General Convention wish list

General Convention starts in 16 days. What would you like to see happen in Indianapolis? What would you like not to happen?

Comments (34)

I don't mind getting the ball rolling.

I would like to see us approve a rite for trial use in blessing same sex relationships.

I would like us to add protections for transgender people in our anti-discrimination canons.

I would like us to assign the work of restructuring to the Standing Commission on Structure.

I would like us to pass on holding a special convention, which, as I think most of us are now aware, was a hastily conceived idea that is constitutionally prohibited from doing the work that its proponents said it would do.

That's not my whole list, just enough to maybe get some conversation going.

I'd like to see *Holy Women, Holy Men* sent back for a more thorough think-through and a careful inventory to make sure all of the people listed met the criteria laid out for inclusion.

I'd like to see the Daily Prayer stuff likewise sent back for more thought particularly as the Psalms have always been the heart of Western liturgical daily prayer and they are few and far between in this text.

I'd also love to see two of Scott Gunn's bigger pet peeves addressed: 1)All of the commendation/thank you/atta-boy resolutions should be gathered up into one and done at one fell swoop rather than waste convention time; 2) scrap all political action resolutions that tell other people what to do---only keep ones that state in concrete terms what *we're* going to do about them.

Hey---you said what I'd like to see, not what's likely to happen...

Defeat the proposed Anglican Covenant once and for all -- no wiggle room for reviving it - no continuing resolutions. Just say NO

Derek, I am at a loss to understand why the church should diminish its ability to do effective advocacy work. I am happy to dispense with political resolutions that don't make it possible for the Office of Government Relations to do its work, but Scott's position goes much further than that. I can't imagine very many people who actually do advocacy work thinking that this proposal makes sense. And I cannot understand why people feel so comfortable having broad sweeping opinions with real life consequences in an area in which they have no expertise.

Frankly, I haven't seen much evidence that we are doing effective advocacy work. Can you point to some solid concrete examples of where the Episcopal Church's advocacy has changed the minds of Washington or other world governments where our dioceses are located?

Derek, most of the lobbying work by faith based groups in Washington is done in coalitions. You jump in a big boat and row as fast as you can. When the race is over, it isn't possible to say, well we wouldn't have won without me because there were so many people pulling.

That said, on this particular point, OGR was instrumental in a recognizable sort of way in defeating legislation to drill in the Arctic, where many of the people who would have been effected are Episcopalians. And under Maureen Shea they assembled a coalition during the Bush administration that came very close to defeating a budget that was awfully rough on the poor--and that despite a solid Republican majority in the House.

It's important to realize, though, that legislative advocacy isn't the whole game. Through OGR's good offices, many of our partners in the Anglican Communion have access they would not otherwise have to people who make decisions and allocate money. I know they are grateful for this because a few of them have told me so.

And for what it is worth, OGR is well regarded by other people and organizations who do what OGR does.

In the first ten minutes:

Yes to rites for same sex blessings.

An emphatic no to the Anglican Covenant with NO "profound" thanks for anyone's efforts in writing it.

No to a special convention

After that...

No further funding for Anglican Communion bureaucracies

Yes to a covenant on common mission

A budget that funds only canonical required functions, all else in the optional marketplace.

Non-spectacular worship. Just as we are not spending $74,000 on a theme we could not spend money showing off in decorative worship. Make it simple and beautiful, something struggling parishes could copy.

Jim,

Thanks for the specifics--I can see a use for the OGR, but that doesn't in itself address the legislative issue. Does the OGR only act on things when it receives a specific resolution from GC to do so? Do we really have a massive legislative body micromanaging their work schedule? Is there no way to streamline the legislation?

Derek, OGR needs General Convention legislation to allow it to act. This is so it doesn't pursue its own ends. GC doesn't micromanage its work, it just gives it direction and authorization. It would be possible to cut down on the political legislation if that were the will of the church. It does not currently seem to be. Perhaps what we could so is attempt to focus the church on particular kinds of initiatives. I have certainly sat through debates on issues the outcome of which were not going to make a damn bit of difference.

"And I cannot understand why people feel so comfortable having broad sweeping opinions with real life consequences in an area in which they have no expertise."

Welcome to representative democracy...

That said, why do we do political lobbying? Do we really think a majority of Episcopalians (rather than the not very representative highly politicized deputies to GC) really support the myriad niche political positions that get proposed and voted on?

And do we really only get one chance every three years to see the list? How on earth does OGR do effective work on emerging issues in between GCs if they are only empowered to lobby based on GC resolutions?

Honestly, I think this stuff makes a few people feel useful, but in the end it's only political lobbying.

What Michael Russell said suits me fine for the agenda for GC.

Sorry not to make an original contribution, but why make the effort when Michael has already done the work for me? :-)

June Butler

Dave and Derek,

You are right, in the end it is only political lobbying. But political lobbying is what turns our government these days. When General Convention puts together a resolution like 2006-A017 which outlines what the Convention can agree would constitute a just Comprehensive Immigration Reform, it helps us be better advocates. (Resolution at: http://www.episcopalarchives.org/cgi-bin/acts/acts_resolution.pl?resolution=2006-A017)

I have lobbied with EPPN and ecumenical partners here in Washington, and our policy helped educate lawmakers about the situation facing members of my congregation who are undocumented. Articulating a political stance helped representatives of the Episcopal Church describe what we think God's commandment to "honor the stranger among you" means for us today.

I think more people would "feel useful" if they signed up to lobby WITH Episcopal Public Policy Network rather than dismissing their work out of hand. Getting emails in your mailbox every month that explain how to be involved in advocacy with your church, give you phone numbers for calling your representatives and sample letters, is a great way to start. I hope you'll consider signing up to be a political advocate for the Kingdom of God with your Church:

http://www.episcopalchurch.org/eppn.htm


Dave and Derek, yes, OGR relies upon General Convention authorization in order to work on issues. This, as Jim points out, is so that they are not working on their own initiatives or taking but are representing the church.

This means indeed that they OGR is unable to address issues that come up in the meantime. Sometimes, if a previous resolution and the principles that underlie it can be very clearly and quite defensibly stretched a bit, then they will address a topic. Most times not.

Our three-years wait can be a source of frustration for staff sometimes, and for our traditional coalition partners who would love for us to sign onto and work for certain initiatives. But that is the price of our fairly conservative (in the small "c" sense) process for deciding what we support and oppose.

That speaks to Dave's other question about whether GC resolutions represent the church. Each resolution has to pass muster with both deputies and bishops at the legislative committee, and then pass in the exact same form on the floors of the HoD and HoB. And in the HoD, anything controversial gets sent to a "vote by orders," which means it must pass by around 70% of the vote, more or less.

What this means in practice is that really controversial issues can take triennia to pass. Issues on which the church is very clear--for example, the death penalty and immigration--will pass in multiple forms over triennia.

The only way to make sure that any resolution represented the popular vote in the pews would be to scrap our representative process for some kind of ballot measure process. As a resident of California, where our state budget is a complete mess because of ballot measures gone wild, I'm a skeptic of how well this can work in real life.

I don't understand why "politics" or "political lobbying" has such a bad name, if it is done based on biblical principles, prayerful consideration of the issues at hand, and in a transparent manner. Even more so when we lift our voice with our faith partners on issues that we share. NOT to speak up is in the face of injustice is equally a political decision, as many have pointed out, not least Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The death penalty and immigration are issues we have addressed in concert with other churches. Of course President Obama's recent announcement of a partial and temporary DREAM Act was based in political considerations, e.g., the Latino vote. I would argue though that the moral force of the essentially American but immigrant kids all over the country who risked outing themselves publicly and spoke up as undocumented, combined with the moral voice of many religious leaders and churches who anchor the immigrant reform movement, did help the cause. We provide moral courage and a countervailing voice to scapegoating.

OGR does its work incredibly effectively. They share small offices in the Methodist building near the Capitol. They collaborate directly (on staffing) with the ELCA. They work in coalitions and figure out the most effective way to use our voice. They also do lots of work behind the scenes, as Jim points out, bringing our Anglican overseas partners to meetings with American officials. We are lucky to have them. Reading the commentary here though, I think they don't toot their own horn enough in all their efficiency and coalition-building.

There are lots of good ideas for streamlining our work both as convention and as church. I don't doubt the need for reform. One thing we don't need though is to throw out this whole wing of our work, one of our most effective areas on the central (aka "national" level), as led by the OGR. I'm open to ideas on how better to winnow and focus, but let's not throw away what works really well.

And even more than that I have to say no to any idea that we must, for pragmatic reasons of shortening convention, silence the church's voice for the poor, the marginalized, those in prison, those who are sick and those who are hungry. Might as well say that to save the patient we'll cut out half his heart.

I also have concerns about a lot of the "political" resolutions--but I would be completely okay with them if they were phrased to say "direct the Office of Government Relations to lobby for X" or "encourage parishes to educate people about y and mobilize them to do or lobby for z". I absolutely agree that the purpose of General Convention resolutions should be to say what WE are going to do about an issue rather than to tell governments what they should do about an issue. However, I think that "What we are going to do" can definitely include lobbying for political change. It's just that right now a lot of this legislation comes across (to me) as General Convention telling governments how to act which A. makes the huge assumption that governments are paying attention to General Convention, and makes us seem awfully out of touch about our own (un)importance, and B. doesn't actually commit *us* to doing anything, including lobbying and or education in parishes...

Elizabeth Anderson

I think that is fair enough, Elizabeth, and if that were what it took to get those resolutions that are required to let OGR continue its good work passed, I'd be all in favor. I do think that when General Convention says what "we" are going to do, it immediately takes heat for trying to compel the church to do things, rather than respecting the consciences of members, the autonomy of dioceses, etc. So that proposal, about which I have no strong opinion, would also meet resistance.

Many, though not all, of our resolutions have a resolved clause that urges dioceses, congregations, Episcopalians, etc. to take action on whatever issue. They are intended to urge (not compel) local action to amplify the church's voice and to complement the Washington-based work of OGR. I agree that they should normally be included, unless there is a good reason not to do so.

Our Episcopal Public Policy Network exists to help make this happen in practice - and it is so easy as an individual to sign up and respond to their appeals. And of course the best thing is when local churches become deeply engaged in an issue, whether prison reform, immigration, etc. Not every issue (too many), but at least one or some. My own congregation is currently advocating and educating on immigration and the foreclosure crisis.

As to why the resolutions are not specifically written "to" the OGR ... I think mainly for reasons of space, and also because our statements are not only used by the OGR, but are copied and used in other venues as, in effect, moral statements, e.g., on the death penalty.

I actually don't get why these statements to the government seem presumptuous to some. No illusions here about us being some huge voice that any government will listen to -- this is why we work in coalition -- but why can't we say, straight up, that the usury is wrong, that we repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, that we oppose the death penalty? We, as anyone else, individual or institution, can say what we can believe. We may be on some issues a voice in the wilderness, but let's say what we believe, based on our faith. Let's not be timid for fear of offending -- or we'll make ourselves irrelevant for sure.

Blessed are the peacemakers, the meek, those persecuted for Christ's sake ....

Sarah and Mike, thank you. I worked in child advocacy for years and know firsthand that poor women and children, among others, desperately need the church's voice in Washington. And statewide and grassroots advocates need General Convention resolutions and the resources of the Episcopal Public Policy Network to strengthen their work. I can't imagine how we could have an effective voice for the poor otherwise.

I need to throw down on the topic of the resolutions that advocate public policy positions which the deputies believe put TEC on the right side of justice and mercy. I am currently working to replace death sentences in California with life in prison without the possibility of parole. If we don't try to kill heinous offenders, we give ourselves as country a chance to correct sentencing errors should we make some (and courts often do) as well as turn our resources toward really solving crimes and increasing justice for everyone.

In working on this campaign (I'm the field or organizing director), it has been wonderful to know that my church has a long held position on ending the death penalty and that I can approach people in the Episcopal Church with some hope that they've thought seriously about these issues. That's a consequence of General Convention striving to make policy suggestions conform to our understanding of Gospel imperatives. Of course GC could get things wrong. But it would render TEC socially irrelevant if it refrained from trying to discern where Jesus leads us in these matters.

Sorry -- the previous comment was from Jan Adams. I forget my Typepad identity is tied to a transparent pseudonym.

Not sure I'm right on this and I'm open to correction but as I recall doesn't OGR (and the church as a whole) depend on policy guidance in the periods between Conventions from Executive Council resolutions? That's what allows them to stay "up-to-date."

I remember seeing once somewhere a few years back a book that listed all the positions the Episcopal Church had on everything. It cited where those positions came from and I'd say it was about half Convention resolutions and half EC resolutions.

Does that sound about right to anyone else?

-Jesse

Hi Jesse. Yes, you are correct that EC can also authorize OGR action. However, the greater weight in terms of priorities of time and staffing is given to GC resolutions -- for example, immigration. Also, EC is usually responding to issues that appear very urgent, and they are often reinforcing or updating actions already taken by GC. A good example in the past triennium is the EC's statement on the immigration law in AZ. Whereas building a position on major new areas of policy--e.g. taxation policy and inequality--is left to commissions to develop and GC to authorize.

Sarah, I know you to be an optimist. I hope that your optimism will overcome my
cynicism. Prayerful political lobbying is not something that I expect to see in my lifetime. Thank you for giving voice to the meek, the weak and the poor.

Christi, thanks. Not so much an optimist as deeply hopeful. That's our calling as Christians, I think! Trusting all is well with you in the beautiful place of my birth and baptism some years past.

"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity."

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"

Hi all,

Let's assume for a sec that OGR is highly efficacious in its lobbying agenda. And let's assume that we're OK with having a political office in only one of our 16 nations as a church.

Surely we can solve the problem that OGR can only be directed by General Convention? What if a major moral issue comes up the day GC77 adjourns? Have we created such a limited system that we'd have to wait silently? No. Our canons say that the Presiding Bishops can "Speak God's words to the Church and to the world, as the representative of this Church and its episcopate in its corporate capacity."

Can't our PB direct the OGR? Or maybe we find another way for that to happen?

We're going to have an OGR. I'm OK with that. But let's give them a better way to do their work. And thus let's give 1,000 bishops and deputies a better way to do their work.

In all that we do, we need to account for opportunity cost.

Also, I agree with Elizabeth. What we are going to do could include political advocacy, but it must also include more than that. Grace is cheap; discipleship is costly. What does that look like in our political landscape?

We want to tell the US to have health care reform, but as a church, we still haven't managed to make health care of our own clergy and lay employees a priority -- to name one example.

I fear we have strayed from the topic, Jim. So back to the topic:

1. I'd like to see us set in motion a real conversation about the future of our church, in which we take away all the golden idols.

2. Would love to see an environment of holiness, humor, and openness in difficult conversations.

3. Accountability among our staff and volunteer leaders.

4. Related to #3, a rational budget, which probably means a transitional place-holder for right now.

5. For reasons of justice, I will celebrate when SSB trial rite is approved; I also hope we will start over on the rite itself.

6. Increased engagement with the Anglican Communion and our global partners. Our fractured time is not the time to pull away.

Just a few ideas...

It didn't seem to me that this conversation was initially aimed at letting the Presiding Bishop personally direct the Office of Government Relations without consultation with the rest of the church, or about getting us to open offices in countries where we might have to overcome suspicions that we are acting imperialistically. But those may be things worth discussing as well.

* A rite of same-sex blessing which is---at least in option---the bare MINIMUM revising of the 79 BCP Marriage liturgy.

* A polite but firm rejection of the Anglican Covenant (and reaffirmation of The Quad!)

* Recommitment to the rights of women to control their bodies: no transvaginal ultrasounds, no extraneous co-pays, no "it depends who you work for". Women's rights and nothing less: GC, say so!

* And, per always, ecumenical agreements w/ any Christian church w/ whom we CAN have a closer relationship.

JC Fisher

Scott, well, actually I do agree with you about the cost of discipleship and how we should, for example, be applying principles of justice to our own hiring and benefits practices.

My own parish recently withdrew funds from Wells Fargo over their (ongoing) bad faith practices in dealing with people in foreclosure. We did this in a very public action that received some press. Our parish funds are now in a locally controlled credit union. Should we as GC be challenging the church on how and where our funds, large and small, are invested? That might be a big lift for the Episcopal Church of all things, but worth discussing!

Seems to me there are lots of fruitful conversations to be had along these lines of living what we preach.

To your other points --

1) Another reason our main government relations office is in the capital of the USA is that the United States is a very powerful country. Like it or not, what the United States does affects people worldwide. That's why overseas bishops come to DC to meet with our policy makers -- whereas you don't often see U.S. bishops heading to other national capitals to lobby for U.S. concerns. So this is an example of the most effective use of our limited resources for justice work at the central level. We also don't fund state-level OGRs, just the one in DC.

2) As pointed out above in the string, Executive Council can make statements that authorize OGR to act, so urgent issues can be addressed. I still think it is right to understand that GC resolutions have the greatest weight.

e) I respect the statements issued by our PBs in their role, such as what our present PB said recently on the Doctrine of Discovery. However, I can't support this idea of giving her (or him) the sole authority to give direction to OGR.

Look at the recent statement on same-gender civil marriage issued in the name of the Church of England by some unnamed group, presumably representing the Archbishops. Look at the passion shown by the Roman Catholic bishops on pushing for reduced access to birth control (while dragging their feet for years on the pedophilia scandals). I can't see how any of these statements represent the views and hopes of their people better than our GC statements represent ours.

There are many good ideas on how to cut back on time-wasting at convention. Was it your suggestion to roll courtesy resolutions into one up and down vote? Courtesy resolutions are wonderful things, but mostly inward-looking and perhaps more easily combined into one action.

On the other hand, our justice and mercy resolutions are so integral to our Gospel message that they need the full attention of the elected representatives of all orders of our church. We are already criticized because these are not somehow representative enough, or well-known enough out in the congregations. How much more so they would be if issued only from 815?

[Alright, I'll put the proverbial pen down now. Apologies for talking so much today. Guess I care a lot!--and I'll be happy to have more conversation in Indianapolis.]

* A rite of same-sex blessing which is---at least in option---the bare MINIMUM revising of the 79 BCP Marriage liturgy.

* A polite but firm rejection of the Anglican Covenant (and reaffirmation of The Quad!)

* Recommitment to the rights of women to control their bodies: no transvaginal ultrasounds, no extraneous co-pays, no "it depends who you work for". Women's rights and nothing less: GC, say so!

* And, per always, ecumenical agreements w/ any Christian church w/ whom we CAN have a closer relationship.

JC Fisher

I have not even remotely suggested that we should let "the Presiding Bishop personally direct the Office of Government Relations without consultation with the rest of the church." Rather, I am pointing out that there are alternatives to GC directing the OGR. Some of said that the only way to determine what OGR can work on is GC resolution, and that's simply not true.

I wonder if there are other ways to make a difference in US and international policy besides lobbyists? I wonder if our church should do this work, or can others? I wonder if there are other ways our church can work to change public policy?

What I'm really saying is that there are no golden idols here, and I think we should be willing to ask tough questions or rethink business as usual.

Sorry, Scott, I think you are just wrong about this. The language you quoted in no way authorizes the PB to personally mobilize the Office of Government Relations. It has never, to my knowledge, been interpreted that way.

I think what you see as golden idols I see as best practices developed over a long period of time by people who have devoted their careers to doing advocacy work on behalf of what they thought was the Kingdom of God.

Scott, I should add that I am sorry if I have misrepresented you. It certainly seems to me that you are saying that a PB can personally direct the Office of Government Relations without consultation with the wider church in the period between General Conventions. If that is not what you were saying, I apologize.

"I wonder if there are other ways our church can work to change public policy?"

Scott and anyone else, I would love to hear ideas about this, for real.

-I would like for any and all same-sex rites to fail (Wishful thinking,I know)


-I want CWOB to fail.


-I want those who has held power and influence over the church for so long, lay and ordained, to sit down.


More than likely, I'll get my second wish.

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