Bishops adopt covenant pledging to work for equity and justice

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Jul 8, 2018

Members of the House of Bishops spend time in table conversation July 8 before debate on adopting a covenant to combat abuse, harassment and exploitation. Photo: Melodie Woerman/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] The House of Bishops on July 8 adopted a covenant that commits them to seek changes in their dioceses to combat abuse, harassment and exploitation.

“The church as both community of faith and workplace is not immune to abuse, harassment and exploitation of people of varying gender, racial and cultural identities,” the bishops say in the document, which applies only to bishops, entitled “A Working Covenant for the Practice of Equity and Justice for All in The Episcopal Church.”

The text of the document is available here.

While calling attention to structures that work against people of all gender, racial and cultural identities, the idea of a covenant grew out of the stories shared in the “Liturgy of Listening” during General Convention on July 4. In that service, bishops offered laments and confession for the church’s role in sexism and misogyny.

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of the Diocese of El Camino Real said that after the Liturgy of Listening, it was clear that “there is no way we can do this and nothing more.”

“Sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation are part of the system,” she said. “This is about acknowledging and accepting that.”

The document reads in part, “As pastoral and prophetic leaders of the church, we bear the responsibility to continue the healing and transformational work that has yet to be fully realized.” The bishops also committed “to strive daily, transforming the culture of our church into a more just, safe, caring and prophetic place for all.”

Gray-Reeves said she knows the bishops have good will and good intentions, but that alone won’t help them change systemic cultural issues within the church. “We need each other’s help to do that as a churchwide organization,” she said. The covenant is intended to do that.

The covenant spells out ways the bishops can begin:

  • Recognizing the power of their office and using it with humility in service of others
  • Engaging in self-examination and making changes in how they use their power
  • Being aware of and listening to stories of people affected by biases
  • Giving space for leadership based on equity
  • Making room for a variety of cultural and gender-based ways of leading
  • Supporting a range of leadership models
  • Eliminating pay and benefit inequities
  • Creating and enforcing equitable parental leave policies
  • Helping parish search committees to examine their biases as they make choices in the call of clergy

During debate on adopting the covenant, Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe said that she had grown up in the Episcopal Church, and “sexual abuse and harassment has been as much a part of my life as Bible study and communion.” The elements of the covenant offer bishops “something we are all called to do as part of the Jesus movement,” she said.

Bishop Greg Brewer of Central Florida said he looks forward to taking the document back to the women clergy in his diocese and saying, “Let’s talk. What do you think?”

Massachusetts Bishop Suffragan Gayle Harris said the covenant “lifts up that which has been an aspiration of this house.” As a woman of color, she urged bishops to uphold differences of all those made in God’s image and to work to end discrimination.

After the covenant was adopted, Eastern Michigan Bishop Provisional Cate Waynick told Episcopal News Service that this was the first time in her 30-plus years of ordained ministry that the House of Bishops “actually decided to take a hard look at the way women have been treated.” She said her fellow bishops now are awakening to the pain and consequences of such treatment. Waynick is grateful that the bishops have agreed to ongoing conversation and to holding each other accountable, and as a result, “maybe our daughters and granddaughters won’t have to have these experiences.”

Bishop Brian Thom of Idaho said the covenant invites “serious self-examination” and asks bishops to take steps to change themselves personally. He added that men of the generation of many bishops, himself included, can find it hard to change because “we are sure it’s not us” who are responsible for such pain and experiences. “But I have been convicted by sexism,” he told ENS.

Washington Bishop Marian Budde, who also spoke to ENS, said that throughout her life in the church, women have taken it for granted “that we would be treated badly. We had to shrug it off.” But, she said, “This is not the way of Jesus. This is not the way of love.”

Several bishops said they wanted to be sure the covenant was on the agenda of every meeting of the House of Bishops going forward. Bishop Audrey Scanlan of Central Pennsylvania said during the debate that plans are underway to create a toolkit to help dioceses create their own kind of listening events to begin the hard work that is needed. “Sexual violence, aggression, exploitation and harassment exist in our church. We can’t let that be the last word,” she said.

— Melodie Woerman is director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas and is a member of the ENS General Convention reporting team.


Tags


Comments (12)

  1. Rev. Dr. James Hargis says:

    Sorry, sports fans, this is much ado about nothing. No one is in favor of sexual abuse, violence or exploitation of any kind. But to raise this to the level of the Bible, worship, and our tradition, is totally specious. And as to the relevance of TEC GENCON, please go to You Tube, and select Anglican Ink, Episode 417. It’s an excellent person perspective on what really happens at GENCON, and what impact it really has in our lives.

    1. Margaret Fletcher says:

      Do not be so condemning and disheartening! To have been formally acknowledged is something not nothing. Gender bais and sexism was invented by the church. For it to be looking at it at all is simply an amazing work of the Spirit. We need to teach girls and women not to collude with the Biblical images of repression and submission to boys and men. Patriarchy as ‘God’s way’ is over.
      Don’t forget when God comes again she will be black. Margo

      1. Frank Harrison says:

        WHY do you say somethings, “Gender bais and sexism was invented by the church,” so blatantly false? It may be in the church. But, it is MUCH older than the church and, hence, not invented by it.

    2. Frank Harrision says:

      Thank you, Rev, Dr, Hargis…seriously, thank you. Today so much of our “theology” is based little on Scripture, Tradition, and Reason but on personal preference. IF that IS the case, then why is “your” preference and “better” than “mine”? Yes, raising personal preferences to the level of the Bible, worship, and our tradition is totally specious.

  2. Rev. Dr. James Hargis says:

    Sorry, sports fans, this is much ado about nothing. No one is in favor of sexual abuse, violence or exploitation of any kind. But to raise this to the level of the Bible, worship, and our tradition, is totally specious. And as to the relevance of TEC GENCON, please go to You Tube, and select Anglican Ink, Episode 417. It’s an excellent perspective on what really happens at GENCON, and what impact it really has in our lives.

  3. Frank Harrision says:

    “Equality” and “justice” are social concepts…that is, they are meaningful within certain views of reality and knowledge, our relation to those views and under that relation our relations to one another. For instance, these concepts were quite different in ancient Athens compared to what they are now growing out of the 17th century Enlightenment. The next point is this. Especially after the Protestant Reformation, just what common views about reality and knowledge do Christians have? Much more specifically, what sort of common views do contemporary Episcopalians have? The answer is seemingly this: Little to none. Oh, there is a lot of rhetoric with neat fuzzy undefined terms being used. So? What then, specifically IS this “equality” and “justice” common to the Episcopal Church?

  4. Carlton Kelley says:

    Equality and justice are, of course, social concepts. What else would they be? – though that does not mean they have no relevance for the church. In fact, as gifts of the Holy Spirit, they have more relevance than ever for the life of the church as we grow into a fuller realization of both the sins and the joys of the Body of Christ. Women have been treated, not only as second class citizens in the church (along with GLBTQ people), but as second class human beings (along with GLBTQ people). Surely in whatever way we chose to classify this, Jesus grieves over this. Do not diminish this work in any way. I led an “important” congregation through a process of learning and healing around this issue and was astounded to discover how many women, both in the church and in their personal and professional lives were effected by this scourge. One of my personal hopes and always my prayers is that when we begin to take women truly seriously, we will not forget our GLBTQ brothers and sister, though, through a life time of experience, I am afraid we will.

    1. Frank Harrison says:

      You say, “Equality and justice are, of course, social concepts. What else would they be?” Well there is a long tradition that these are, properly understood eternal ideas in the mind of God and not merely social concepts.

  5. John Hobart says:

    Given the apparently dismal state of moral rectitude in the HOB, their incessant “social criticism” looks pretty hypocritical.

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      What specifically are you referring to?

    2. Frank Harrison says:

      Or is it in the House of Deputies? Or really in neither?

  6. Eric Bonetti says:

    Talk is cheap, but it’s actions that count. I filed a Title IV case against my former bishop many months ago, and have yet to receive more than a perfunctory response.

    Sorry to be a curmudgeon, but I see this as so much whitewash.

    815, if I am wrong, prove it by your actions. I’m waiting….

Comments are closed.

You have reached our comment limit of 5. You may resume commenting in 24 hours.