As summer comes to a close, we want to thank you for your ongoing support of the Office of Government Relations and for your commitment to faith-based advocacy. In these turbulent political times, the work we carry out can help our communities and country – together, we can lift up the values we stand for as Episcopalians and Christians. Especially as we look ahead to midterm elections, we invite you to continue making your voice heard on the priority public policy issues for The Episcopal Church.
General Convention: The 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church passed more than 50 resolutions that direct the Office of Government Relations to carry out advocacy. In the coming triennium, we will address these resolutions in our action alerts, by raising these policy positions with Members of Congress and their staffs, and by working with entities like the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the diplomatic community in Washington, D.C. These 50+ resolutions are added to the decades of policies from previous conventions and those passed by Executive Council.
Several of these General Convention resolutions identify new areas of advocacy–such as anti-corruption and disaster resilience–while on other issues the Church reiterated the importance of continuing to carry out advocacy where there have been decades of resolutions affirming the work, such as the need for Congress to address comprehensive immigration reform. We remain grateful to all the deputations for their work and commitment.
Special thanks to the National Religious Campaign Against Torture for their partnership in bringing the solitary confinement virtual reality cell to General Convention. More than 100 people were able to take part in the experience, and General Convention passed a resolution condemning the prolonged use of solitary confinement, emphasizing existing church policy against forms of torture. Read their press release.
We are also grateful for the ongoing partnership with Episcopal Migration Ministries, as well as colleagues in the Ministry Beyond the Episcopal Church, including Global Partnerships and Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations. Our work is possible because of collaborations throughout the Church, including with the Reconciliation, Justice, and Care of Creation team who focus on grassroots engagement and racial justice.
Finally, a note on staffing transition: We are thrilled that the Presiding Bishop has chosen the Reverend Canon E. Mark Stevenson to be the Canon for Ministry Within The Episcopal Church. We wish Canon Stevenson much success in his next endeavor and know that the Church will be blessed through his ministry. We will continue our strong partnership with Episcopal Migration Ministries through our advocacy on refugee resettlement and global migration issues.
Rebecca Linder Blachly
Director, Office of Government Relations
What's Ahead: The Issues
Refugee Resettlement: We remain deeply concerned about the slow pace of refugee resettlement and ongoing efforts to dismantle the program. Rebecca Linder Blachly wrote a letter to the editor in the New York Times highlighting that “the United States Refugee Admissions Program, a system that has resettled more than three million refugees since it was established in 1980… is on track to settle fewer than 22,000 refugees, the lowest number since the program began decades ago.” Looking ahead, we anticipate that the President will issue the refugee admissions number for the coming year. Last year, the President set the refugee admissions number at 45,000. We are advocating to ensure the Administration continues our commitment to refugee resettlement. You can take action by contacting your members of Congress to express your support for a high refugee admissions number here.
Criminal Justice: We continue to work with Senators and other partners to generate support for sentencing reform in an anticipated criminal justice reform bill. While our preferred bill, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, has not moved forward, we are encouraged that Senate Judiciary Chairman Grassley is pushing for the inclusion of substantive sentencing reform in any legislation that moves in the Senate. We have helped drive co-sponsors and remain optimistic about the possibility of legislation on this critical issue. Urge Congress to act on criminal justice reform.
Farm Bill: The federal government’s largest food assistance program is caught in negotiations between the House, the Senate, and the White House. At issue is the House proposal to place significantly increased administrative and bureaucratic hurdles between low-income workers and food assistance. We are working with Senate and ecumenical partners to push for acceptance of the Senate version of the bill which would not place these restrictions on families in need. Indications (as of late August) are that these efforts are successful, but the legislative schedule and politics of the mid-term elections make it difficult to know if final legislation will be considered before November.
Arctic Refuge: Building on decades of effort, we continue to partner with secular environmental organizations to provide briefings for Congressional staff in committee and member offices. This is part of a multi-year strategy to build a coalition to support repealing the 2017 tax law’s authorization of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Care of Creation: We are collaborating with colleagues throughout the Church to plan implementation of new policies and initiatives post-General Convention. Environmental issues need to be addressed at the parish level as well as at the federal policy level, and we are grateful for our partnership with the Reconciliation, Justice, and Care of Creation team to deliver services and training to Episcopalians and influence national policies. Urge Congress to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
Church Tax Issues: We are working with church partners and House leadership to push for a repeal of changes to the 2017 tax law that impose new taxes on churches. We are supporting efforts by the Church Alliance to see if there are other avenues to ensure that churches and other non-profits do not have to take on this new tax and administrative burden. We are working with congressional leadership to educate members about the existence of this new tax and drive support for bi-partisan efforts to repeal it.
Anglican Communion Engagement: In the past few months, we have hosted many Anglican Communion partners in D.C. including the Secretary General of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa and various Episcopal clergy from South Sudan. Our Anglican partners share stories of their work and experiences, and make policy recommendations to members of Congress and officers at Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development.
Foreign Assistance: Earlier this year, our staff worked with interfaith and ecumenical partners to bring faith leaders from around the country to Washington, D.C., to urge members of Congress to appropriate robust funding for anti-poverty programs.
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Outreach: We continue to strengthen our relationships throughout the Church, including learning from and partnering with the Union of Black Episcopalians and Latino Ministries. We are always looking for ways to build awareness about the Episcopal Public Policy Network and would welcome your feedback and ideas.
UN: On August 22, Rebecca Blachly was invited to speak at a UN Conference on the role of religious freedom and faith-based advocacy. A summary of the event can be found here.
We are also pleased that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was able to address the UN to speak about peace and reconciliation, and the important role that faith communities play in that sphere. As part of the Anglican Communion, we have a particular responsibility and opportunity to carry out reconciliation work in our own communities and globally.
Election Engagement: Don’t miss our Vote Faithfully Toolkit for the 2018 election! Refer to this guide for ways to help people in your community vote this fall. If you’d like information on ordering “I’m an Episcopalian and I Voted” stickers, write to us at email@example.com.
Letter to the Editor (NYT) on Religious Freedom: “Religious freedom needs to be available for people of all faiths. And our country should provide protection by honoring our historic commitment to refugee resettlement.” Read more.
Sign up now for Love God, Love Neighbor: Join Episcopal Migration Ministries in Louisville, KY, October 11-13, for the final Love God, Love Neighbor training of the year. Registration deadline extended to September 7. Register today!