Resolutions Move Church Forward on Issues of Race, Gender

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Deputy Jenny Repogle of Chicago speaks in favor of D087 while holding six-month-old Rowan (Photo: Cynthia Black)

Three resolutions adopted on Wednesday by the House of Deputies are intended to dismantle racism and sexism in the Episcopal Church through practices and processes promoting equity, diversity, justice, healing, and reconciliation.

Resolution D002, Funding the Work of The Beloved Community, proposed by Deputy Joe McDaniel of Central Gulf Coast, came through Committee 9, Racial Justice and Reconciliation. First adopted by the House of Bishops, the resolution requested that the Joint Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) allocate $5 million for “the implementation of additional work organizing our efforts to respond to racial injustice and grow a Beloved Community of healers, justice makers and reconcilers.”

Later in the day, PB&F presented a  budgeted $1.75 million to fund D002, $1 million of which carries over from the 2016-2018 triennium and $750,000 of which is new funding. The allocation is part of a larger racial justice budget of $2.77 million.

D002 specified that money budgeted for this work would be used exclusively “to make grants to agencies and dioceses and other affiliated entities” of the church for activities such as “speaker series, sacred conversations, Racial Reconciliation Workshops” and other activities that promote The Beloved Community. Deputy Lindsey Ardrey of Louisiana, speaking in favor of the resolution, argued that we “don’t need a top down approach, but one that works up from the bottom,” one that works to support “foot soldiers on the ground” and “transform the contents of our tool box.”

Deputy Beth King of Atlanta cited an example from her diocese, the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing led by Dr. Catherine Meeks, as “a perfect example of what can be accomplished with reasonable funding.”  The resolution specifically mentions the Absalom Jones Center as the entity that would facilitate sharing with the rest of the church the “much-needed culturally appropriate and relevant resources” that would be developed by those awarded Beloved Community grants.

Since no one spoke against the resolution, House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings called for a voice vote and the deputies voted overwhelmingly to concur with the House of Bishops and adopt D002.

Later, the House of Deputies passed two resolutions intended to diminish sexism in the church. The first of these, resolution C060, Breaking the Episcopal Stained Glass Ceiling, was proposed by the Diocese of Newark and came to the house through the Ministry Committee (Committee 15). The resolution proposes the creation of a task force of three bishops, three priests or deacons and six lay people, including at least two young adults, to research sexism in the church, and “the role it plays in pay equity, status, and gender-based harassment.” The resolution stipulates that at least half the members of the task force be women.

C060 includes a budget request of $60,000.  It could possibly be funded from a line item in 2019-2021 budget of $491,000 for “pastoral development/other,” some of which is to be used for “harassment sensitivity training, responding to several resolutions.”

Presenting the resolution Ministry Committee Chair Deputy Molly James of Connecticut noted that C060 “highlights the reality of sexism in the church.” James said that following the #metoo inspired Liturgy of Listening and Lament on July 4, and after considering the memorial submitted to General Convention by and Milliennials and members of Generation X, the House of Bishops had adopted an amended version of C060. She moved that deputies concur with the amended resolution.

Deputy Kate Spelman of Chicago spoke “strongly in favor” of C060, identifying herself as one of the co-authors of the Gathering of Gen X and Millennial Clergy’s Memorial, which she commended to the house’s attention. Spelman said she had created the t-shirts emblazoned with the words, “This is what a priest looks like” which several women had been wearing during convention “because so many of us… need not only the full armor of Christ, but also a shirt to assert our full ability to be here.”

Recalling that in his sermon at the convention’s opening Eucharist Presiding Bishop Michael Curry had asked bishops and deputies to consider the life of Jesus before speaking at the microphone or voting, she urged deputies to “remember the many women of the Gospel who our Lord served with.”

Helena Upshaw of South Carolina, a member of the Official Youth Presence, told the house that “sexism continues to persist … in our church” and said she especially appreciated that the task force proposed in the resolution include two young adults and at least six women. She characterized the task force as a “next step toward equal salary, status and safety” for women in the church. Likewise, Deputy Fran Holliday of Chicago argued that “it is essential for us to create a task force that looks at sexism throughout the church if we are to fully live into our baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every human being.”

Noting that once again, no one had spoken against the resolution, Jennings moved the house to a voice voice, which was nearly unanimous.

In a similar spirit of promoting greater opportunity and access within the church, the house passed resolution D087, Parents Nursing or Bottle-Feeding Children, originally proposed by Deputy Michael Funston.

The resolution was presented by Rules of Order Committee Chair, Deputy Rob Schneider of West Texas, who noted that, this usually-lightly attended committee “may have set an attendance record” at the hearing on this issue.

This resolution was proposed in response to an incident at the beginning of the first legislative session on July 5 when Deputy Erica Pomerenk of Colorado and her 12-week-old daughter Beatrice, were denied admission to the house floor by a volunteer who said the child was not allowed on the floor.

When discussion on D087 opened, Pomerenk spoke first. She told the house that this convention was her seventh, and that she had attended with her mother when she was a teen, in other capacities as a young adult, three times as an alternate, and finally, at this convention, as a deputy.

Pomerenk recalled that when she was denied entrance to the house floor, she was “in tears as I texted my deputation to let them know what was going on.” While she noted that the matter was quickly resolved—thanking Jennings and others for their assistance and support— “It still happened and still marred the excitement and joy of Trixie’s first convention and my first as a deputy.”

Pomerenk said she “did not come here to be a poster child for breast-feeding,” but that the church needs to be mindful of issues affecting women and families.

“This should not happen again,” said Deputy Lawrence Hitt, co-chair of the Colorado deputation, especially because “women are increasingly powerful members of this house, members since 1970, and breastfeeding since at least that long.”

Deputy Jenny Repogle of Chicago spoke in favor of the resolution while holding her six-month-old son Rowan on her hip. She said she wanted to be sure that the house’s rules of order support  “the beautiful diversity of parenting in our church,” for parents who nurse, for those who are unable to nurse, and those who have chosen to bottle-feed. Jennings responded by saying, “The chair looks forward to seeing Rowan in the future.”

D087 was adopted by a unanimous voice vote, garnering applause from some of the deputies.

Rebecca Watts is a senior MDiv student at the Seminary of the Southwest, and an alternate lay deputy and candidate for holy orders from the Diocese of Central Florida. Prior to seminary, she was associate professor of communication and media studies at Stetson University.

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