Committee 6: Social justice & international policy

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Resolutionpalooza continues a tour of resolutions to be considered by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention this month. Today’s batch looks at those headed to the committee on social justice & international policy.

Let me begin by directing you to the introduction to the series, in which I set forth the criteria by which I decide if I can support a resolution or not. Many of the resolutions in this batch focus on situations around the world that are deeply disturbing. It’s natural for us to want to “do something” in response, but church resolutions may not always be the best response. Instead, as a church, we will often do well to focus our actions on prayer and on tangible personal support (perhaps in the form of financial contributions). As I have said before, rather than tell other people what to do, let’s tell others what we will do.

In particular, I am disappointed by most of the resolutions that concern Israel and Palestine. For reasons I cannot fathom, the General Convention set seems obsessed with Israel, not in a good way. From 1973 to 2022, the digital archive tells me we’ve considered over 50 resolutions on Israel. That’s greater than the number of resolutions on Russia (or the Soviet Union), China, and North Korea combined — by a long shot. This year, we have around 13 resolutions on Israel/Palestine and just one on Ukraine. The death tolls in both Ukraine and Israel/Palestine are hard to pin down, but it seems safe to say that the toll is much higher in Ukraine. So why aren’t there most resolutions about Ukraine and Russia?

Christians have a long history of anti-Jewish behavior, and the Episcopal Church’s apparent fixation on the sins of Israel does not have a good look. Of course, one can criticize the state of Israel without being anti-Jewish, but it’s a fine line. When resolution after resolution names only the sins of Israel, the cumulative effect is to suggest that we have lost our compass, in my view.

Yes, Israel has done — and continues to do — horrible things. And so too has Hamas. I don’t intend to suggest that there is equivalence, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking Israel is the only offender here. Perhaps our best response as a church would be to call for a cease-fire, to increase our engagement with Palestine and Israel, and to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and all the Holy Land.

Speaking more broadly, I would note two things. First, nearly all of these resolutions have a very US-centric lens. If we call ourselves an international church, at some point, we need to start acting like it. If we’re going to try to involve ourselves in international policy, what would it be like to adopt the perspective of the other nations in the Episcopal Church? Second, as usual, many of the resolutions related to international matters are repeats of previous resolutions. We do not need to restate what we have already stated. In fact, doing so might undermine our governance, because we are tacitly saying that resolutions somehow expire and need to be restated. For reference, I invite you to review this listing of extant resolutions on public policy, which was helpfully provided to me by the Office of Government Relations. If it’s on this list, we don’t need to say it again.

 

A010 Recognition of Apartheid in Israel/Palestine. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Firstly, this resolution should be ruled out of order because the documents mentioned are not all provided in English and Spanish. By the way, this resolution was referred from the General Convention in 2022 to this year’s convention.

This resolution asks the General Convention to declare that, under the criteria of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Israel is an apartheid state. We are being asked to make a legal determination that the International Criminal Court has not yet made. For those of us who insist on the rule of law, we must insist here that the court act first, because they are competent to make the declaration of whether or not Israel is an apartheid state. 1,000 deputies and bishops may have opinions, but we are not a court of law. Beyond that, there is the question of whether or not it would be effective in any way for the Episcopal Church to brand Israel with the label of apartheid. Generally speaking, I think inviting people to repentance is the higher ground. Finally, if we are going to make declarations condemning Israel, we need to engage with Jewish Israelis to understand their perspective. Of course, we also need to hear from Palestinians, too. It’s easy to lash out in anger — at horrific deeds committed by Israel, to be sure — but our calling is to be reconcilers.

 

A011 Confronting Apartheid. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

See commentary on A010. This resolution is also referred from 2022, and it is also out of order because the referenced documents are not provided in English and Spanish.

 

A012 On Opposing Israel’s Apartheid. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

See commentary on A010. Entirely out of order, because none of the documents referred to in the resolution are provided in either English or Spanish.

 

A110 Clarify Distinction Between Biblical and Modern Israel. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Christian Zionism is problematic on many levels. I would add that, in general, North American Christians telling people in the Middle East how to conduct their lives is rarely helpful, but I digress. This resolution would have the General Convention commit “to making clear in liturgy and in teaching the distinction between Biblical and Modern Israel in Prayer Book liturgies and hymnody in order to reduce the confusion with the current State of Israel.” How, exactly, is the General Convention going to do this? Are bishops and deputies going to produce teaching materials? Are deputies and bishops going to annotate prayer books? Beyond that lack of any clear sense of what it would mean for the General Convention to commit itself to this work, is this a problem in the Episcopal Church? Is anyone genuinely confused by liturgical language about whether the referent is ancient or modern Israel? Why are we not also clarifying the distinction between ancient and modern Egypt, to name but one more example? This resolution looks an awful lot like Christians sniffing around to find problems that may not exist, problems that we can blame on Jews (or their allies)  in some way. I hope we swiftly reject this resolution, which looks bad and solves nothing as far as I can see.

 

C002 On Responsible Travel to the Holy Land. Full text. Likely vote: NO, unless amended.

This resolution would encourage Episcopalians who travel to the Holy Land to “include encounters with Palestinians who are experiencing the conditions of Occupation.” I fully agree with this, and I also agree with its encouragement to use Palestinian travel companies when possible. As Christians, if we can support local Christians when we travel anywhere, I’m all in favor. As written, however, I cannot support this resolution. I think it’s important to also hear from Jewish Israelis when we visit the Holy Land, and I’m not talking about settlers. Some Christian groups in the Holy Land take people to hear “a Jewish perspective” and then visit a settlement. That’s a bit like hearing about the US government from encamped militants in the West of the US. I’ve been to the Holy Land three times, and each time I’ve learned a great deal from Christians, Muslims, and Jews; from Palestinians and Israelis. It would be a shame if we encouraged only a limited encounter in the Holy Land. By the way, if you can travel to Israel/Palestine, I encourage you to do it. It’s changed my life.

 

C013 Migration with Dignity. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution endorses a set of encouraged practices and policies called Migration with Dignity. I fully support this concept, because migrant crises around the world will only get worse in coming years, especially with increased stress from climate change. The resolution also encourages the Office of Government Relations to advocate on behalf of these policies. I wouldn’t mind any of that, but the explanation — which you should read carefully on this one — includes a list of previous General Convention resolutions that already encompass every single one of the Migration with Dignity points, as far as I could see. In order words, we’ve already said all this, so we don’t need to say it again.

Also, the resolution includes links to documents for which no Spanish translation has been provided. On that basis, I believe it should be ruled out of order, or at least withdrawn. It’s ironic to advocate for a more sound international policy when we don’t permit Spanish-speaking deputies and bishops to participate on an equal footing. Perhaps some enterprising deputy or bishop can offer quick translations of high quality for these materials.

 

C015 Migration with Dignity. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

See commentary on C013, above.

 

C022 Migration with Dignity. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

See commentary on C013, above.

 

C027 Conditioning U.S. Military Aid to Israel. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution is out of order, because it refers to an external document (Section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961), which is provided neither in English nor in Spanish. Even if this document were provided, it’s not clear to me that 1,000 deputies and bishops are competent to evaluate compliance with particular laws when there is not an existing record in the court system. But even if we set THAT aside, I just don’t see that the state of Israel is likely to change its behavior because the Episcopal Church has told them to. They might well ask why we aren’t also policing Russia, China, North Korea, or, for that matter, our own government. Both because of the failure to provide necessary documents to cast an informed vote, and because of a lack of likely efficacy, I cannot support this resolution.

For the record, I’ll say it again: the conflict in Gaza (and Israel) right now is horrific. I pray and hope for a cease-fire. But resolutions like this only serve to make us feel that we have done something when, in fact, we have not. The Office of Government Relations has many previous resolutions to draw on in their advocacy for a just peace in the Holy Land.

 

C031 Migration with Dignity. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

See commentary on C013, above.

 

D003 A Call for Ending Apartheid Against Palestinians. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution reports that three non-profits have said that Israel is practicing apartheid, and it asks the Office of Government Relations to advocate an end to this alleged apartheid. As I wrote in my commentary on A010 above — as indicated by that resolution, there is a clear legal standard for what constitutes apartheid, and no court has yet made this legal determination. We cannot simply take some group’s opinion as fact. Again, I repudiate much of Israel’s prosecution of its war on the people of Gaza. I’m not here to defend Israel as blameless or even close to it. However, when we use a highly charged term like apartheid in an official capacity, we’d better be rock solid. One thousand deputies and bishops are not equipped to make this legal determination; there are international courts who can do so.

Finally, I will note again, that the OGR already has an abundance of previous resolutions on Israel from General Convention, so they must surely have plenty of fodder for their advocacy work. No need to add to the pile. (Also, there are, once again, external documents for which a Spanish translation is not provided.)

 

D004 Express Solidarity with Palestinians as an Indigenous People. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

If passed, this resolution would reiterate resolution 2012-A131, which expressed solidarity with all the indigenous peoples of the world (which, as I have said before, we do not need to do, as resolutions are binding until declared otherwise). It continues to “recognize that Palestinian Arabs, including our Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers, are among the indigenous people of the lands of Palestine and Israel lying between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.” The third resolve asks the OGR to advocate for the Palestinians to “retain their traditional lands and territories.” Presumably, the intention is to displace Israeli Jews from lands they now inhabit.

If you read about the history of peoples, migration, and conflicts in what we now call Israel/Palestine, it’s mind-numbingly complex. The land has changed hands dozens of times or more over the centuries. The bloodshed has been nearly constant. It’s heart-breaking. I do agree with an assertion made in the explanation for this resolution saying that Palestinians have ancient claims on land. So do Israel Jews and others, of course.

Most folks (apart from some hard-liners of one side or another) I’ve spoken with over the years believe, as do I, that the only long-term path to peace in Israel/Palestine is a just two-state solution. That will almost certainly involve some swaps to create contiguous lands and to ensure that each of those two states has a sustainable area in which to live and work. But getting there is…not easy, or it would have been done by now.

I do hope we can do everything in our power — beginning with prayer and regular engagement — to foster relationships that will lead to a long-term peace. But weighing in like this is almost certainly not going to be helpful. We should trust the Anglicans in Jerusalem to tell us if they want us to take particular positions.

 

D005 Solidarity with the Palestinian Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions Movement. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution should also be ruled out of order. It refers to external documents, none of which are provided in Spanish and some of which are not provided at all.

If passed, the resolution makes boycott, divest, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel the official policy of the Episcopal Church. Opinions vary widely about the efficacy and rectitude of the BDS movement applied to Israel. I have generally been opposed to this tactic for Israel, believing that engagement and relationship are more likely to lead to a just peace. Others will differ. Israel’s recent conduct in its war against Hamas has led me to ponder this afresh. Still, I think it would be profoundly unhelpful for us to take this step unless we know that our Anglican siblings in Israel are specifically asking for this. Relationships within the Holy Land are fraught, and we do not need to act like colonizers here, telling local people how to manage their affairs. Individuals may well choose to boycott Israeli companies, but to make this church policy is another thing altogether.

Yes, it’s true that some Palestinians have asked for us to adopt BDS as policy. But others have asked us to stay connected and invested. I just don’t think 1,000 deputies and bishops are equipped to weigh into this situation — as outsiders — and enact BDS as policy. Let’s trust our Presiding Bishop to be in touch with the Archbishop in Jerusalem. At some future time, if our Anglican siblings ask us to take this stance, it could make good sense to do so.

 

D006 Rejecting the Theology and Politics of Christian Zionism. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

General Convention would “reject the theology of Christian Zionism, a politicized Christian theology distinct from the Jewish Zionism underpinning the Israeli state” if this resolution passes. There are several resolves, of which the final one would have the Office of Government Relations “challenge the U.S. tax exemptions granted to Christian Zionist institutions and organizations.” I fully agree that Christian Zionism can be toxic and even deadly. But I’m not sure this is always the case? Wikipedia tells me that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Christian who favored Zionism. Are we prepared to distance ourselves from him? Do we really want to use a broad brush to condemn all Christian Zionists? This is a real question for me. The explanation makes claims that would seem to apply to ALL Christian Zionists, and I wonder if they are as monolithic as we are told here. Maybe they are. Or maybe not?

In general, I’m not sure about the efficacy of the tactic of condemning people, things, or groups. Maybe there are alternatives that involve prayer, relationships, and setting a higher, more compelling vision.

I am prepared to receive Christian Zionism as inherently dangerous if that’s the case. I need to do some learning, and if someone reading this wants to make recommendations, I’m ready to learn. But I’m not sure this action of General Convention is likely to provoke any change.

Finally, I’m unclear on what basis the OGR would seek to remove the tax-exempt status of certain organizations, apart from current regulatory frameworks used by the IRS, which would surely apply anyway even if we take no action on this resolution.

 

D007 Peace Through Equal Rights in Israel/Palestine. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Joining many resolutions we have already passed over the years, this resolution calls for peace in Israel and Palestine. The resolution does note several of the previous resolutions from General Convention, and it also asks the Office of Government Relations to advocate in line with the resolution’s calls for a just and lasting peace rooted in equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis. I share these hopes, but we’ve already expressed them. We do not need to repeat earlier statements and policies. What is new for this one is mention of the conflict in Gaza, which refers to “Israel’s devastating military action” without also calling for Hamas to repent of its stated desire to erase the state of Israel. At least this resolution does “lament” the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023.

I can’t support this resolution for two reasons. First, as I note, it repeats some of the many resolutions General Convention has already passed. Second, it rightly notes that “No lasting peace can be achieved nor justice established until Israel’s military occupation and control over Palestinians comes to an end and Palestinians and Israelis have equal rights, freedom, and self-determination” but it only calls for change by Israel, and it’s going to take change by Hamas as well. (Again, I am not suggesting there is equivalence, just that there is work to be done by both the Israeli government and Hamas.)

 

D009 Swords Into Plowshares: U.S. Accountability and Responsibility in Rebuilding Gaza. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This is yet another resolution that in its explanation refers to external documents for which no Spanish translation has been provided.

If passed, this resolution would have the Episcopal Church “call upon the United States Government to provide, as part of a process for building a negotiated and sustainable peace, significant funds for the long-term rebuilding of Gaza.” I agree with the intent here, and I hope the US government will do this. However, I’m not sure that anyone in our government is likely to decide to take this action because we have passed a resolution. How, exactly, are we calling upon the government and on whom, precisely? It might be more effective for Episcopalians to organize and get individuals to contact their Senators and Representatives to ask for this. We do not need a resolution to make this happen, and we have already passed an abundance of resolutions on Israel and Palestine.

 

D012 Conditioning U.S. Military Assistance to Israel on Human Rights and a Negotiated Peace. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This is yet another resolution that in its explanation refers to external documents for which no Spanish translation has been provided.

Here again, we have a puzzling focus on the state of Israel for our policing of other nations. The second resolve would have the Episcopal Church “support policies to ensure that that [sic] U.S. government military assistance to the State of Israel be conditioned on adherence to international humanitarian law.” Why just Israel? Why not say this for other nations, too? This resolution, along with the 12 others, begins to paint a picture of General Convention’s interest in Israel, and I don’t think it’s a flattering picture.

The other resolves have the Episcopal Church supporting various policies related to Israel, along with reaffirming a previous resolution. I don’t see efficacy here, nor do I see any commitment to change on the part of the Episcopal Church and its members. Let’s work on our own logs before we take note of the sticks in others’ eyes.

 

D013 Resolving the Conflict between Israel and the Palestinian People. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Among the resolutions concerning Israel/Palestine, this one takes a more even-handed approach, declaring “that there is no military solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people and calls on Hamas and Israel to abandon violence, initiate and honor a permanent ceasefire, and release all Israeli hostages and Palestinian political prisoners as a means to resolving this 76-year-old conflict.” I believe that’s true, but I’m not sure what effect results from us passing this resolution as written, which declares, notes, and calls on, but which will result in little action beyond sending a copy to a few US politicians. I might actually find this resolution helpful if it also committed the Episcopal Church to tangible action, such as travel to Israel/Palestine to support local work, or a season of fervent prayer, or generous financial contributions from our church, our dioceses, and our congregations.

it’s easy to tell others what to do. It’s more costly, and more effective, to tell others what we will do.

 

D019 Justice and Peace in Ukraine. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Ah, finally, a resolution that deals with one of the other horrific conflicts now under way in the world. This resolution variously condemns Russia and calls on Russia to end its war. I generally agree with the condemnations, urges, and calls contained here, which rightly call on Russia to end a war it started. However, there is no substantive action that is likely to result from this resolution. Vladimir Putin is not going to wake up one morning and read the Virtual Binder to learn that General Convention has passed a resolution and then end the war. What actions could we take as a church? We could commit to fervent prayer. We could offer assistance in the form of money and volunteers to Ukraine. We could deepen relationships with Russians and THEN call on them to repent. (Hey, it worked for Jesus when he dined with sinner & tax collectors.)

 

D037 Encourage All Ministries of The Episcopal Church to Assess Intersections with Migration. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This is yet another resolution that in its explanation refers to external documents for which no Spanish translation has been provided. More to the point, this resolution should be ruled out of order because it refers to an external document (a survey developed by Episcopal Migration Ministries)  without providing the document in any language.

There are several resolves here, but the key one would “encourage all Ministries and organizations of The Episcopal Church, including local, diocesan, provincial, and churchwide ministries and seminaries, to assess how issues of migration intersect with these ministries, using a survey developed by Episcopal Migration MInistries.” Now, I can’t say what I think of the survey, because it’s neither linked nor provided. So, as I noted above, this resolution should not be considered at all. But let’s assume it’s a helpful survey (as I suspect it is, because EMM does great work!). Is it at all realistic to think that the altar guild or the diocesan finance committee or every other committee is going to do this work? The resolution also says that the completed surveys should be sent to the Executive Council Joint Standing Committee on Mission Within the Episcopal Church “to review and to report data to Episcopal Migration Ministries.” I’m not sure what could be gained by this. And why couldn’t the surveys go directly to EMM? For that matter, if the survey already exists, why is General Convention getting involved at all?

The intentions are good here,  but I don’t see this as remotely realistic in terms of its hopes for “all ministries” in the entire Episcopal Church to do this work. And if the work were somehow done, I’m not sure what positive outcome could result.

4 Responses

  1. SarahELawton@gmail.com says:

    Hi Scott. I’m really, really glad you are well and returning to GC. I prayed for your health during your crisis in 2022 and I am so very happy for your recovery.

    Without rehashing here the essence of disagreement you and I have long had about policy resolutions in general, I just wanted to respond to this post, as the author of resolutions D009 and D012.

    With regard to conditioning US military aid to the government of Israel based on its adherence to international humanitarian law, we have indeed previously said that *all* countries receiving military aid should be subject to such conditions; we said that in 2022 (I think you opposed that resolution as well, if I recall correctly). The reason to restate it now, with a focus on Israel, is that 1) Israel receives more aid than any other country in the world, by a very long mile, and that’s been true for decades; whereas, as far as I know, we are not sending military aid to North Korea or Russia at the moment; and 2) Israel is uniquely shielded by the US government from any conditioning of aid based on adherence to human rights law.

    The Israel exception is a live issue in the Gaza war, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I remember when the Leahy Laws were first developed, since I was working on US human rights policy in Central America at the time; I understand it’s often the case that political policy trumps human rights concerns for the US government; but the case of Israel has been treated as an even more special exception that apparently cannot be breached. This resolution says there shouldn’t be an exception when it comes to human rights. It’s the opposite of singling Israel out – it’s saying no country should be singled out. No country should have impunity; impunity is dangerous and warping. That’s the point of the resolution. The Church can and should say that, as a moral voice even in the face of a complex political situation: no impunity when it comes to violations of human rights. I say the same about Hamas’s atrocities and hostage-taking, and have said that before and since October 7, but my taxes aren’t paying for Hamas.

    With regard to the Gaza reconstruction resolution. It was written as a lament. Any of us who are US taxpayers are implicated in tremendous destruction and death at a pace and scale that take the breath away. I hope we hear on this from our deputies and bishops in non-US countries. But fact that some of us are not nearly as implicated as the rest of us should not deter us from demanding accountability for the scale of civilian destruction that’s been allowed to happen by the most powerful government in the world, that also happens to be Israel’s biggest funder.

    Looking forward to seeing you in person in Louisville –

    Sarah Lawton, lay deputy, California

    • Scott Gunn says:

      Dear Sarah,

      Thank you so much for your prayers in 2022. It made all the difference in the world for me. And I’m glad to be back at General Convention (and glad it will be somewhat more “normal” than Baltimore).

      You’re right that we have different views on policy resolutions in general, and I appreciate your gracious comments here — and perhaps on other blogs to come. Thank you for adding your perspective on the Israel/Palestine situation. And whatever we do at General Convention, I hope we can all agree to pray and to perform acts of mercy in response to a horrific war and a humanitarian crisis.

      See you in Louisville. It would be lovely to have even a few minutes to chat.

      Peace,
      Scott

  2. SarahELawton@gmail.com says:

    Thank you, Scott. Yes! I hope we can find a moment to connect in Louisville, maybe even grab a cup of coffee. I know we’ll all be super-busy, but I value the in-person connections at Convention more than anything else. As for prayer and acts of mercy, I pray each every day for all affected by this war (thank you, by the way, for sponsoring the Daily Office app I use!) and I’m fully on board and invested in acts of mercy. And advocacy, too.

    Peace,
    Sarah

  3. There is much about this blog post that is deeply detrimental to our Palestinian Christian siblings – both in the Holy Land and in our Church – including me. I hope you, Fr. Gunn, and all other members of our Church who have misunderstood this situation so gravely, will read this open letter carefully and stop harming some of our most vulnerable sisters and brothers with your ignorance:

    https://www.palestiniananglicans.org/resources/tec-gc-81-open-letter

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