Bishop apologizes for giving “the wrong impression” with stories of violence from Israel at GC79

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The Rt Revd Gayle E. Harris, Bishop Suffragan in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has issued a statement clarifying and apologizing for comments she offered during a debate at General Convention concerning Israel and Palestine, saying that,

After reviewing my words in the House of Bishops from a transcription, I now acknowledge that I reported stories which I had heard and unintentionally framed them as though I had personally witnessed the alleged events. I sincerely apologize.  I now understand how the framing of my words could and did give the wrong impression. The fault is solely mine. I acknowledge also that I did not take the opportunity to verify these stories. I was speaking from my passion for justice for all people, but I was repeating what I received secondhand. I was ill-advised to repeat the stories without verification, and I apologize for doing so.

The full statement is copied below. As we have previously reported, Harris’ remarks at General Convention drew outrage from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The Rt Revd Alan M. Gates, Bishop of Massachusetts, added his own affirmation of Harris’ apology, saying

We grieve damage done to our relationships with Jewish friends and colleagues in Massachusetts, and rededicate ourselves to those partnerships, in which we are grateful to face complexities together.

Gates’ full statement is also appended below.

Photo via the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts website.


Statement from Bishop Gayle E. Harris

I am very aware of the dismay resulting from my statements on the floor of the House of Bishops at the General Convention in July relating to Israel and Palestine.

For my entire adult life I have maintained that the State of Israel must exist, with safe borders and the establishment of respectful relationships by and with neighboring countries.  I have strongly condemned the actions of extremists and bigots against Jewish people in the United States.  I also hold that within any country’s borders justice and the respect for the dignity of every human being is paramount.  I have not, nor would I ever, condemn the whole of any people or ethnic group by criticizing the actions of a few, whether as individuals or as agents of any government.

After reviewing my words in the House of Bishops from a transcription, I now acknowledge that I reported stories which I had heard and unintentionally framed them as though I had personally witnessed the alleged events.  I sincerely apologize.  I now understand how the framing of my words could and did give the wrong impression.  The fault is solely mine.  I acknowledge also that I did not take the opportunity to verify these stories.  I was speaking from my passion for justice for all people, but I was repeating what I received secondhand.  I was ill-advised to repeat the stories without verification, and I apologize for doing so.

Our society is experiencing a rise in public slander, anger and bigotry, where civility and respectful dialogue on different perspectives has been sidelined for invective and condemnation.  In this context, I am now painfully aware that my words in the House of Bishops caused pain for many.  I am committed to share my concerns in ways that do not simplistically demonize others and cut off discussion, and I hope for the same in return.

Again, for the hurt I have caused, I do apologize.  It is my hope, and my commitment centered on our baptismal vows to continue to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being” (from The Baptismal Covenant, The Episcopal Church, The Book of Common Prayer).  May there be such equality and respect between Israelis and Palestinians, and may there be among us all justice, in order to bring God’s peace.

Shalom and Salaam,
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, Bishop Suffragan, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts

# # #

Statement from Bishop Alan M. Gates

I affirm Bishop Harris’s apology.

We recognize that for Christian leaders to relate unsubstantiated accounts of Israeli violence awakens traumatic memory of a deep history of inciting hostility and violence against Jews–a history the echoes of which are heard alarmingly in our own day.

We grieve damage done to our relationships with Jewish friends and colleagues in Massachusetts, and rededicate ourselves to those partnerships, in which we are grateful to face complexities together.

We reaffirm our condemnation of violence on all sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  We uphold the Episcopal Church’s longstanding position of support for those who strive towards the goal of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts

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Bruce Campbell
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Bruce Campbell

It is a sad thing overall, and diminishes the Bishop's cause as people will perhaps question any first-person story Bishop Harris offers. What is interesting, I find, is that the Episcopal News Service has not run the apology on the ENS site - which raises issues of transparency or protecting a bishop from any criticism after admission of error - i.e. the status quo norms of ENS not to fully report the news if it might diminish the liberal agenda within the EC.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

I saw this story at TLC and then went back and read the comments at the Café from those vehemently denouncing any criticism of her from any quarter -- Wiesenthal Center or individual commentator.

Thank you Jon White of the Café for stating the truth.

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Jon White
Admin

She out and out lied and there should be graver consequences. Her words smack of insincerity with a huge side helping of self-justification.

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Member

And, unlike Brian Williams, there is no "second tier" to send her to.

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Philip B. Spivey
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Philip B. Spivey

"Lying" suggests that Bishop Harris knew the facts and a.) made them up or b.) distorted them. Judging from her letter, she took bad information on faith. These days, little should be taken on faith.

That said, she has apologized both for the veracity of her comments and their effect in communities seeking justice. Her apology is genuine, unlike the many public-relations apologies that abound; I applaud that. And so what graver consequences would you envision for Bishop Harris?

Speaking only for myself, I maintain that in this "Gotcha" era, vested interests are not so much protecting truth, as they are in proving they are victims of malice. Lest we forget, the Wiesenthal Center also singled out Presiding Bishop Curry for endorsing D019, the disinvestment resolution, after it found overwhelming support in the House of Deputies. Shall we also hold the Deputies up for scorn?

When Black leadership is singled-out in this way, there's usually much, much more to the story.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

No, as she has confessed, she took alleged stories and passed them off as truths of her own.

This isn't very complicated. Good for her telling the truth, if such it is. We really do not know, in point of fact, what happened, to which she referred on the floor of general convention. Were the second hand stories true? We'd have to ask the person alleged to have made them.

But what we do know is that she passed off stories as though she had witnessed events first hand, and as though they were facts. She was challenged and she has now admitted this.

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