Racial Justice committees hear testimony in support of reparations, ethnic ministries; move resolutions to House of Deputies’ consent calendar

By Pat McCaughan
Posted Jun 28, 2022

[Episcopal News Service] General Convention committees on Racial Justice and Reconciliation recently received testimony on resolutions that would: create a reparations fund commission, develop an official church teaching on racism, reaffirm the role of ethnic ministries, and appropriate $2.5 million to create a truth-telling commission to preserve the stories and promote the healing of survivors of Indigenous boarding schools.

“There is a lot of hurt in this resolution,” the Rev. Leon Sampson, deputy from The Episcopal Church in Navajoland, said while testifying June 23 in support of an amended Resolution A127, “Resolution for Healing Surrounding The Episcopal Church’s History with Indigenous Boarding Schools and Other Forms of Oppression,” proposed by the Presiding Officers Working Group on Truth Telling, Reckoning, and Healing. The amended legislation combines similar measures D033, and A128, and would allocate $2.5 million for implementation.

“It brings back a lot of memories for our congregations, but it’s a process that allows our people to start to heal,” Sampson said.

Similarly, the Rev. Joe Hubbard, deputy from The Episcopal Church in Navajoland, supported the amended resolution which, “entertains the scope of the work that must be done. It entertains the breadth of The Episcopal Church’s involvement in Indigenous residential boarding schools, and it provides for the resources necessary to do that work in a fair and honest way.

“It incorporates the stories of boarding school survivors and their families, as well as addresses the historical trauma that those communities continue to carry, and it does so in a way that returns agency to those communities with respect to healing, and that is extraordinarily important,” Hubbard said. Resolutions D033 and A128 were then discharged by the committees.

First postponed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a truncated 80th General Convention is now scheduled to take place in Baltimore, Maryland, July 8-11. The triennial convention is the church’s governing body, where final resolutions are considered and voted on by both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. Also as a result of the pandemic for the first time two-dozen bishops’ and deputies’ committees have held online hearings together in advance of convention. The legislative process has since been further revised. By the June 6 deadline, 346 resolutions had been filed.

Arizona deputy and committee chair, the Rev. John Kitagawa, explained that proposed legislation, except resolutions originated by the presiding officers’ working group, will move to the consent calendar where it will be considered and voted on along with other legislation as a single business item, a process to expedite the measures through the houses given the shortened convention. It will then be considered similarly in the House of Bishops. Legislation authored by presiding officers’ working groups will be part of a special order for debate, discussion and vote in both houses.

The committees also adopted and moved to the House of Deputies’ consent calendar measures: to collaborate (A050), with the Equal Justice Initiative to place historic markers in key U.S. sites to honor the life and work of persons of color; support historically Black colleges and universities (A053); allocate (D005) $73,800 triennially to support implementation of the “Healing from Internalized Oppression” curriculum; designate an Indigenous People’s Day (A140); facilitate and publish Indigenous land acknowledgments and create liturgies in dioceses (C072) and cathedrals (D069); and respond (C058) to the church’s racial justice audit.

“We are bound to pay the debts of our ancestors,” said Episcopal Peace Fellowship Executive Director Melanie Atha, testifying in support of Resolution D044, which would create a reparations fund commission, financed by The Episcopal Church’s assets, in response to the historic and ongoing legacy of slavery and displacement of Indigenous peoples.

“We have to do our part to do justice, to set a holy example for the rest of the world,” Atha said. “And while it might be hard to imagine our country, our church, without the sin of white supremacy, our baptismal promises compel us to act to rectify the centuries of wrongs. We need a reckoning that will lead to spiritual renewal for us all. This includes wrestling with the hard questions of what is owed, and to whom, and, to confessing our complicity in the domination and exploitation of our brothers and sisters.”

Bob Lotz, Episcopal Peace Fellowship member from the Diocese of Eastern Michigan, said reparations must encompass the entire legacy of slavery—both past and present. “We speak of reparations as our society’s debt to the descendants of formerly enslaved people, but we fail to include the need to repair more recent damage. For the last half-century, the U.S. has been whittling away at the slim gains made toward full citizenship, that people of color made in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

“The urban police state has become militarized,” Lotz said. “A new slavery has arisen through mass incarceration. The right to vote is looking more like a privilege to be denied. The formerly miserly tidbits of welfare and affirmative action are harder than ever to access. Every day, new sins are … piled upon these communities, requiring even more reparations.”

The Rev. José Rodríguez-Sanjurio, a Central Florida deputy, testified in support of Resolution D090, which he also proposed and which would affirm previous acts of General Convention regarding racism and make them part of an official church teaching. He also testified in support of Resolution D094, which would reaffirm and strengthen the role of ethnic ministries, asking that resources be applied equally to all ethnic groups.

“As a Latino, I was the first one in my diocese to … become ordained. My pathway to the priesthood was not an easy one,” he said. “I encountered a lot of discrimination, racism. I’m still finding in a lot of places in the church, not just in my diocese, people who teach things that would seem contrary to The Episcopal Church—our conscious collective—our shared values on racism. It would be beautiful to have a collective body of teaching that can be identified as the church’s teaching on racism for the benefit of the entire body.”

Referring to the House of Bishops Theology Committee’s recent report, “White Supremacy, the Beloved Community, and Learning to Listen,” Rodríguez-Sanjurio said, “We’re asking for the bishops to continue building on it, not call a task force or a working group. We trust the witness and testimony of our bishops. This is an invitation for them to weigh in and add as they wish. There is so much more to this than just a teaching on white supremacy. There are so many other areas … this is an open invitation to our bishops to chime in as they see fit. It would be nice to identify what the church’s teaching on racism is and start building a library.”

Continuing the streamlined process, the committees also adopted an amended D004, “A Resolution to Continue Funding of The Beloved Community,” which would appropriate $2 million for implementation over the next triennium. The resolution was amended to encompass the spirit and intent of six discharged resolutions: A049 to host and conduct a second Becoming Beloved Community Conference by 2024; and several resolutions to support continued virtual gatherings, A101, with ethnic ministries; A102 with interim bodies and other ministries of the church; and C036 and C046, to provide funding for furthering the Beloved Community.

The committees adopted an amended A131 after considerable discussion about the capitalization of the term “people of color.”

Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas proposed the amendment, “that the 80th General Convention urge all Episcopalians to utilize the phrase People of Color when referring to individuals marginalized by racism and white supremacy.” A second amendment that would have capitalized “people of color” and also incorporated lower-case usage of the term was rejected by both committees.

A substitute amendment for A125 was adopted, which would provide for the establishment of the Episcopal Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice “as a voluntary association of Episcopal dioceses, parishes, organizations, and individuals dedicated to the work of becoming Beloved Community,” among other things. The coalition would be charged with aiding efforts to dismantle white supremacy, in collaboration with the work of Executive Council and The Episcopal Church Center staff. The measure also provides for a working group to develop, and implement the coalition, and fund it with an annual draw on one-tenth of the trusts and endowment funds available for general use in The Episcopal Church’s budget, or about $1.08 million, and that the working group be funded during the 2023-2024 biennial at $200,000 a year.

That amendment will move to the House of Deputies’ consent calendar for further discussion and vote.

Subcommittee members were charged with considering and reporting back to the committees about two other resolutions, D006 equity in awarding Episcopal Church grants and C035, which would establish a task force to create training modules on slavery and reparations.

— The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent with Episcopal News Service, based in Los Angeles, California.