Racial Justice Committees pass major initiatives

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The legislative committees on Racial Justice and Reconciliation of the 80th General Convention voted last week to send to the floor several of the most far-reaching resolutions the Episcopal Church has ever considered about its devastating heritage of white supremacy.

By unanimous votes, both the House of Bishops and House of Deputies committees, meeting jointly over Zoom on Thursday evening, June 23, approved a lightly amended version of Resolution A125 and a significantly expanded version of Resolution A127, and sent them to their respective houses, where they will be considered on the floor, rather than included on the consent calendar. Both resolutions were proposed by the Presiding Officers’ Working Group on Truth Telling, Reckoning, and Healing, formed by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies on June 25, 2021.

Resolution A125, first introduced to the church in a report released on March 22, calls for the creation 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 the Beloved Community,” and charges it with “facilitating, coordinating, encouraging, supporting, and networking efforts of Episcopal dioceses, parishes, organizations, and individuals for racial justice and equity, and the dismantling of white supremacy,” in collaboration with the church’s Executive Council and the church center staff.

The resolution would require Curry and Jennings’s successor to appoint a working group to create and develop the coalition. The group’s work would include proposing all “organizational, canonical, legal, and other actions necessary to constitute formally and oversee” the coalition.

The coalition would be funded with an annual draw from “one-tenth of the trusts and endowment funds available for general use in the Episcopal Church’s budget.” The resolution also requires that the coalition receive the same percentage draw from the church’s trusts and endowments as is devoted to the general budget of the Episcopal Church. That draw is projected to be 5% in the Executive Council draft of the 2023 budget.

The coalition would receive $200,000 per year for the remaining two years of the current triennium. The legislative committees worked with the understanding that these funds were included in the 2023-24 budget being prepared by the Joint Standing Committee on Program Budget and Finance (JSCPBF) for adoption at General Convention.

The legislative committees had previously heard testimony on A125, and no witnesses spoke to the resolution. However, on Thursday, the committee heard testimony and approved a recently filed resolution, D044, which could have a significant impact on the coalition’s work.

The resolution, proposed by Deputy Carolyn Mok of the Diocese of Rochester and endorsed by Deputies Boyd Evans of the Diocese of Southern Virginia and Paul Lebens-Englund of the Diocese of Minnesota, calls for the creation of “an independent Reparations Fund Commission” to be overseen by the coalition. Its job would be the creation of “a substantial fund from TEC assets, the purpose of which is a sustained, meaningful, tangible response to the historic and ongoing legacy of slavery and displacement of Indigenous peoples of what is now the United States.”

The size of the fund would be determined by the reparations commission. The commission or a body it designates would be charged with “defining and implementing payments of reparation.”

The resolution “declares to the whole world that the Episcopal Church is dedicated to this sacred work,” said Melanie Atha, executive director of Episcopal Peace Fellowship. “This includes wrestling with the hard question of what is owed and to whom.”

Several members of the peace fellowship spoke in favor of the resolution, which stipulates that the convener of the proposed commission and 60 percent of its membership be people of color.

Discussion of the resolution did not touch on whether D044, as written, would give the proposed reparations commission access to the church’s assets and budget independent of the approval of the church’s Executive Council or General Convention.

The legislative committees also agreed unanimously to bring to the floor of both houses a much expanded version of Resolution A127, which would originally have allocated $125,000 for an investigation of the Episcopal Church’s ownership and operation of Episcopal-run Indigenous boarding schools.

The expanded resolution includes much of Resolution A128, proposed by the Presiding Officers’ Working Group on Truth Telling, Reckoning, and Healing, but is broadened primarily by inclusions from  Resolution D033, which was proposed by Deputy Leon Sampson of the Navajoland Area Mission and endorsed by Deputies Cornelia Eaton and GJ Gordy of Navajoland.

The revised version of A127 seeks $2.5 million to fund the creation and support of a fact-finding commission to explore and publicize the church’s involvement in owning, operating or otherwise supporting Indigenous boarding schools. The committees received no assurance that such funds are available, although JSCPBF was aware of the $425,000 total sought in the original versions of A127 and A128.

The money requested would also pay for the Office of Indigenous Ministries’ creation of an educational resource regarding the church’s role in Indigenous boarding schools, and fund a grant program to support dioceses in both conducting their own research into their own roles in these schools and in preserving the stories of boarding school survivors and their families.

The $2.5 million would also support the establishment of community-based spiritual healing centers in Indigenous communities across the Episcopal Church to address the intergenerational trauma rooted in the church’s role in Indigenous boarding schools.

“I support Resolution A127 as amended,” said Deputy Diane Pollard of the Diocese of New York. “Telling the truth will indeed set our church and our people free.  It will be painful, but it must be painful if it is to be effective.”

Amendments to A127 were necessary, in part, to broaden the scope of the investigation into the church’s involvement in Indigenous boarding schools, Deputy Joe Hubbard of Navajoland said. The original resolution left out “a host of schools the church supported financially, or with personnel,” and did not include diocesan schools or church-run federal schools,” he said.

Conversation about the boarding schools “brings back memories. It brings back triggers for our congregations,” but community-based healing centers under Indigenous leadership might allow healing, Sampson said.

Resolutions from the Racial Justice and Reconciliation Committees will be heard first in the House of Deputies, where all of the resolutions from the Presiding Officers’ Working Group on Truth Telling, Reckoning and Reconciliation will be heard in a special order of business.