April 26, 2007

Executive Council Advocates for Gay Rights, Against War on Terror

Ralph Webb

Note: This is a longer version of an article printed in the Spring 2007 Anglican Action Briefing.

 

In the opening report of her activities to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori praised several dioceses for their “creativity” in their active engagement with mission. Later, she mentioned that she hoped to visit Washington, DC, regularly “to do the advocacy work that I think is crucial in this day and age.” These two statements in many ways summarize the work of the Executive Council at its spring meeting, held in Portland, OR, from March 2-4, 2007. Executive Council members focused on some of the advocacy work that they—and perhaps Bishop Jefferts Schori—consider “crucial.”

The members of the Executive Council conducted a large percentage of their business in four different committees: Administration and Finance, Congregations in Ministry, International Concerns, and National Concerns. Much of their work involved continuing with the substantial task of dealing with the many resolutions left over from last summer’s 75th General Convention. Most of the resolutions relating to the Episcopal Church’s social witness came out of the National Concerns committee, although a few came out of International Concerns.

Homosexual Rights
The National Concerns committee passed three resolutions relating to the “full inclusion” of homosexual people in the life of the Episcopal Church and the nation:

  • Resolution NAC 009, “Human Rights for ‘Homosexual Persons'” (formerly General Convention resolution A168), asks that “the constant attention of [the Episcopal Church]” be given to homosexual rights.
  • Resolution NAC 014, “GC Site Choices,” urges that future General Convention sites be chosen from states that support “domestic partnerships” as the equivalent of marriage. (See the sidebar “Episcopal Church’s Stand against Marriage Amendments Intensifies” for more information.)
  • Resolution NAC 020, “Asylum for Persecuted Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Persons,” urges the Episcopal Church to lobby the U.S. government to grant asylum to persecuted homosexuals and gay rights supporters from nations where homosexual practice is illegal.

The explanation for resolution NAC 020 names Nigeria as an example of such a country, in an apparent critique of the Church of Nigeria and Archbishop Peter Akinola for favoring proposed legislation restricting homosexual assemblies and penalizing public displays of same-sex affection.

The three resolutions were passed unanimously by the Executive Council. A fourth resolution, “Repentance of Institutional Prejudice and Injustice” asked the General Convention to “repent [of] the institutional prejudice and injustice perpetrated on individuals or groups on the basis of gender, age, race, ethnicity, disability, or sexual orientation.” It was not passed by the National Concerns committee because the committee didn’t feel that the Executive Council had the right to repent on behalf of the whole church. It probably will reappear as a resolution at the 2009 General Convention.

 

Episcopal Church’s Stand against Marriage Amendments Intensifies

Last fall, many Episcopal laity and clergy—including some bishops and parishes—fought against state amendments to preserve the traditional definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman. This year, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church continues that battle in resolution NAC 014, which advocates limiting the future sites chosen for General Conventions.

Each General Convention, the proposed site for the next Convention is presented in a resolution that must be approved by the current General Convention. The Executive Council’s resolution NAC 014 discourages any proposal for a site “located in a state that prohibits domestic partnerships or the rights associated therewith.”

Choosing their words carefully, the drafters of NAC 014 argue in the explanation of the resolution that “[t]his is not a resolution on same-sex marriage.” The key word here is “marriage.” It is about gay and lesbian “domestic partnerships”—and heterosexual ones as well—that would treat non-marital relationships as the functional equivalent of marriage.

And in its approval of such partnerships, the resolution stands against traditions in both the Episcopal Church and U.S. law that take a high view of marriage. Canon law regards this lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman as an institution uniquely instituted by God. Civil law regards this same institution as uniquely necessary for the wellbeing of society.

Yet the Executive Council wants to boycott the use of any state that acts to maintain the unique status of marriage. Kim Byham, past president of Integrity, an Episcopal gay and lesbian caucus, warned the rest of the council members about what he considered “the insidious nature of these laws.” He branded them as the work of “the right wing,” even though the amendments carried in seven of the eight states in which they were proposed last fall.

So opposition to the marriage amendments now extends beyond the local and even diocesan level to the upper leadership of the Episcopal Church. Given the recent crisis within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion on related matters, such a stand is not unexpected—but it is lamentable, nonetheless.

These resolutions demonstrate a disturbing practice in the Episcopal Church. Progressive social justice resolutions that ask the General Convention or the Executive Council to reaffirm past General Convention resolutions commonly are approved. Yet resolutions that ask the Episcopal Church to reaffirm orthodox faith on the basis of Scripture, tradition, and/or past General Convention resolutions are rejected or discharged, sometimes on the basis of being redundant. That fate befell both Bishop Keith Ackerman’s resolution on Scripture and tradition at the 2003 General Convention and the resolution on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ at the 2006 General Convention. But resolutions like NAC 009 and NAC 014 ask the body in question to reaffirm previous resolutions, and objections rarely, if ever, are raised.

And it’s particularly ironic that resolution NAC 009 quotes the Windsor Report’s condemnation of discrimination against gays and lesbians. At last summer’s General Convention, bishops and delegates almost invariably removed other Windsor Report language from resolutions. Obviously, many progressive and some moderate Episcopalians won’t hesitate to retain Windsor language that suits their own causes and reject language that challenges the actions of the Episcopal Church.

The War on Terror
Other resolutions dealt with various aspects of the War on Terror:

  • Resolution INC 016, “Middle East Peacemaking,” asks for the Episcopal Church to lobby the U.S. government for “a two-state solution … [that] provides full recognition of Israel and Palestine … as well as security for both.” It also urges a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, opposes any use of force against Iran, and advocates diplomatic solutions to achieve peace in the Middle East.
  • Resolution INC 017, “Iraqi Refugees,” advocates various uncontroversial measures (e.g., humanitarian aid) to assist refugees from Iraq. One clause, however, advocates that the U.S. government grant temporary protected status to Iraqis in the U.S. who are not U.S. citizens.

The essentially pacifist resolution INC 016 is not surprising given past Episcopal Church stances. The Episcopal Church’s leadership (including its House of Bishops) never has endorsed pacifism as a universal rule, but it has consistently opposed military action in the Middle East as, from its point of view, unjustifiable. Consequently, the leadership consistently has called for an end to military action in the region. The Executive Council is firm in its belief that “military action has not and will not resolve the conflicts in the [Middle East],” according to resolution INC 016.

Regardless of one’s belief concerning pacifism, resolution INC 016 has strengths and weaknesses. It summarizes current Episcopal Church positions regarding the tensions in the Middle East and is milder and less one-sided in favor of Palestinians than some past resolutions. It also commendably asks the Episcopal Church to lobby the U.S. government to “[strengthen] U.S. ties in [Iran] with civil society such as academia, non-governmental organizations, the media, and religious groups.” Unfortunately, the resolution probably is overly idealistic in its seeming conviction that dialogue ultimately will solve the issues between Iran and the international community.

Two other resolutions proposed actions based upon the presumption that U.S. military and intelligence agencies systematically practice torture:

  • Resolution NAC 013, “Close Guantanamo Prison,” supports the action stated in the title and opposes both “secret detention centers around the world” and the alleged practice of sending terror suspects to those centers for torture.
  • Resolution NAC 019, “Condemning the Use of Torture,” insists that the U.S. government comply with United Nations’ regulations against torture and provide “just compensation for the victims of torture … and their families.” It also calls upon all members of the Episcopal Church to support U.S. personnel “who refuse to obey orders to practice torture” or who supposedly are disciplined for taking this stand of conscience.

All of these resolutions were passed unanimously by the Executive Council. Taken together, they reveal a deep, profound distrust of the U.S. government’s actions in the War on Terror. The Executive Council apparently does not believe that the United States truly is defending itself or others against terrorists in its military actions. Furthermore, regarding torture, one Executive Council member charged that the U.S. regularly sends suspected terrorists to detainment centers in other countries so that they can be tortured.

Progressive Energy and Passion
In all of this work, the members of the Executive Council proved energized and dedicated to their causes. Passionate speeches and positions were voiced both within committees and larger plenary sessions. Clearly their activities revealed an active engagement with their own understanding of mission.

And many of the resolutions require an advocacy of the type that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori may make in her future visits to Washington. If the Episcopal Church’s future place in the Anglican Communion is uncertain in early 2006, the majority of its leadership’s commitment to a progressive sense of social justice is not in doubt.

Resolution Summary
The resolutions mentioned in this article, their 75th General Convention resolution numbers (if applicable), and the actions taken upon them are summarized in the following table.

National Concerns Resolution Number and Title… …Corresponds to General Convention Resolution Number Action Taken
INC 016, “Middle East Peacemaking Unknown Passed unanimously by Executive Council
INC 017, “Iraq Refugees” Unknown Passed unanimously by Executive Council
NAC 009, “Human Rights for Homosexual Persons” A168 Passed unanimously by Executive Council
NAC 013, “Close Guantanamo Prison” D028 Passed unanimously by Executive Council
NAC 014, “GC Site Choices” C010 Passed unanimously by Executive Council
NAC 019, “Condemning the Use of Torture” C033 Passed unanimously by Executive Council
NAC 020, “Asylum for Persecuted Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Persons” D073 Passed unanimously by Executive Council

 _____________

D030, “Repentance of Institutional Prejudice and Injustice” Not passed from National Concerns committee to larger Executive Council for a vote; probably will reappear at 2009 General Convention

Date: 4/26/2007


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