79th General Convention Resolution Update
One year ago, thousands of Episcopalians gathered in Austin, Texas for the 79th General Convention. Since that time, the Office of Government Relations (OGR) has continued its work representing The Episcopal Church’s official policies to Congress and the Administration. We are eager to share a few updates on this work to give members of the Episcopal Public Policy Network a sense of how we are going about representing these policies.
Emerging from General Convention, OGR was given a mandate to expand our advocacy work into areas where new resolutions passed. Read below to learn how we have been working on several of these resolutions!
Building the Foundation
Last July, General Convention passed a Civil Discourse resolution, which reaffirmed the foundation and intention for our work. Resolution B009 directed OGR to work with bipartisan efforts in Congress, when possible, and intentionally engage with elected and career government officials from all political parties. In the past year, we have met or arranged meetings with Congressional offices in a near-even distribution of Democrats and Republicans. OGR maintains the same standard in our liturgical outreach as well. OGR hosts Morning Prayers on Capitol Hill, where Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and other Church leadership, Republican, Democrat, and Independent members of Congress join for worship and fellowship together. We're continuing to work with the Formation Department and other partners (to be announced!) on additional civil discourse material to release this fall.
Presiding Bishop Curry with Morning Prayer Hosts Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Senator Angus King (I-ME) in April, 2019.
Human Rights and Peacebuilding
As assigned by resolutions B021: Support Aid to Palestinian Refugees and C038: Safeguard the Rights of Palestinian Children, and alongside Global Partnerships and Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, OGR has been working to ensure that the U.S. government continues to provide funding to support critical humanitarian needs for Palestinians, especially given recent cuts in U.S. funding. In September of 2018, we asked the EPPN to call on the U.S. government to reinstate funding for the UN refugee agency (UNRWA) which addresses Palestinian refugee issues, as well as other U.S. government funds that provided lifesaving care to Palestinians. In particular, we continue to call on Congress to find a way for U.S. funds to support the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, which includes Episcopal institutions.
In February 2019, we also asked the members of the EPPN to call on Congress to amend the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA), which prevents Palestinians from receiving U.S. government assistance, including humanitarian aid. In May of this year, OGR sent letters to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo communicating the request to protect the rights of Palestinian children as tasked by C038. Furthermore, OGR has been advocating directly to Congress in support of legislation that will strengthen our government’s ability to prevent conflicts globally. In April this year, OGR sent an action call through the EPPN asking members of Congress to pass the Global Fragility Act.
In an effort increase focus and engagement in Latin America and the Caribbean (D098), working with Global Partnerships, we have looked for opportunities for partnership to advance our mutual goals and mission. In addition to meeting with policymakers, OGR has been working in partnership with The Episcopal Church in Cuba, the Anglican Church in Central America (IARCA), and others in Province IX to release a series of statements in response to emerging issues in the region. See here our statements on the crisis in Venezuela and on new U.S. policies in Cuba and Central America. Later this month, OGR will be supporting the Formation Department at Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales (EJE) in Panama, alongside Global Partnerships and representing Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs!
Through Bishop-level advocacy and partnership with the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf as well as the organization Stand with Iraqi Christians, OGR has been meaningfully engaging with Congress and the Department of State on issues related to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. We have also advocated to protect religious minorities, such as Iraqi Christians, Yezidis, and other religious minorities, from persecution. For the second year in a row, OGR will be attending the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by the U.S. Department of State, later this month.
As affirmed in A011 Oppose Enviromental Racism, working with the Reconciliation, Justice and Creation Care team led by Rev. Melanie Mullen, OGR has continued to advocate for and support policies that protect the sanctity of communities who bear a disproportionate risk of environmental pollution or degradation. The Episcopal Church has long stood by the Gwich’in, a native community in Alaska, defending their right to existence and sustainability as their sacred land is under threat from oil exploration in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Most recently, OGR supported H.R.1146, the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act by hosting Bishop Mark Lattime of the Diocese of Alaska and facilitating his testimony in front of the House Natural Resource Committee. Bernadette Demientieff, member of the General Convention Task Force on Care of Creation and Environmental Racism, also testified.
In response to proposals to weaken the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards, OGR joined ecumenical partners in writing to and meeting personally with the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Mercury pollution disproportionately impacts people of color and lower income families and has devastating impacts on children and pregnant women, including damage to developing lungs, kidneys, heart and brain. Because of mercury pollution’s impact to human health and especially vulnerable populations, the current standards have been instrumental in reducing dangerous mercury and other toxic air pollutants released from coal and oil burning power plants.
As natural disasters are becoming more severe and communities still face significant barriers to recovery, we follow Resolution D007: Disaster Resilience Policy and have continued to mobilize the EPPN to urge the U.S. federal government to fund and support not only immediate, but also long-term community and economic recovery from human-caused and natural disasters. The supplemental disaster relief bill, which passed in June and included funding for a wide range of states and Puerto Rico, has been an important source advocacy for our office and the EPPN over the past year.
Coming up: The EPPN will be disseminating a multi-week environmental policy and reflection series.
The resolutions A178: Halt the Intensification and Implementation of Immigration Policies and Practices that are Harmful to Migrant Women, Parents and Children and C033: Respecting the Dignity of Immigrants have reinforced our work to protect the dignity and humanity of Dreamers, TPS recipients, and asylum seekers.
In reaffirmation of our commitment to advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, OGR submitted a statement to the House Judiciary Committee on the need to protect Dreamers and TPS and DED recipients in the Dream and Promise Act of 2019. The bill has passed the House, and our advocacy continues as we await action in the Senate. See our action alert here!
A member of OGR staff recently participated in the Walk in Love Border tour, learning about the current situation of asylum seekers and the responses of local governments and the various ministries in the Diocese of West Texas. With this information, we plan to further enrich our advocacy on for humane and just treatment of women, parents, and children.
A webinar entitled “Listen & Learn: Border Advocacy and Ministry” was hosted July 2nd by the EPPN and Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) with Bishop Michael Hunn from the Diocese of the Rio Grande. In case you missed the webinar, watch it here and share it with others!
Using the holistic approach outlined in resolution D009: Christian Principles for Responding to Human Migration, OGR has been working on issues related to addressing root causes, advocating for robust refugee resettlement and appropriations, and fostering a culture of hospitality and welcome.Through a series of Congressional meetings, action alerts, sign-on letters, and advocacy days with coalition partners and with Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), OGR is committed more than ever to advancing policies that welcome refugees. Last week, EMM and OGR organized Love God, Love Neighbor: Advocacy in Action training and advocacy day in Washington, DC for 30 Episcopalians interested and involved in advocating for the ministry of refugee resettlement and care of asylum seekers. Earlier this year, EMM launched Partners in Welcome, an online learning community and ministry network dedicated to welcoming newcomers, empowering advocates, and supporting local ministries. Partners in Welcome offers an e-newsletter, weekly news digest, webinars, digital workshops, learning modules, a book club, and an online forum.
OGR has been working independently and through ecumenical partnerships like the Circle of Protection to advocate directly to Members of Congress and Congressional Leadership in support of programs relevant to C041: Repair America’s Safety Net. These programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, development and humanitarian assistance, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the broader federal budget spending limits, which tightly control whether programs that benefit low-income families at home and around the world can increase or decrease funding. Additionally, work has focused on articulating the damage proposed changes to how the federal government calculates poverty levels and adjusts them year to year for inflation would cause to low-income working families over time.
The Episcopal Church also supports the Raise the Wage Act and submitted a statement to Congressional Record for the hearing on the bill. By gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the bill would help reduce income inequality and workplace harassment for tipped workers, a provision accounted for in resolution D017: Reducing Sexual Harassment, Assault and Exploitation in the Workplace. According to the Economic Policy Institute, women make up almost 56% of workers who would benefit from the increase in wages. In addition to helping address the gender wage gap, the bill would provide a more just compensation to 40% of African American workers and 34% of Latino workers, who would see increased wages when the law is fully implemented.
OGR has also partnered with historically black churches, evangelicals, and the Roman Catholic bishops to oppose the repeal of payday lending rules that would protect the poor from predatory and unpayable loans. A regulation introduced in the previous Administration but prevented from coming into effect and now facing repeal by the Trump Administration, would require lenders to only give loans that borrowers were able to repay in addition to maintaining their cost of living and eating. To complement an alert sent to the EPPN, OGR and ecumenical partners met with the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to share borrowers’ stories and articulate why current pay day lending practices violate Christian teachings.
We continue to expand our work on a variety of important issues according to resolutions from last year’s General Convention.
C022: Supporting Transgender Access - In affirming the Church’s support for the full civil rights of the LGBTQ community, we advocate the enactment of laws that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or the expression of one’s gender identity. OGR sent out an EPPN action alert in support of the Equality Act in March.
B005: Gun Violence as a Public Health Issue - In February, OGR hosted and coordinated an advocacy day on Capitol Hill for bishops from Bishops United Against Gun Violence. Check out our recent action alert supporting funding gun violence research too.
D004: Addressing Mass incarceration - Criminal justice reform has long been a priority of The Episcopal Church as we continue to support legislation that addresses mass incarceration such as the First Step Act and appropriations to fund the programs authorized in it.