical, by the standards of recent General Conventions. Resolution A145, a second reading of which will permanently Article X of the Constitution, establishes clearer guidelines for the status and approval of liturgies apart from the Book of Common Prayer. The move is relatively non controversial and establishes what members of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music have called “a canonical net” for decades of work developing and authorizing such resources without clear guidelines.
Resolution A059, which was also recommended for approval by the Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Music Committee, tweaks the canonical change of A145 by defining “the Book of Common Prayer” to mean any liturgy approved by two subsequent General Conventions. Critics refer to the proposal as a “prayer book in the cloud,” since A059 celebrates the fact that, henceforth, the totality of liturgies constituting the so-called Book of Common Prayer would only be accessible online. Resolution B011, which would have clarified and softened A059 by distinguishing various categories of liturgy, with different levels of authority, was slated “take no action” by the committee. If A059 is approved, the canonical change would need a second approval at the 2024 General Convention before taking effect.
Resolution A008 would add to the calendar of saints Simeon Bachos the Ethiopian eunuch, the Episcopal deaconesses, and Frederick Howden, a World War II chaplain famous for his selfless care of fellow soldiers during the Bataan Death March. C003 takes the rare step of striking nineteenth-century theologian and defender of white supremacy William Porcher Dubose from the calendar.
Strap in tight, the whirlwind is about to begin.