Bishops Address Racism, Global Conflicts

Bishops listen during plenary discussion. | The Episcopal Church/Flickr

By Mark Michael

The House of Bishops focused on international conflict and new initiatives to counter racism on the morning of the 80th General Convention’s second day. Acting on resolutions approved Friday after dramatic testimony in the House of Deputies, the bishops endorsed creating the Episcopal Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice, a voluntary society “dedicated to the work of becoming the Beloved Community,” as well as funding a series of projects aimed at healing the “intergenerational trauma” caused by Indigenous Boarding Schools.

The bishops also passed a resolution condemning the war in Ukraine, acting on an amendment endorsed by the Bishop of the Convocation of Churches in Europe that calls both sides to peace. They sent a condemnation of Christian Zionism, one of only two Israel-Palestine resolutions that had received committee endorsement, to an interim body for further review, after bishops criticized it as incoherent.

Racial Justice and Equity

Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut, a member of the task force that designed A125, “A Resolution Extending and Furthering the Beloved Community,” described it as the answer to “an ecclesiological question.”

“It’s not so much about the current church’s commitment to undo the sins of racism and white supremacy, but rather, how can we continue the good work that is being done in becoming a beloved community, but to extend it further into the future, so that this church will continue, even beyond this current generation and the current leadership of our church, to do this more and more.”

The resolution establishes a voluntary society, which dioceses, parishes, organizations, and individuals may join, situated, Douglas said, “outside of and in addition to the historic structures that have been affected by racism and white supremacy, and continue to do so.”

This community’s work of “facilitating, coordinating, encouraging, supporting, and networking efforts … for racial justice and equity and the dismantling of white supremacy” will be funded by “an annual draw on one-tenth of the trusts and endowment funds available for general use in the Episcopal Church’s budget,” which Douglas described as “a first tithe for the church.”

He compared the new Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, a voluntary society that developed into the Episcopal Church’s corporate body, and the Episcopal Society for Racial and Cultural Unity, without which, he added, “the Episcopal Church wouldn’t have showed up for the civil rights movements.”

Douglas acknowledged that the plans for the new society’s work had only been developed in the past four months. The Rt. Rev. Kathryn (Kai) Ryan, Bishop Suffragan of Texas, proposed an amendment to the resolution that would have required authorization for its legal structure by the 81st General Convention.

The Rt. Rev. Andy Doyle, Bishop of Texas, cited the Episcopal Church’s 20th-century history as a rationale for Ryan’s amendment. He noted that the General Convention Special Program launched by Presiding Bishop John Hines in the 1960s “to move this church forward” was shut down “because there was not oversight in how some of those funds were used; there were allegations raised that the funds were used to buy weapons for the Black Panthers. … Are we willing to do the work we must do to protect this long term?”

Several bishops expressed confidence that provisions for supervision by Executive Council would ensure appropriate safeguards, and some said they were concerned that there might not be time for an amended resolution to receive approval by the House of Deputies in the shortened convention format.

“We need to move forward on this without the amendment,” said Bishop Gayle Harris of Massachusetts. “It’s time, it’s past time, to begin this work.”

Ryan’s amendment was defeated on a voice vote before the resolution’s approval.

Indigenous Healing and Empowerment

The House of Bishops also considered and approved two resolutions about the experiences and needs of Indigenous communities. Resolution A127 funds research into the Episcopal Church’s association with Indigenous boarding schools, and “community-based spiritual healing centers” that address the continued suffering of those whose ancestors were harmed by the schools. Resolution D080 permits canonical flexibility that would allow the Episcopal Church in Navajoland to select its next bishop in a culturally relevant way.

Several bishops spoke about their experiences with Indigenous boarding schools. Bishop Carol Gallagher of Massachusetts, a member of the Cherokee nation and the granddaughter of a school student, said she was taken by her parents on a visit to friends at boarding school as an infant.

While being held by her mother, Gallagher said, “every single child came and climbed up on her lap and held her. These were children that hadn’t seen their mothers, their fathers, their grandmothers, their aunties and uncles, their grandfathers for years, sometimes taken at 3, and 4, and 5 years old. And then, as my older sister tells, I was passed around, because some of those children hadn’t seen their baby brothers and sisters.”

“It was a government policy,” she added. “Children were taken, often in exchange for food and sustenance, so that the families could survive — and many children never made it home, as we have heard. It’s not due to all of us, but we as the church participated joyfully, willingly, and with great enthusiasm. And this is a moment for us to examine how we as a church might look at ramifications of our unintentional — and sometimes intentional — acts of culturalism, racialism, and every other sin we could imagine.”

Bishop Mariann Budde of Washington said Resolution D80 was crafted to allow for canonical adjustments to allow the people of the Navajoland Area Mission to choose their own bishop, who would succeed 82-year-old Bishop David Bailey. If a new bishop must be chosen before the next meeting of General Convention, she added, the resolution “reaffirms our commitment to engage with the Navajo people in as inclusive a way as possible.”

Bailey said he was honored to have been the only bishop to have ever been elected by the people of Navajoland as their bishop. “It’s important, now that we have seminary-trained clergy, that one of those four, if not more, would then be the future Bishop of Navajoland.”

Bishop Michael Smith, a citizen of the Pottawatomie Nation who has assisted in Navajoland, observed: “In this same session we just finished a resolution that’s about grief and pain, and the history of our ancestors, and this resolution is about hope for the future.

“Those who are raised with Indigenous values don’t do well in white systems of recruitment, of discernment. The most important value is, our people aren’t used to putting themselves forward. They need to be invited in, and the first value, before speaking, is to listen,” he said.

“I hope the Episcopal Church might learn from the Diocese of Navajoland as they discern different ways of identifying, raising up, and selecting leaders,” said Bishop Michael Hunn of the Rio Grande. “A way that is less competitive and violent would be of help to all of us.”

Ukraine and Israel

The bishops approved Resolution C008, which calls for a ceasefire in the war between Russia and Ukraine. Bishop Mark Edington, who serves Episcopal churches in continental Europe and who wrote the motion, protested against the legislative committee’s decision to focus the resolution on demanding that Russian troops take the initiative in ending the war. “We will continue to work with churches in Russia and Ukraine,” he said, “and this makes that more difficult.”

“Our role as a church should be for all sides in the conflict to seek the end of war, as a matter of the gospel,” he added.

An amended resolution, which “calls on the leaders of the nations engaged in this conflict to cease immediately from this unjustifiable and bloody violence,” was approved by a voice vote.

Bishop Peter Eaton of Southeast Florida criticized Resolution C012, which describes Christian Zionism as “inherently antisemitic,” criticizes Israel’s policies that have displaced Palestinians, and asserts that “many Episcopalians” confuse the references to Israel in liturgy and hymns with the modern state of Israel.

He said he shared the resolution’s belief that Christian Zionism was not consonant with Anglican teaching, but that he wasn’t aware of it being a major issue in the Episcopal Church. “If this were its sole purpose, it might be more helpful in being a little clearer about what Christian Zionism is, for all those who will not know anything much about it, and who might confuse a condemnation of Christian Zionism with a condemnation of Zionism, which is, of course, a very different thing indeed.

“Like so many resolutions, it seeks to do more than this, and wanders around a bit,” he joked. The claim that the faithful conflate biblical Israel with the modern state of Israel is, he said, “neither evident nor compelling.”

Bishop Eugene Sutton of Maryland contested Eaton’s claim about Christians’ understanding, noting that he believed the resolution was “very much needed and very timely for today.” Sutton said he has given permission for clergy to substitute other phrases for Eucharistic Prayer B’s “the calling of Israel to be your people,” including “the calling of ancient Israel” and “the calling of the children of Abraham.”

By a vote of 64-46-2, the bishops referred the resolution to an interim body.

People of Color

The House of Bishops also approved Resolution A131, which urges all Episcopalians to use the phrase “People of Color” when referring to “individuals and communities marginalized by racism and white supremacy.” It also commits the church, when referring to smaller groups of people, to using “the specific terms and names that those groups have widely embraced for themselves in our documents and church communications.”

Bishop Rob Wright of Atlanta said in support of the motion: “This is not about political correctness, but about celebrating the vibrant and beautiful diversity that God has created in all his people.”


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