House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings has appointed a House of Deputies special committee to draft legislation on sexual harassment and exploitation for this summer’s General Convention.
“In January, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and I called the church to examine its history and end the systemic sexism, misogyny and misuse of power that plague the church just as they corrupt our culture, institutions and governments,” Jennings said. “We asked Episcopalians to consider what roles each of us is called to play in the church’s collective repentance.”
Since then, scores of women from across the church have contacted her. “On Facebook, via email, by phone and in person, women have been in touch to share their stories and let me know that they want to be part of changing the church’s culture on these issues,” Jennings said. “I am delighted to harness their energy by appointing this committee.”
The group, which Jennings will chair, is divided into five sub-committees that arose from ideas that women contributed to a Facebook discussion on the House of Deputies page in late January. One group will draft legislation concerning theology and language, while others will address issues of structural equity including pay and benefits, the Title IV disciplinary process, and social justice for women. In response to the presiding officers’ call for the church to examine its history, a sub-committee will draft legislation proposing the creation of a truth and reconciliation process.
A roster of the special committee, created under Article X of the House of Deputies Rules of Order, is available on the House of Deputies website.
Jennings says she is particularly pleased that so many younger women and women of color agreed to serve on the committees. Forty percent of the committee’s members and four of its five sub-committee chairs are under age 50, and more than 30 percent are women of color.
“Women of my generation were the first women to be ordained in the Episcopal Church, and both we and the laywomen in our congregations have experienced sexual exploitation and harassment for decades,” said Jennings, who was ordained a priest in 1979. “Our younger sisters, both lay and ordained, have no shortage of #metoo stories, but they have come of age in a world and a church that are much more aware of the intersections of sexism and racism and much better educated about gender identity and expression. It’s energizing to hear their ideas and perspectives, and their determination to change our church for the better is contagious.”
Some of the committee members, along with other volunteers, are writing reflections on the #metoo movement that the House of Deputies website is publishing during Lent.
Jennings expects the special committee to finish drafting legislation in early June so that its resolutions can be submitted according to the Rules of Order of the House of Deputies and referred by the presiding officers to the appropriate bishop and deputy legislative committees. The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, academic dean and Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific and alternate deputy from the Diocese of California, will serve as Jennings’s vice-chair and oversee the final stages of the committee’s work at General Convention.