House of Bishops pledges advocacy to end gun violence, sexual violence

'Open listening session' to 'hear stories of sexual harassment and violence in the church' set for General Convention

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Mar 7, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops said March 7 that its members will support two major social movements, one to end gun violence and the other to end sexual harassment, violence and gender bias.

The bishops said they “wholeheartedly support and join” young people who survived the deadly Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in their call for an end to gun violence.

In the other statement, they said they knew the “church has fallen short of our responsibility to listen and respond” to “the reality of sexual harassment, gender-based violence, and the cultural stronghold of gender bias and inequity.” The bishops “invite the church to a deeper examination of what God intends for our relationships,” including at the July meeting of General Convention.

Both statements were “accepted” during their annual spring retreat, according to press releases issued by the church’s Office of Public Affairs. The bishops are gathered March 6-9 at Camp Allen, an Episcopal camp and conference center in Navasota, Texas.

Bishops say students are ‘choosing life’

In their statement on the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, the bishops noted that “at this critical moment young people of our nation are inviting us to turn away from the nightmare of gun violence to the dream of choosing life.”

The statement endorses the goals of the student organizers of the March For Our Lives, scheduled for March 24 in Washington, D.C. Companion marches are planned in many U.S. cities and towns, and many Episcopal bishops have voiced their support for those marches. The bishops’ statement reiterated that support.

They also pledged to observe “a day of Lament and Action” on March 14, one month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which killed 17 students and adults.

The bishops said that, while they stand in support of the students’ efforts, “we acknowledge that black and brown youth have continuously challenged our country to address the gun violence that they and their communities are experiencing,” the bishops said. “We repent that, as bishops, we have failed to heed their call.”

Some commentators have observed that the media and the public in general have appeared to be more sympathetic to the calls to end gun violence that have come from predominantly white communities. Others have expressed concern about potential racial bias among teachers who might be armed, as President Donald Trump and others have proposed.

The bishops said they “recommit to working for safe gun legislation as our church has called for in multiple General Convention resolutions.”

The Episcopal Church bishops acted a day after receiving a letter from Episcopalians Philip and April Schentrup, the parents of 16-year-old Carmen Schentrup, who was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. The Schentrups attend St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in nearby Coral Springs, Florida, where their daughter was a youth group leader. Southeast Florida Bishop Peter Eaton shared the letter with the bishops.

“In our attempt to heal from despair and grief, we are compelled to try and make the world a better place for our two remaining children and for all children,” the parents told the bishops, imploring them “as leaders of Christ’s church, to address the issue of gun violence head-on.

“We ask that you make this a priority for the church and to leave little ambiguity as to ‘what would Jesus do.’ The scourge of gun violence on this nation, especially with military assault rifles, is a problem of our own creation and counter to God’s desire for peace and love. As a nation we can solve this problem, and as leaders of the church in our country, we ask that you help lead the way. In Christ’s name, we beg you to take action.”

They also asked the bishops to “to come with us to stand up for the lives of children and for the ministry of Christ’s church” during the March 24 events.

“One can only imagine the example of leadership and solidarity that such a showing could make on our fractured and divided country,” the Schentrups wrote.

Responding to the #MeToo movement

In their statement on sexual harassment and violence, the bishops note that this is the first time the House of Bishops has met as a body since the #MeToo movement began last fall.

“Many of us have experienced sexual harassment and perhaps sexual violence,” they wrote. “Bishops who are women know the ‘me-too’ experience. Some bishops who are men know it as well. We live with different experiences of the cultural endowment of power.”

The house pledged to continue what it called “our own work of reconciliation within our branch of God’s church, honoring what we have learned and accomplished, as well as acknowledging the distance we still must travel.”

They said that the work “will take courage.”

“As many women and men bravely come forward to speak the truth of their experience, courageous men and women will listen, where appropriate repent, and take an active role in repairing the brokenness, working to change the culture of our church,” the bishops wrote.

The statement also announced what the bishops called a “listening process in an open meeting at General Convention to hear more fully the stories of those who have been victims of sexual harassment and violence in the church.” That session will be July 4 from 5:15 to 7 p.m. in the House of Bishops convention meeting space.

The bishops’ plan follows a Jan. 22 letter from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, calling on Episcopalians to spend Lent and beyond examining how the church has handled or mishandled cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse. The letter also said that they wanted General Convention to discuss these issues because they “want to hear the voice of the wider church as we determine how to proceed in both atoning for the church’s past and shaping a more just future.”

Jennings later announced that she would appoint and chair a special House of Deputies committee on resolutions regarding sexual harassment and exploitation. The committee will have five subcommittees to draft resolutions on inclusive theology and language; disparities in pay, hiring, leave and pensions; changes to the Title IV disciplinary process and training; truth and reconciliation; and systemic social justice beyond the church. The committee appointments were announced a week ago.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.


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Comments (23)

  1. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    What in God’s good name is “gender bias”?

  2. James Sparks says:

    My. Question is what active shooters like what happend in Sutherland Springs what is happening to make churches safe.

  3. Joe Rogozinski says:

    So the Bishops do not stand with the Founding Fathers, but with the immature, spoiled, attention seeking high school children who have no idea of the consequences of their actions. I will not stand with the Bishops if they can not stand with and for the US Constitution.

  4. Peter Sickels says:

    where does it say in the Bible fellow Christians Joe James and Tony that when following Jesus you have permission to abandon compassion and that cynics will inherit the Kingdom- your pettiness and denial have ruled the Anglican/Episcopal alliance for far too long- your tenure is doomed along with the sorry administration in Washington at the moment.

  5. Terry Francis says:

    Tell me Peter are you saying that only the people who side with you on this issue are the true followers of Christ? There are good people on both sides of this issue and your self-righteous and judgmental attitude toward those who hold another view shows more than a little pettiness on your part.

  6. B.D. Howes says:

    The House of Bishops once again shows us the leadership vacuum in the Episcopal Church.

    I honestly can’t figure out how/why arming a teacher to protect students is racist. That’s such an odd thing to say and write.

    Then there is the House pledge to continue “our own work of reconciliation within our branch of God’s church, honoring what we have learned and accomplished, as well as acknowledging the distance we still must travel.” That takes “courage”?

  7. Joe Prasad says:

    The Bishops are stating views expressed by parents, commentators and media. We all agree that there is gun violence and sexual violence. The House of Bishops has done well by supporting the two social movements – end gun violence and end sexual violence. It does take courage to actively deal with social issues.

  8. Paula Wicker Hamby says:

    Thank you Episcopal House of Bishops for standing for those who are in need of support, harrassed women and those in danger in schools. Arming teachers is not the way to go. Have spent over 25 years in public schools…just how many mental health professionals would it take to help my students who witnessed teachers firing guns??? Get real…has nothing to do with 2nd Amendment rights either! I applaud our Bishops for taking a stand for those who have been vilified and harrassed also. Being “upfront!” and using your voices for those who have no voice is a rare commodity in today’s world.Thank you, Bishops,and mayGodcontinue to bless you!

  9. B.D. Howes says:

    I am not advocating arming teachers. Never have. I don’t know if that’s a good idea or a bad idea. I honestly don’t know but I am sure it would be less traumatic for to see a teacher shoot a bad guy than getting shot.

    Regardless, my question, referring to the comment about arming teachers being racist, is why is that racist? I just don’t see racism there.

    Finally, with all due respect, who has “no voice” on either of these issues?

  10. Robert Robinson says:

    Your response is a parody of White Privilege. It is a fact that Black children are more severe,y punished in schools compared to White children. Is this random or racism? If you don’t know the answer then you are not qualified to discuss this topic. You can imagine two things: a dead Black student and a stand your ground defense. What is truly troublesome is why this is not immediately apparent in a presumably enlightened audience.

  11. Matthew W. Nugent says:

    Thanks to the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops for their vital work to prevent gun violence!

  12. Terry Francis says:

    Ah Mr. Robinson! Spewing the same tired left wing White Privilege garbage that progressives have been spewing for the past 20 years. And of course those who dare to disagree with you are unenlightened. Has it ever once occurred to you that maybe, just maybe, more black children than white children misbehave in a given school district? Maybe they’re more severely punished because their offences are more severe. Racism may indeed be involved in some of these punishments, but the majority of them? No way. Many of these black kids were raised in homes without fathers and with no disciplined whatsoever. To the single mothers who instill discipline to their children, good on them. But there are way too many who didn’t and still don’t. If a black child is disruptive in a class and tells the teacher to go to hell when she or he tells him to be quiet and sit down just what should be done with that child? The other children are in that class to learn. This particular child is preventing that. And since corporal punishment is no longer allowed, that child must be expelled and sent home. White Privilege? Hardly. If it’s a white child, the same punishment should happen to him. It’s about disciplined and order. This isn’t about imagining a dead black student or standing your ground. It’s about handing out punishment to an unruly child no matter what their race happens to be. It’s a concept that progressives like Mr. Robinson apparently find impossible to comprehend.

  13. Robert Robinson says:

    I won’t debate the issue with you. However, I am pleased that my comments provided a mechanism for you to expose your underlying assumptions and validate my point. Perhaps others will learn from the commentary. I hope so.

  14. Joe Prasad says:

    Both Terry Francis and Robert Robinson touch on a sensitive issue. How to deal with students who are being disruptive? When teaching black students, I found it easier to deal with black students whose parents were first generation immigrants from Africa. Some black students whose family lived in US for many generations would react with some hostility: accusing me of being a racist because I asked them to maintain silence in class or pay attention to their work etc. Their parents were of no help. It was a new experience for me; I realized such accusations will continue to be levied by some black students till their community as a whole feel more secured of their standing in this society. I also realized that this was a way for some black students to intimidate their teachers for better (undeserved)grades. Such misguided students often lose in the long run. By the way, I never had a non-black student ever accuse me of being a racist.

  15. Robert Robinson says:

    Efforts to raise the consciousness of Whites is daunting. If it were less so perhaps we would not be burdened with a treasonous Presidency. Does one really have to prove that racism is alive and well in the Nation’s schools. The entire system of funding is based on underlying policies of suburban-urban dichotomies which are essentially racist in structure and intent. I was prevented from taking the exams for special High Schools when the Assistant Principal grabbed me by the collar and refused to let me exit the school. Or how about the response from my favorite teacher when upon asking each student what they wanted to be when they grew up responded to my answer: “No, you cannot be an Engineer.” Black students are so unruly; but White students are mass murderers. How to factor such outcomes into your analyses? Racism in the US has only gotten worse: disparities in incarceration, health, education, income, wealth, etc. But it is better to blame the victims. Why can’t American Blacks behave like immigrants? Or, we can piggy back Bill Cosby and preach parental responsibility to low income urban dwellers. A critical problem is embedded in the inability to recognize racism in self; then how does one recognize it in others? The following is a quote from the article below: “The Education and Justice Departments wrote in a 2014 Dear Colleague letter that discipline disparities could be caused by a range of factors, but the statistics in the federal data “are not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color.” The departments also noted that several civil rights investigations had verified that minority students were disciplined more harshly than their white peers for the same infractions.” However, all the studies and science in the World will prove insufficient in the face of aberrant assumptions derived from a racist paradigm of human behavior.
    Trump Finds Unlikely Culprit in School Shootings: Obama Discipline Policies
    By ERICA L. GREEN
    The president, goaded by conservatives, is targeting an effort to address racial disparities in school discipline, arguing that any relaxation of policies could let a killer slip through the cracks.

  16. Joe Prasad says:

    I have myself faced discrimination at critical junctures here in US both in graduate school and at work which impacted my life considerably. In graduate school, there were students, staff and administrators who had a genuine dislike for colored people. I also noticed they were white Christians. For a while, I had a black room-mate who shared with me some of the indignities that he experienced. Being naïve, initially I was a bit skeptical till I went through my own harrowing experiences. And so I can understand the pain (and anger) that Blacks carry. But then, for me it was also a few white Christians who went out of their way to assist me in a meaningful way during time of need. They are true Christians.
    How should one move forward knowing that their history is not a pretty one? Or that those in authority are bent upon creating more problems for the minorities. Hard to change their heart and mind unless it comes from within.

  17. Robert Robinson says:

    AppreciTe your comments and history. Still, the rationalizations of racism based on anecdotal experiences with misbehaving Black students leaves a sour taste. The combination of ignorance and arrogance overwhelms clear thinking and makes justice a step-child.

  18. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    I think that Robert Robinson’s latest comment is way off-base. If in fact there are as many “anecdotal experiences” with “misbehaving Black students” as there obviously are, then it amounts to a pernicious form of racism to deny the fact. And while everybody has to put up with the consequences, the people most hurt are black students who do not misbehave and who resent the disproportional misdeeds of other blacks. There are indeed many blacks in that category and it is disgusting that they have to suffer from the “ignorance and arrogance” of the deniers.

    I realize that the sensible comment I just made will immediately be condemned by some as another example of “white racism.” I can’t help that. It just shows how far our country has traveled from what used to be known, by blacks and whites, as just plain ordinary common sense.

  19. Joe Prasad says:

    Sorry if I am being misunderstood. I am not rationalizing racism. I am trying to understand what is the best way to move forward.

  20. Robert Robinson says:

    Joe, you misunderstood and my writing is to blame. I appreciated your comment. My reference to ignorance and arrogance was a response to comments by others who presume to know how Black youth behaved bases on personal experiences while ignoring epidemiological data describing unjust disparities in “crime and punishment.” These perceptions are more than bias. They comprise a set of beliefs, attitudes and perceptions that are fundamentally racist. My apologies for a text that should have been more clearly stated.

  21. Robert Robinson says:

    Please note the following article in the NYT. Finally, dismissing the potentiality of a teacher with a gun killing a Black student because of underlying biases while resorting to a stand your ground defense is a gross reprioritization of life: Black Lives Matter.

    Why Are Black Students Punished So Often? Minnesota Confronts a National Quandary
    By ERICA L. GREEN
    The Trump administration is highlighting the struggles that Minneapolis and St. Paul face with disparities in school discipline, and putting a thumb on the scale.

  22. Robert Robinson says:

    One could indeed make up an interesting list as to what constitutes or constituted common sense in the evolution of US society. Others can entertain themselves with that exercise. This is also why I entered this discussion with the disclaimer that I did not intend to debate. The latest comment by Tony suffices as the perfect example as to why. The point of a discussion regarding racism is to care about the consequences. Thus, no mention of the disparities in treatment of Black students is troublesome or the potentiality of another Black life lost due to the underlying assumptions of a gun toting teacher. You can wax sympathetic about the Black students who suffer because of the bad Black students; but your disinclination to respond to the evidence of racism in contrast to bad behavior of Black students speaks volumes as regards your priorities.

    1. Tony Oberdorfer says:

      Robert Robinson’s response to my comment makes absolutely no sense. What is he possibly suggesting with his reference to black lives lost “due to the underlying assumptions of a gun toting teacher?” I would certainly agree that there are “disparities in treatment of Black students” but more often or not they work in black students’ favor because the record shows that in many schools they are held to far less rigorous standards of conduct than their white counterparts.

      If I do indeed harbor a “disinclination to respond to the evidence of racism” it is simply because nowadays what is all too often referred to as “racism” simply isn’t. Can’t those who call themselves progressives (including many members of the Episcopal Church) get that through their heads?

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