Episcopal Church challenged to repent for when it failed to protect victims of sexual exploitation, abuse

January 21, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, issued a call Jan. 22 for the Episcopal Church to spend Lent and beyond examining its history and how it has handled or mishandled cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse.

The two say in a letter to the church that recent “compelling testimony from women who have been sexually harassed and assaulted by powerful men has turned our minds to a particularly difficult passage of holy scripture.” The story of the rape of King David’s daughter Tamar by her half-brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13:1-22), they said, “is a passage in which a conspiracy of men plots the exploitation and rape of a young woman. She is stripped of the power to speak or act, her father ignores the crime, and the fate of the rapist, not the victim, is mourned.

“It is a Bible story devoid of justice.”

Jennings announced the letter during the opening session of the winter meeting of the church’s Executive Council at the Maritime Institute Conference Center outside Baltimore.

She and Curry call in their letter for an Ash Wednesday Day of Prayer on Feb.14, during which Episcopalians should meditate on how the church has “failed to stand with women and other victims of abuse and harassment.”

“We believe that each of us has a role to play in our collective repentance,” they wrote.

They added that a Lenten discipline for the church would be to “consider how to redouble the church’s effort build “communities of safety that stand against the spiritual and physical violence of sexual exploitation and abuse.”

Curry and Jennings said: “As our societies have been forced into fresh recognition that women in all walks of life have suffered unspoken trauma at the hands of male aggressors and harassers, we have become convinced that the Episcopal Church must work even harder to create a church that is not simply safe, but holy, humane and decent.”

The two presiding officers also want to have General Convention discuss these issues because they “want to hear the voice of the wider church as we determine how to proceed in both atoning for the church’s past and shaping a more just future.”

Jennings told the council that many Christians might think that such exploitation and abuse happen only in Hollywood or in business and industry “but not in the holy work we do.” However, she said, “those problems have been endemic in our culture in the church for far longer than Hollywood, or tech culture, or corporate journalism have existed.”

On the agenda

Executive Council is meeting Jan. 22-24. A major agenda item is finishing work on the canonically required draft of the 2019-2021 churchwide budget. Jennings said the current working version is filled with “big dreams and limited resources.” She told council that the final version of the budget hinges, in part, “on our ability to have holy, respectful, and civil conversations about how we allocate our resources for God’s work in the world.”

According to the joint rules of General Convention (II.10.c.ii on page 227 here), council must give its draft budget to General Convention’s Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) no less than four months before the start of General Convention (essentially by February of convention year). PB&F will meet next from Feb. 5-7 to begin work on that draft budget.

Council’s Joint Standing Committee on Finances for Mission (FFM) has been crafting the draft budget for much of the current triennium, gathering information and input from committees, the churchwide staff, dioceses and Episcopalians. While council is not required to give PB&F a balanced budget, that is FFM’s goal, the Rev. Mally Lloyd, the committee member leading the budget work, told council Jan. 22.

The committee has eliminated a large gap between anticipated revenue and those big dreams Jennings mentioned. The deficit was just more than $12 million at the start of council’s October meeting and $8 million at the end.

Council then asked the church for input on the budget in November and posted a version showing that FFM had reduced the deficit to $4.5 million.

On Jan. 22, Lloyd and FFM chair Tess Judge showed the council a current working draft that is essentially balanced. Revenue is increased based on the fact that diocesan income was up nearly 3 percent in 2016 over 2015. Based on the formula used to calculated diocesan payments to the churchwide budget, that means $2 million more in the coming triennium.

What Judge called exceptional investment performance in 2017 of 20 percent added $1 million to the anticipated income for the coming triennium, based on how the draw on investment income is calculated.

In addition, Lloyd said “we adjusted every single expense line a little bit” to trim $1.5 million, thus making up the $4.5 million deficit.

“Brothers and sisters, we still have some work to do,” Judge told council members, explaining that some line items still need to be tweaked after talking with staff.

Judge and Lloyd stressed that it is hard to do a line-by-line comparison of the current budget and the draft of the 2019-2021 plan. The current budget was structured around the Five Marks of Mission while the draft is built on categories of the Jesus Movement. “It’s a lot of new things and a lot of changed things in this budget,” Lloyd said. Council discussed how to note those differences in the document it sends to PB&F.

Council is due to vote on the final version of its draft budget on Jan. 24.

The rest of the meeting

After the opening plenary on Jan. 22, council spent the rest of the day meeting in its five committees. Council will meet again in plenary the morning of Jan. 23. The members will approve its Blue Book report to General Convention and elect the bishop member to its Anglican Consultative Council delegation. On Jan. 24, council committees will each report to the full body, proposing resolutions for the full body to consider.

Some council members are tweeting from the meeting using #ExCoun.

The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1). The council comprises 38 members – 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons, and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by the nine provincial synods for six-year terms – plus the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies. In addition, the vice president of the House of Deputies, secretary, chief operating officer, treasurer and chief financial officer have seat and voice but no vote.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.