A trifecta of resolutions introduced and passed by the Episcopal Diocese of Washington’s annual convention confirm a further politicized and progressive direction in which the denomination is headed.
Embracing progressive themes, delegates to The 123rd Diocesan Convention approved legislative proposals “On Becoming a Sanctuary Diocese: Offering Sacred Welcome to Immigrants,” “On Inclusion of Transgender People,” and “On the Gendered Language for God” at the Washington National Cathedral on Saturday, January 27.
Resolutions were passed in under one hour and were introduced by a small number of delegates. The Rev. Kimberly Lucas, Rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., and a graduate of liberal Union Theological Seminary in New York, sponsored all three resolutions. Two of the three resolutions were submitted by The Rev. Alex Dyer, rector of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Parish in Washington, D.C. Dyer was briefly notable last year on social media for wrapping banners around construction fences at St. Thomas in which an image of a face-palming Jesus was accompanied by political messages including the tagline “a progressive church for a progressive city.”
According to statistics made available by the Episcopal Church, St. Thomas has declined precipitously in the past five years, shrinking from a weekly attendance of 150 down to 75 (-50%). St. Margaret’s has similarly declined from approximately 240 attendees in 2006 down to 130 (-46%).
In the past decade, weekly attendance in the Diocese of Washington has declined 17 percent. Meanwhile, baptisms have dropped 35 percent and weddings have declined 39 percent. In April, the diocesan clergy conference will hear from an organization assisting churches “to move from a place of plateau or decline to sustained congregational health.”
Resolution #1 “On Becoming a Sanctuary Diocese: Offering Sacred Welcome to Immigrants,” was endorsed by the Race and Social Justice Task Force of the Diocese. It read:
Resolved, that the people of the Diocese of Washington, as disciples of Jesus Christ and persons of faith and conscience, take seriously the biblical mandate not to wrong or oppress the alien in our midst, and in faithfulness to our Baptismal Covenant, oppose the policies of the incumbent Executive Branch that target undocumented immigrants for deportation while also placing undue restrictions on refugees seeking safe haven in the U.S.
The resolution was amended to remove reference to the presidency and to change “alien” to “immigrant” out of concern that the former term had a negative connotation (resolutions can be viewed in full here.)
Resolution drafters asserted, “Its passage would send a message of solidarity to the hundreds of immigrants in our midst.”
Resolution #2, “On Inclusion of Transgender People” calls upon the diocese to “encourage all parishes to remove all obstacles to full participation in congregational life by making all gender-specific facilities and activities fully accessible, regardless of gender identity and expression.”
Resolution drafters cited the Episcopal Church Baptismal Covenant wording “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” as a basis for transgender advocacy. The statement quickly dived into intersectionality theory, charging “that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia give rise to discrimination” and that “Fixed boundaries of gender identity are being challenged and churches need to respond.”
The resolution was adopted without debate or discussion.
Resolution #3, “On the Gendered Language for God,” related to Book of Common Prayer revisions that will potentially be considered by the national church at General Convention this summer:
“…eliminate, when possible, all gendered references to God and to replace them with gender neutral language, and if necessary, to alternate gendered titles when referring to God.”
The resolution was amended to read “…if revision of the Book of Common Prayer is authorized, to utilize expansive language for God from the rich sources of feminine, masculine, and non-binary imagery for God found in Scripture and tradition and, when possible, to avoid the use of gendered pronouns for God.”
“Over the centuries our language and our understanding of God has continued to change and adapt,” the resolution drafters asserted. “Our current gender roles shape and limit our understanding of God. By expanding our language for God, we will expand our image of God and the nature of God. Our new Book of Common Prayer needs to reflect the language of the people and our society … language should not be limited by gendered pronouns when avoidable.”
Clergy delegate The Rev. Linda R. Calkins from St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Laytonsville, Maryland, brandished a copy of The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation and asked when the Episcopal Church would join with those behind the 2004 translation.
Reading from Genesis Chapter 17, in which God tells Abraham “I am El Shaddai,” Calkins asserted “if we are going to be true to what El Shaddai means, it means God with breasts.”
El Shaddai is traditionally translated to mean “God Almighty,” but The Inclusive Bible reads “..and God said, I am the breasted one.”
“Having studied much feminist theology in my masters’ degrees, I wrote a thesis on liberation and freedom and non-equality in feminist theology and existential counseling,” Calkins told the convention. “And I am still waiting for the Episcopal Church to come to the place where all people feel that they can speak God’s name. Many, many women that I have spoken with over my past almost 20 years in ordained ministry have felt that they could not be a part of any church because of the male image of God that is systemic and that is sustained throughout our liturgies. Many of us are waiting and need to hear God in our language, in our words and in our pronouns.”