This nasty virus, COVID-19, has certainly changed our lives in ways we probably never anticipated. I finally figured out that I’m an extrovert and I definitely get my energy from being with other people so our stay-at-home order has been quite a challenge for me. Thankfully, I was invited to move in with a friend back in April after we both quarantined ourselves for two weeks. At first, I struggled to find some activities to take up the time I would normally fill with visiting friends and family but then I figured it out! I could interact and virtually visit with people on Webinars!!
A few weeks ago, I watched a conversation between five Episcopal priests from around the country discussing how they were handling the effects of the virus in their lives and with their congregations and neighborhoods. One of the priests said that he thought that this might just be God’s “time-out” for us. It’s not that we are being punished for anything we’ve specifically done – although perhaps we are facing the natural consequences of our actions and inaction. He suggested instead that, perhaps, it is this “time out” that has provided us the opportunity to really pause and see things we have overlooked for far too many years. We all have been witness to the clearly racist mistreatment and murder of African Americans in the past but, this time, it seems as though we’re paying better attention and are more ready to respond and act for change. May it be so.
So while I have been filling my hours with webinars and Zoom conversations, the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church met from June 8th to June 11th and passed three important and very relevant resolutions:
Resolution MB 017 Policing Reform
Resolved, That in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the many others whose names and stories often go unreported, the Executive Council reaffirms General Convention Resolution 2018-A229, in which the Church “condemns the improper and violent actions of authorities against people of color”; and be it further
Resolved, That the Executive Council also acknowledges the deep pain and grief in Black communities and widespread multiracial protests across the nation due to the ongoing racialized killings; violence and discriminatory practices of individuals in law enforcement and civil authorities and legislation that unjustly and disproportionately impact Black, Latino and Indigenous Americans, systemically causing harm to individuals, families and whole communities, and in this, we confess that we as the Church, and as a society, have failed to respect the dignity of every human being; and be it further
Resolved that all Episcopalians, dioceses, institutions, in particular, the Office of Government Relations, push for police reform as part of overall efforts to address racial justice and criminal justice reform. We recommend the following proposals– or any incremental change in the direction of increased accountability, transparency, and responsiveness with the aim of making our communities safer; and be it further
Resolved, That the Executive Council urges the Church, its dioceses and institutions, clergy and lay leaders, and all Episcopalians to be reminded of, and to abide by, our Baptismal vow to strive for justice and peace for all God’s people; working for federal, state, regional, and local transformation of the criminal justice system; by urging elected officials, legislative bodies, government agencies and law enforcement entities to implement policies that:
– Examine the purpose, efficacy and disproportionate use of force and emphasize de-escalation policies and practices that end the use of excessive force, especially when dealing with unarmed citizens or those in mental health crisis and distress. Advocacy should include but not be limited to banning the use of chokeholds and strangleholds, requiring warning before shooting, and banning shooting at moving vehicles.
– Evaluate the hiring practices, equipment procurement, accountability measures and personal training of police departments and law enforcement agencies. Such evaluation should require transparency and accountability in the documenting and reporting of threats and use of force by members of law enforcement. Limit or end the transfer of military-grade weapons to state and local police departments; and ban the use of pretext stops that promote racial and ethnic profiling.
– Establish and adopt policies that include duty-to-intervene policies, which require officers to stop excessive force used by other officers and report the incidents immediately to a supervisor; requiring use of, and policies for, body cameras.
– Promote the use of civilian review boards and other community and civilian oversight bodies;
– Improve the length, quality, and frequency of police training, including in-service training, recognizing that better-trained police use force less often and more wisely;
– Adopt statutory changes and polices to assure that a federal review by independent prosecutors be conducted of all deaths in law enforcement custody or in other encounters with law enforcement personnel, and that a statutory waiver of the statute of limitations be adopted so that all such deaths over the past ten years will be reviewed for appropriate action to redress civil rights violations;
– Assure that where no federal investigation occurs, an independent state investigation is undertaken in all cases where people die in encounters with, or in the custody of, state or local law enforcement personnel, especially when a person of color dies in any such encounter or custody;
– Initiate appropriate criminal prosecutions to address unjustified law enforcement violence resulting in death or injury of anyone;
– Adoption of enforceable federal policing standards, the violation of which shall result in the abrogation of immunity defenses in federal civil rights actions against law enforcement personnel;
– Resumption of federal civil rights reviews of law enforcement agency practices where data show a disproportionate number of deaths and injuries have occurred in a police agency’s operations, or where data show a racially or ethnically disproportionate number of such incidents, and where warranted by evidence of significant civil rights violations, the use of appropriate judicial decrees, monitors and similar measures to assure that effective permanent reforms in police practices takes place.
Resolved, That working to enact these policies is not a means to an end but one part in addressing systemic racism and providing long overdue protections to communities of color, ensuring that we live in a society that recognizes, values, and empowers all of God’s children; and be it further
Resolved, The Executive Council recognizes and commends the work of the great majority in law enforcement agencies who undertake their efforts conscientiously to improve and protect their communities, safeguarding the human rights of the citizens they serve, and striving to provide law enforcement equally and without discrimination; and be it further
Resolved, That this resolution be sent to the Dioceses of The Episcopal Church.
Resolution MW 023 Police Violence
Resolved, That the Executive Council, meeting virtually from June 8-11, 2020, remembers and grieves for Mr. George Floyd, Ms. Breonna Taylor, and all other victims of police brutality; and be it further
Resolved, That the clergy and laity of the Episcopal Church commit to offering a prophetic response to these deaths and acts of injustice by committing to the ongoing, patient, determined, faithful, long-term ministry of anti-racism work; and be it further
Resolved, That the Executive Council praises the people and congregations of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota for their public calls for acts of justice in response to the murder of Mr. George Floyd by a white officer in the Minneapolis Police Department, and committing themselves to the long, steady work toward that justice by joining with activists and organizations already on the ground; and be it further
Resolved, That the Executive Council praises the people and congregations of the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky for their public calls for acts of justice in response to the fatal shooting of Ms. Breonna Taylor by white officers of the Louisville Metro Police; the effective anti-racism work of their diocesan Racial Reconciliation Task Force; and their longstanding, transformative community ministry through the Louisville Urban Partnership; and be it further
Resolved, That the clergy, laity, and dioceses of the Episcopal Church be exhorted to carry out General Convention Resolution 2018-A229 (Acknowledge Police Violence and Confront Racism), by examining all incidents of police violence in their localities and working in concert with other advocates to organize, advocate, and dismantle systems, policies, and practices that reinforce police violence and brutality; and be it further
Resolved, That the clergy, laity, and dioceses of the Episcopal Church join community and grassroots leaders in advocating with local and state governments to bring about substantive and mandatory change in police departments and policing and to allocate resources for community-based models of safety, support, and prevention.
Executive Council added an explanation for Resolution MW 023 Police Violence:
In 2018, General Convention passed Resolution 2018-A229, “Acknowledge Police Violence and Confront Racism.” The recent national movement in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers has galvanized coalitions working to dismantle systemic racism in policing and made the church’s response to Resolution 2018-A229 both more urgent and more possible. Across the country, activists and community leaders are demanding police reforms and alternative models for community-based safety, support and prevention. Episcopalians are encouraged to participate in this work by joining existing community and grassroots groups that have substantive and long-term experience in working against police violence and brutality.
The Diocese of Kentucky’s work with local community partners—including Black Lives Matter, the Louisville Urban League, Empower West Louisville, Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice, Interfaith Paths to Peace, the Interdenominational Ministerial Coalition, and the local chapters of the NAACP and the ACLU—is a commendable model. The Executive Council commends it to other dioceses and churchwide bodies for emulation and support.
The Episcopal Church in Minnesota welcomed Bishop Craig Loya on June 7. He has committed the diocese to the ongoing work of acting for police reform and exhorted congregations and individual clergy and lay people to engage with organizations working on the Black Lives Matter (https://blacklivesmatter.com/defundthepolice/) platform for systemic change.
And, finally, we have MW 029 Resolution:
Resolution MW 029 Regarding the Death of Ahmaud Arbery
Resolved, That the Executive Council, meeting from June 8-11, 2020, recalling the learnings of the day of pilgrimage of the Executive Council to The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice during its meeting in October, 2019 which highlighted for us our history of African Americans terrorized by lynching, humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence; the Council remembers Ahmaud Arbery, the victim of violent racial vigilantism on February 23rd of this year in Glynn County, Georgia, and condemns the failure of local police and prosecutors responsible for a troubling delay in engaging an appropriate and timely process to achieve impartial justice in Ahmaud’s case; and be it further
Resolved, The clergy and laity of this Church offer a prophetic response to Ahmaud Arbery’s death, a modern embodiment of racial terror that has no place in any community, and which cannot be tolerated by those who walk The Way of Love; and be it further
Resolved, While deploring any and all efforts that have occurred, or may yet occur to silence voices calling for justice in Ahmaud’s case, the Council praises the prompt response of the Episcopal people and churches in the Dioceses of Georgia and Atlanta to publicly call for justice in response to this heinous crime, and who have called for and offered prayers for Ahmaud, for his family and friends in their grieving, for his enemies, his abusers and his killers; and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church build on the framework of Becoming Beloved Community created in response to General Convention Resolution 2015-C019 Establish Response to Systemic Racial Injustice to enhance the capacity of The Episcopal Church to work in communities to organize; advocate; and dismantle systems, policies and practices that reinforce racialized violence and vigilante acts and perpetuate the sin of racism.
We can no longer sit by and be complicit because we don’t want to get involved or pretend that we can’t see what’s happening. There’s something in these resolutions for each of us, whether clergy or lay. I hope you will take the time to read these resolutions, talk with your friends about how you might respond, and then together act to make the changes that need to happen now.
Let us pray –
Father, Bless us as we strive to find our way to true racial reconciliation.
Open our eyes to all that goes on around us that contribute to racial injustice.
Grant us the knowledge to understand all that we do, both personally and as a society, which prevents as from recognizing and defending the dignity of all or our brothers and sisters, and especially at this time, our brothers and sisters of color who are now feeling so much pain. Grant us the grace to reflect on our own actions and inactions that contribute to this pain. And grant us the strength to take action to alleviate this pain and to end racial injustice in all its forms. In your blessed Name we pray. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council