Blogging “Blue”: Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns

This is a fifth in a series of posts on the “Blue” Book for General Convention 2012. Previously, I blogged about the deputies’ committees. Next up is Communication and Information Technology. Please see my index of General Convention 2012 resolutions, with a summary of the 7WD position on them.

justice scaleIn this post I get to put my newly articulated principle for political resolutions at General Convention to good use. Here we encounter a set of resolutions from folks whose canonical mandate is

to develop recommendations and strategies regarding common ministry opportunities and concerns with other Provinces of the Anglican Communion as to the work of this Church and the Anglican Communion on issues of international peace with justice and to make recommendations pertaining thereto to the Presiding Bishop, the Executive Council and the General Convention. (Canon I.1.2(n)(1))

Unfortunately, their output seems to consist of this set of resolutions (plus three more that went to Executive Council) rather than resource materials, consultative opportunities, or . Still, they arguably did their job, as mandated by the canons. I’d like to see “the church” added to the list of people to whom these folks report. Then they could create a Facebook page or a blog and provide resources and encouragement to get involved on particular issues. I’m not kidding. I think that might be more effective. Perhaps I do not understand the impact of this work, in which case I am happy to learn and to change my (kneejerk) opinion.

In fact, this seems like a commission that could be jettisoned in a structural streamlining. It’s not that I am uninterested in politics or that I think the Episcopal Church should not get involved. Rather, I am not persuaded that this institutional manifestation is the very best approach. It seems a bit 1950s-ish. A group of passionate Episcopalians using social media might be able to involve more people to greater effect. In that scenario, the church is doing its thing, but greater agility, increased efficacy, and less cost.

Here are their resolutions.

A011: Reaffirm Commitment to Millennium Development Goals as a Mission Priority. Likely vote: YES.
This one makes a lot of sense. It’s a way of calling for a particular outcome by demonstrating our own commitment through giving 0.7% of our budget to support the Millennium Development Goals. It also focuses our efforts on a particular set of issues, which is helpful.

A012: Advocate for a Just Global Economy for International Trade. Likely vote: NO.
I care about global fair trade. Often, though not always, I pay more for products and services if I believe the materials have been ethically sourced. However, this resolution is little more than cheap talk. If we as a church care about fair trade, let’s start by encouraging or mandating that parishes use fair trade coffee and ethically sourced materials, such as eco-palms for Palm Sunday to name one. This just tells people to care about something and urges unspecified governments to change their practices. Also, this resolution as submitted should be ruled out of order because the first four resolves do not ask for action; they are thinly veiled “whereas” statements, which are not allowed.

A013: Study Genetically Modified Food Crops. Likely vote: NO.
Genetically modified food crops are indeed a grave threat, I suspect. This resolution calls for a study of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be reported at the next General Convention. I simply do not see the value in General Convention commissioning a study on this topic. Lots of people can study this. Episcopalians can — and should — organize themselves to urge restraint on the proliferation of these crops.

A014: Engage in Conflict Resolution on the Korean Peninsula. Likely vote: NO.
This resolution seeks reunification of Korea. Let’s not tell other governments what to do. For one thing, they won’t listen. For another, it would be more useful to look at the conflicts within the nations of the Episcopal Church, if we are going to wade into this territory. If deputies and bishops want to encourage people-to-people exchanges with Korea, let’s buy plane tickets instead of passing resolutions.

A015: Commend Democratic Movements in the Middle East and North Africa. Likely vote: NO.
This one says democracy in the Middle East is good and tells the President of the United States what to do about it. It is not clear what the effect of this resolution would be. We are able to articulate our love of puppies and chocolate without passing resolutions. Let’s put democracy on that list of things we love but do not need to legislate.

A016: Commend the Responsibility to Protect from Mass Atrocities. Likely vote: NO.
Mass atrocities are terrible, and this resolution says so. It urges various organizations to do various things. One appropriate thing it does is urge the Presiding Bishop to join her voice in this issue. However,she does not need a resolution to enable her to speak out against mass atrocities.

A017: Monitor the Use and Ethics of Drone Warfare. Likely vote: NO.
Is it bad to use drone weapons? Well, in the sense that all weapons pose a moral challenge, clearly the answer is yes. But I think a blanket condemnation of the use of drones is not so easy. It’s especially complex if you are a solidier stationed in a combat zone and a drone is sent as an alternative to a person being sent. I’m not a fan of drones, but I don’t think there’s a bumper sticker answer that outlines the appropriateness their use.

On a practical level this resolution has a couple of ridiculous elements. First, “the General Convention encourages the Suffragan Bishop for Federal Ministries to provide chaplaincy services to members of the military involved in the operation of drones.” Really? Does the suffragan bishop need instructions on who needs chaplaincy services? Should we decide who needs them the most? “Sorry, son, I see you’re bleeding to death, but I’ve got to fly to America to pray with people flying drones remotely from there.”

Second, the resolution calls on a couple of commissions “to monitor the continued use of drones.” I have visions of a tent on a mountainside in Afghanistan. Every week, a new bishop or deputy arrives to sit there with binoculars and watch for drones. You can see how this is not going to work. Why pass a resolution asking for us to monitor the use of something that is done thousands of miles away, often in secret? We’re legislating outside our expertise here.

A018: Support Aid for the Drought in the Horn of Africa. Likely vote: NO.
Drought is awful. No one needs to tell Episcopal Relief & Development or the United States government to help people in need. Let’s use our short time at General Convention to do things that are in our unique competency.

A019: Continue Advocacy for Peace in Sudan. Likely vote: NO.
Let us pray for the people of Sudan and support ways in which we can provide humanitarian assistance and in which we can urge peace. We can do these things without a resolution.

A020: End the Embargo Against Cuba. Likely vote: NO.
I would sign up for a mission trip to Cuba in a heartbeat. But I will not vote for a resolution that simply expresses an opinion on this issue. Also, I think it is not so simple. On the one hand, plenty of people ask for the embargo to end (that is where my sympathies lie). On the other, I think plenty of people, including some Cuban expatriates, think it should be continued until there is regime change. How would I learn enough to have a truly informed opinion? I’d go to Cuba. So let’s do that instead of expressing sentiments.

A021: Advocate Humane Treatment for Cuban Prisoners. Likely vote: NO.
I hope all prisoners are treated humanely. However, I’m not sure that this resolution will accomplish much. Instead, let’s get deputies and bishops in Indianapolis to sign a petition asking POTUS “to release the five Cuban nationals convicted of spying for the government of the Republic of Cuba.”

A022: Initiate Program of Accompaniment with the Dioceses of Colombia and Ecuador Central. Likely vote: NO.
This resolution asks that a person accompany the bishops of Colombia and Ecuador Central at various meetings to help the bishops deal with some very real challenges. I would completely change my mind about this if it was clear that the people of Colombia and Ecuador Central were themselves seeking this assistance. Too often, a colonial/patronizing dynamic infects relations between developed and developing nations. Imagining that “they” need “us” to get along is not a helpful posture. Still, if folks in Colombia and Ecuador Central want some companionship and assistance in what they are doing, this resolution asks for a reasonable budget allocation for a clearly defined scope that is within the appropriate competency of the church. I could easily be persuaded to vote yes for this if it becomes clear that its impetus comes from Colombia and Ecuador Central.

A023: Encourage Prison Ministry Throughout The Episcopal Church. Likely vote: YES.
This one seeks to encourage a specific kind of ministry that is much needed — and which is uncontroversial to most reasonable people. My hope would be that churchwide leaders would work with partners to do this work of advocacy, resource development, and program delivery, if approved and funded. I’m sure they will.

5 Comments so far

  1. Laura on May 24th, 2012

    Thank you for this.

    On a deeper level, can you think of any way of reducing the number of these cheap grace resolutions? Any way we can learn as a church how to discern the difference between resolutions we offer to make us feel good about doing something on issues of importance, and those that actually can move the needle on issues?

  2. Lisa Hamilton on May 25th, 2012

    It’s becoming clear that General Convention could be more effective if we Episcopalians were clear about “our unique competency,” as Scott articulates. I’m urging my bishop and deputies to ask themselves “What is TEC’s unique competency?” prior to every vote.

  3. Jason on May 25th, 2012

    For the most part, I agree with you Scott and I think I get what you’re saying. We should only call for action by others if we too are willing to act. I do caution us about writing them off altogether as some of these resolutions might be ones that would allow us to join ecumenical coalitions that by sheer size and faith perspective COULD actually have an impact on government policies. Some might be related to specific legislation that we should be mobilizing Episcopalians to lobby on behalf of (and on our behalf) in order to help get that legislation passed. The Office of Government Relations, our lobbying voice in DC, which works closely with other mainline denominations, cannot of course act without a resolution passed by General Convention. And they do have a real impact, especially when the most common Christian voices on the hill are the extreme ones. I hope deputies will inquire with OGR to find out what public policy level resolutions might enable their work in leveraging ecumenical and progressive Christian voices on the hill and which will have little or no impact. That’s what we pay these folks to do. And assuming they’ve been permitted to work with the committees, at least some of these resolutions are ones they know will make a difference.

  4. Scott Gunn on May 25th, 2012

    Jason, thanks. A couple of things. First, I question the assertion that the OGR “cannot of course act without a resolution passed by General Convention.” If that’s how we’re set up, then we need to change it. Exec Council can’t offer guidance? The PB? Those two seem canonical. Second, I am grateful for what OGR has done and the faithfulness of the people there. Nevertheless, I wonder about alternate institutional models for engaging in the political realm. Do we really thing this is the only possible way to do it, and we’re not willing to consider others? My knowledge of this area is spotty, so I’m prepared to be educated. However, I think our reasons needs to be better than “all the other mainline churches do it” which is sometimes what we hear.

  5. Jason on May 28th, 2012

    Right on, Scott. I’ll ask Mary Getz about the EC and PB piece, I’m not sure myself, but that wa smy understanding. I agree we need to diversify and better educate in this realm generally. Thanks for your thoughts.