[Episcopal News Service – Baltimore, Maryland] The House of Bishops, moving rapidly through their June 9 legislative calendar, discussing but deferring a vote on the conflict in Ukraine and concurring with deputies to approve racial equity resolutions, marking a new chapter for The Episcopal Church.
On the 80th General Convention’s second legislative day, bishops approved Resolution A129 which directs presiding officers and the Church Pension Fund to conduct historical research on the ways in which financial and other assets of The Episcopal Church are directly tied to the enslavement of humans, the slave trade, and historical and current racial injustices, allocating $150,000 for the work.
An amended Resolution B008, “A Call for Cessation of Conflict in Ukraine,” offered by the Committee on Social Justice and International Policy, elicited lively debate, though the discussion closed before the bishops had a chance to vote.
The Rt. Rev. Mark D. W. Eddington, Bishop of the Convocation of Churches in Europe said he supported the amendment but cautioned: “We will all agree that Russia is uniquely responsible for a war of aggression in Ukraine. However, atrocities in war have a funny habit of being equal opportunity employers.
“I’m concerned that as a church our role ought to be to call on all sides in this conflict to cease war immediately. That’s the call of the Gospel and, while I support this resolution as amended, I want to offer caution that, after this is over, we will have to continue to work with churches in Russia and Ukraine and this makes it a little more difficult for us to be an even-handed broker.”
Another amendment, to remove a paragraph calling upon “the leaders of the Russian Federation and its supporters” to cease aggression and to begin negotiations, was challenged by Los Angeles Bishop John Harvey Taylor and ultimately defeated. Taylor said: “I find it difficult to imagine we can’t find a way both to identify the cause of initial aggression as well as to call upon both sides to behave humanely.”
Bishops also adopted racial equity measures, on the anniversary of the ratification of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which, in 1868, extended rights and liberties granted by the Bill of Rights to formerly enslaved people.
Deputies on July 8 adopted Resolution A125, offered by the Racial Justice and Reconciliation Committee, and which would establish a voluntary Episcopal Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice among dioceses and congregations.
Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas, a committee member, said the resolution focuses on extending the work currently being done in becoming beloved community.
“We have realized that the structures of our church are and have historically been polluted by the realities of racisms, white supremacy, and colonialism.,” he said “What is offered here in A125 and the Episcopal Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice is a way by which this church, for generations going forward, can offer a voluntary community, a voluntary society outside of and in addition to historic structures that have been affected by racism and white supremacy and continue to be so.”
Bishops rejected a proposed amendment to A125, that could have delayed its passage altogether, given the shortened convention. “Justice delayed, is justice denied,” Massachusetts Suffragan Gayle Harris said in opposing the amendment.
The proposed coalition was first unveiled in March in a report produced by the Presiding Officers’ Working Group on Truth-Telling, Reckoning and Healing. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, created the working group last year to sharpen the church’s focus on confronting its past complicity with racist systems and the lingering legacy of white supremacy embedded in institutions like the church. The coalition also is seen as a remedy to the church’s uneven track record of prioritizing racial reconciliation, at the churchwide level and across its more than 100 dioceses. The proposal also calls on the church to set aside $2 million annually to carry out the work.
Last month during its June 30 meeting, the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance committee set aside $400,000 as coalition start-up funds for the next two years. Additional funding may be considered in 2024 at the 81st General Convention.
While urging support of Resolution A127, “Telling the Truth about The Episcopal Church’s History with Indigenous Boarding Schools,” Bishop Carol Gallagher, an enrolled member of the Cherokee nation, who provides pastoral support in the Diocese of Albany, told bishops her grandfather was a survivor of a residential Indigenous boarding school, when urging support of
“I can tell you that what has happened with Indigenous boarding schools over the generations—it was a government policy to teach us to be something other than who we were. Children were taken in exchange for food and sustenance so families could survive. Many children never made it home, as we have learned; but we as a church participated joyfully, willingly, and with great enthusiasm,” Gallagher said. “This is a moment for us to really examine how we as a church might look at the ramifications of our unintentional sometimes and sometimes intentional acts of culturalism, racism, and every other sin we could talk about.”
Other bishops, including Utah’s Scott Hayashi, and South Dakota’s Jonathan Folts, described repatriating the remains of Indigenous children, who had died in residential boarding schools.
“Nine children were repatriated to Rosebud. I presided over the funeral of one of the students who was returned. I could barely find my voice when I stood up to speak to it,” Folts said. “I learn something new every day in South Dakota, some very sad stuff. Right now, we’ve gone through some very sad stuff relative to children in Indian boarding schools sharing their stories, hearing their testimony.”
Similarly, Hayashi said he learned from the website of the Carlisle Industrial Boarding School, in Central Pennsylvania, the nation’s first government-run boarding school for Indigenous children, that a local child had died there and “we just brought her remains back to Whiterocks this summer.”
Alaska Bishop Mark Lattime agreed, adding: “This is important work and it’s for all of us.
You might think your diocese doesn’t have a history of boarding schools with Indigenous people and, while that might be true, there isn’t a diocese in this church that doesn’t have a history with Indigenous people.”
Rio Grande Bishop Michael Hunn said the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, covered over a graveyard adjacent to a former residential boarding school, turning it into a park.
“We’re trying to help the city uncover what has literally been buried; they tried to cover up the story of the children and their families by burying it. We want to be part of uncovering and telling the truth.”
Bishops also concurred with deputies to create training modules on slavery and reparations, Resolution C035 and on Resolution A131, regarding the use of the term “People of Color” for when referring to individuals marginalized by racism and white supremacy.
– The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.