Committee 7: Social justice and United States policy

US capitol building

In the last installment of Resolutionpalooza, we looked at resolutions related to international policy. Today’s batch brings us to US policy. See the introduction to this series for notes about how I decide which resolutions I can support, because I find myself opposing some resolutions that purport to advance causes with which I agree. However, one of my primary criteria is the efficacy of a resolution. For here, to put it simply, I will say this again: let us not tell others what to do, but instead let us tell others what we will do.

 

A018 Task Force on Pacifism and Just War. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution was referred from General Convention 2022, and if passed would establish a “Task Force on Pacifism and Just War to deepen understanding of the Church’s pacifist and just war traditions.” From the explanation, it is clear that the primary purpose here is to provide training for military chaplains. Perhaps this is a good idea, and, if so, the bishop suffragan for armed forces and federal ministries can take on this project. The resolution asks a modest $5,000, which can probably find another funding source. We love creating task forces, which has caused our governance spending and scope to spiral out of control. Rather than create 21 more task forces as the resolutions headed to this General Convention would do, we can find quicker, cheaper, and more efficient ways to get the same work done. There’s an easy, clear, and obvious pathway to that in this case: let the bishop who has oversight of military chaplains take up the cause of there is demand for the training contemplated by this resolution.

 

A081 Combat Rising Religious Nationalism. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution acknowledges, laments, encourages, and urges, but it will probably not change much to halt the rise of religious nationalism. Essentially, the resolution says religious nationalism is bad and we should do something. Of course, that’s true. But passing a resolution like this does nothing except make some people feel better for having voted yes.

If we are going to combat religious nationalism, perhaps we should simply commit to increasing our practice and teaching of the orthodox Christian faith and to spreading the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ. That does not require General Convention action.

 

B004 Commending Safe Gun Storage. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Here is yet another resolution that includes external documents in its explanation for which Spanish translations are not provided.

If passed, the Episcopal Church would say officially that storing guns safely is important, and we would be urging various entities to spread that message. Of course, safe gun storage is important. But I don’t see how passing a resolution like this changes much. I can’t support this resolution because I question its efficacy, and there is absolutely nothing in either the resolution or the explanation which suggests this comes from a church using a Gospel lens. When we speak, we should sound different from political campaigns or media talking heads. We should speak with the moral authority of grace and mercy and the power of Christ’s resurrection.

 

C003 On Affordable Housing. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution lacks an explanation. We are voting on hundreds of resolutions, and it’s asking a lot of bishops and deputies to speculate as to the thinking behind those who proposed this resolution. But let’s set that aside. If passed, this resolution establishes a Task Force on Affordable Housing and Homelessness for a cost of $95,000. The task force would collect data on what Episcopal entities are currently doing and then “recommend approaches that will increase involvement of dioceses and congregations based on best practices identified.” One challenge here is that solutions to provide affordable housing — and to advocate for policy changes — are going to be highly localized, based on resources, problems, regulations, and the political climate. So what works in one place may not be helpful in another. But aside from that, I know folks who have developed affordable housing projects in congregations. To gather data, they used Google and their relational networks without any need for an expensive task force report. Affordable housing is a huge problem, but I don’t think this brings us much closer to solutions. Oh, and there are already a number of adopted resolutions on the topic of affordable housing. We do not need to revisit a settled topic.

 

C026 Religious Liberty. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

If passed, this resolution would have the General Convention urging “the United States Congress and the state legislatures to refrain from passing laws/legislation that conflict with or interfere with the religious liberty of Episcopalians to practice their faith.” Three big questions for this one. First, how, exactly, is the General Convention going to urge Congress and every state legislature to take or not take particular actions? Second, do we really think any state or national legislative body is going to change its action because we took a vote in Louisville? Third, if a law is passed that truly interferes with religious liberty, the Constitution of the US can be invoked in a legal proceeding to have the law vacated or modified. Yes, there are politicians intent on circumventing the protections to religious liberty embedded in the US Constitution. Yes, that’s a major problem for lots of people, not just the Episcopal Church. No, I just don’t think this resolution changes the situation. Instead, let’s use our time to pray. Let’s use our time to contact our politicians not as deputies and bishops, but as voters. And let’s use our social capital and financial wealth to involve the courts where possible. That changes things for everyone. (And we have already passed resolutions on the topic of religious liberty, so we’ve already established that we are, as a church, in favor of it!)

 

C035 End the Practice of Labor Trafficking of Migrant Youth. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution includes documents for which no Spanish translation has been provided.

General Convention has already made it clear that we oppose and reject labor trafficking and human trafficking more broadly. See 2018-A178 and 2009-A167. I do not think we need to reiterate what we’ve already made clear, and the OGR appears, to me, to have the mandate it needs to advocate on this issue.

 

D008 Protection of Water “Ola i Ka Wai – Water is Life”. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

The first resolve cites four General Convention resolutions that already establish that our church favors the protection of water. The new territory here is very specific: the Office of Government Relations would be instructed to “advocate for safe and complete defueling and closure of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.” The explanation sets out the situation with the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in a few words, but I’m not sure that bishops and deputies are qualified to make a technical determination of what is needed beyond the existing standards of the Environmental Protection Agency, local and federal regulation, and oversight by local politicians. Even if we assume that it’s a simple matter that a person who knows nothing about the local context can determine, I am not sure that the passage of a resolution in Louisville changes things on the ground in Oʻahu.

 

D011 The Prohibition of Assault Weapons. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Here is yet another resolution that includes external documents in its explanation for which Spanish translations are not provided.

We would urge “the United States Congress adopt a new ban on the purchase and ownership of all assault weapons, automatic weapons, semi-automatic weapons, or weapons that operate similarly thereto” if we passed this resolution. We have already passed resolutions similar to this at least three times or more, and I’m not sure Congress is going to quake at our newly passed resolution anyway. There is nothing in either the resolution or the explanation which makes this sound different from what you might hear on MSNBC. As I’ve said before, when the church speaks in the public square, we should speak with the voice of the Gospel, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. It would not be difficult at all to speak with moral authority on important topics, but we need to steep our work our prayer and soak our resolutions in scripture.

 

D014 Declare Gun Violence a National Health Crisis. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution is out of order because the resolution itself refers to an external document (Victims of Crime Act) which is not provided in either English or Spanish.

The central point of this resolution is for the General Convention to urge “Congress and all officials at the national, state, and local levels to work to have gun violence recognized and defined as a Public Health Epidemic and National Health Crisis.” I agree that gun violence is a scourge in our land, and I would agree that it is and should be declared a public health crisis. I’m not sure that a resolution gets that done. On a note of polity, I’m genuinely unclear if the General Convention can appropriately direct the Executive Council to refer a matter to the Office of Government Relations, as the final resolve suggests.

 

D017 Support Regulations on Generative Artificial Intelligence. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

The first resolve begins by reaffirming 2022-D020, which we simply don’t need to do. Back then, the talk of the town was “Cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens” and so too was the focus of that resolution. Today’s talk is “generative artificial intelligence” and that’s what the resolution here focuses on. It proposes a series of “international frameworks” to restrict various aspects of AI. Look, I used to work at the MIT Media Lab, and so I know a thing or two about technology. I am super concerned about AI, though I also see the potential for it to improve human life for many people. My hunch is that most deputies and bishops could not give even a simple definition of generative artificial intelligence, let alone the large language model (LLM) natural language processing computation models that drive AI systems. If we don’t quite understand a thing, we should not be proposing regulatory frameworks fot it. Perhaps the best tactic would be for Episcopalians who are skilled in computer science and related disciplines to pay attention on our behalf and sound the alarm when needed.

As an aside, if we had pointed a chatbot at the virtual binder and digital archives, it could have really helped a lot of folks write better resolutions!

 

D021 Support for Child Labor Protections. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution is out of order because the resolution itself refers to an external document (Fair Labor Standards Act) which is not provided in either English or Spanish.

Child labor is abhorrent, as this resolution rightly notes. The resolution opposes the weakening of child labor laws in the US. Next, we find a series of policies to “strengthen and enforce child labor laws.” Finally, the resolution says that the “Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church take this resolution into account in the implementation of its corporate human rights screen and in corporate advocacy.” It’s unclear to me if an Executive Council committee can appropriately be directed this way by a General Convention resolution; perhaps it’s just fine. But it also suggests there’s a more efficient path here: the committee could just do this without needing a resolution. I cannot imagine that Congress or state legislatures are likely to change their tune because of something we did in Louisville.

 

D027 Addressing Traffic Fatalities. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Here is yet another resolution that includes external documents in its explanation for which Spanish translations are not provided.

Too many people die every year due to car crashes — pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, and passengers. So says this resolution, and it’s true. The resolution then goes on to propose a set of ways that we can reduce traffic fatalities including street design, vehicle design, and public transit, among other things. If passed, the Office of Government Relations would advocate for the stated policies at the “local, state, national, and international levels of governance.” They’d be busy! Finally, the resolution encourages “congregations to assess both the transportation needs of their members and traffic safety needs of their parking lots and surrounding neighborhood, collaborate with local organizations on traffic safety issues, and advocate at the local level for improvements to reduce traffic fatalities.” I do appreciate that, almost uniquely among the resolutions heading to this committee, we are calling for change on the part of the church instead of merely directing others. However, I’m not sure that the average congregation will be able to pull this off. Overall, this resolution is a textbook case in noting a serious social problem but not moving the needle much on a solution. Episcopalians who are concerned about traffic safety can pray, contact politicians, and volunteer in local organizations. THAT will be effective.

 

D028 Close Guantánamo Bay Prison. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Here is yet another resolution that includes external documents in its explanation — and with the resolution — for which Spanish translations are not provided.

This resolution would “reaffirm and renew our call from March 2007 (in Executive Council Resolution EXC032007.31) to close and commit to never reopening the U.S. military detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, or any similar site.” As I’ve noted many times, we do not need to reaffirm resolutions of General Convention (or Executive Council), and doing so may undermine our governance in suggesting that resolutions have a shelf life. Aside from that, this resolution also commends the Office of Government Relations for its work since 2007 working to carry out that resolution. I’m grateful for their work, but I’m pretty sure they don’t need us to pass resolutions to tell them we are thankful. I pray that Guantánamo Bay Prison closes, as it’s morally (and legally) repugnant. But I just don’t see that this will close it any sooner.

 

D034 Support and Advocacy for Restorative Justice and a Moral Commitment to Abolition of Prisons and Policing. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution is out of order because the resolution itself refers to an external document (NDAA Section 1033, whatever that is) which is not provided in either English or Spanish. Also, here is yet another resolution that includes external documents in its explanation for which Spanish translations are not provided.

To begin with a note of gratitude, I really appreciate that this resolution has the Episcopal Church repenting of our failure to condemn chattel slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries. I further appreciate the invocation of scripture within the resolution in support of its aims, which is almost unprecedented in the zillions of resolutions I’ve read so far. More repentance and Bible at General Convention, please!

There’s a lot in this resolution, and you should go read the whole thing. Sometimes, I can summarize them in these comments in two or three sentences, but this one covers a lot of ground. But the fundamental aim is to “advocate for the abolition of prisons and policing.” I fully agree with the proposers of this resolution that the current system of policing and prisons is racist and also fails to honor the dignity of those who encounter police or prisons (my paraphrase). However, I’m personally not ready to call for the complete abolition of police and prisons. I can only hope for the time when our Lord comes in glory, the world will know no need for police or prisons. Until then, I think it’s profoundly unrealistic. Better to focus our aims on the realistic and necessary reform of prisons and police.

Sometimes I wonder if people who support abolition have visited prisons. I’m sure some have. In my own visits to prisons, I’ve met people who were scarred by prison, and I’ve met people whose lives were saved by prisons. None of this is easy, and none of it will be improved by the passage of this resolution. For now, Lord, have mercy on us all.

 

D039 Condemning Censorship. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Here is yet another resolution that includes external documents in its explanation for which Spanish translations are not provided.

The first resolve “calls upon dioceses, congregations, and the Office of Government Relations to condemn the recent surge in actions to restrict access to or censor information in public schools and libraries…” As you almost certainly know, various politicians have worked to ban books in a way that is particularly damaging to LGBTQIA+ folks and people of color. This censorship is antithetical to the point of a good education and it is against the commitment to free exchange of ideas that the US long celebrated. So I agree entirely in condemning censorship. Probably it is more effective for me as a voter to contact my Congressional and state representatives than to pass a resolution at a church meeting. The second resolve of the resolution says “That The Episcopal Church take action to safeguard people’s rights to access diverse books and information resources.” How, exactly? Every member of the Episcopal Church? Organizations? Bishops? It’s vague in a way that ensures inaction. Censorship is terrible, but I can’t see this resolution changing the reality on the ground. Better for us to contact politicians as voters. And we can commit to avoid censorship within the church. Oh, yeah, and we should pray.

 

D042 Ending Child and Forced Marriage. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Here is yet another resolution that includes an external document (and a video) in its explanation for which Spanish translations are not provided.

This resolution seeks to get Episcopalians to advocate for a minimum age of 18 for marriage in all states. It also seeks to support policies that end forced marriages. At present, some states allow marriage at age 16 and others have no minimum, according to the explanation. Though the explanation for the resolution focuses on US states, the language of the resolution itself would appear to apply to all nations of the Episcopal Church. Of course, I am repulsed by forced marriage and the marriage of young children. However, I don’t think this resolution in itself changes much. I would also appreciate this resolution more if it (or its explanation) used religious language in any way. When we speak on moral matters, we should sound like followers of Jesus Christ, not politicians or media pundits.

5 Responses

  1. SarahELawton@gmail.com says:

    Hi again, Scott. A few thoughts about these (you knew I would).

    As you know, I appreciate our policy resolutions. Our Office of Government Relations does effective coalition work in Washington DC with other faith groups, and has productive conversations (and prayer!–they offer morning prayer for the Episcopalians on the Hill) with policy makers in both the legislative and executive branches, even in this time of polarization. Along with many other Episcopalians, I always respond to the action alerts put out by the Episcopal Public Policy Network based on our resolutions, and I read the thoughtful educational materials they put out with the alerts. I frequently refer to these actions and resolutions in my own local community work, and I know others do as well.

    I also know our Office of Government Relations is careful not to go outside the bounds of our resolutions in the work they do, so our policy resolutions enable our very dedicated staff to speak for us when they would not otherwise be able to do so. When I write a resolution I usually ask OGR to look at it to identify any concerns–they don’t make the policies, obviously, but I want our resolutions to be helpful for them. I try to fill in policy gaps.

    Along those lines, with regard to the traffic fatality resolution, it’s my understanding from talking with OGR staff that there indeed are opportunities to engage with some of these issues at the federal level now, but OGR has not been able to respond to these requests because neither General Convention nor Executive Council has ever addressed this issue. At the local level, lots of us are involved in local advocacy as individuals and even congregations in issues of traffic calming, support for pedestrians and cyclists, and support for public transit as a justice issue; it would be great to be able to cite this resolution and possibly OGR materials in this work, to have moral language, not just pragmatic language, on the issue. (By the way, this is a very personal issue for me since my parents were killed in a car crash 33 years ago on a terrible undivided highway that is known for its many fatalities; while I didn’t write or submit the resolution, I encouraged my DioCal deputy colleague to do so.)

    With regard to the child labor resolution, which I did write, you asked about the Executive Council Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility, which I happen to chair right now. The answer is yes, CCSR has received direction from the General Convention and the Executive Council many times over its 50+ year history! We’ve been asked to advocate as a shareholder with companies on many issues, and in some cases to set up screens to divest from companies on issues such as tobacco, private prisons, fossils fuels, militarism, and human rights.

    Here’s why we need resolutions like this one to guide our work. Each year CCSR creates a big workplan, including a plan for proxy voting (which we do in partnership with CPG); a plan for about 40 advocacy actions–letters to circulate, meetings with companies, etc.–to be carried out with our consultants, Mercy Investments and Heartland Initiative; and, to a much smaller degree, we may propose to add some companies to our No Buy list based on the screens that we have been directed to set up by General Convention. We then submit our annual workplan to the Executive Council for approval. We have to justify this workplan based on the resolutions passed by General Convention and Executive Council–we are not making up Episcopal Church corporate advocacy policy on our own! CCSR works very closely with the director of OGR, who sits on the committee as a staff liaison, to understand our policy resolutions and what we can and cannot say based on the policy resolution given to us by General Convention and Executive Council.

    It’s true that CCSR already has some very general General Convention policy language on labor violations in the supply chain to work with, but I can tell you it would be helpful for us as a committee to have stronger and more specific language (which we can use in the advocacy work, in the meetings and letters, etc.) regarding the surge of child labor violations and the well-funded and coordinated attempts by some industries and companies to change the laws at the state and ultimately federal level. And it is a surge: since 2021, twenty-eight states have introduced bills to weaken state laws regulating child labor, and twelve states have enacted them as of February 2024. As you know, in my secular life I work in at the intersection of research and labor (hence my role in Frances Perkins winning the Golden Halo in Lent Madness in 2013, as you may recall) so I’ve been following the child labor surge with great concern. I highly recommend reading Hannah Dreier’s series in the NYTimes (gift link below) to understand the surge in harm being done to children right now, involving products we all purchase:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/25/us/unaccompanied-migrant-child-workers-exploitation.html?u2g=c&unlocked_article_code=1.xE0.yuLL.kTmfQb48skOn&smid=url-share

    Guantanamo: I wrote this one as well. It’s been a long time, almost two decades, since we said anything at all, and never at General Convention; and while I agree it’s not helpful to reiterate policy positions over and over, the situation on the ground in Guantanamo has changed: quite simply, most people have forgotten about it; they think the Obama Administration took care of it, or they want to forget, so the early momentum from the Obama years to resolve the situation has slowed. This is a case where a little attention is good. I mentioned the work of OGR because they have been among the only faith voices still speaking (on our behalf) on this issue in Washington, in collaboration with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Guantanamo detention center, the torture that happened there and the men still held without charge, is a moral stain on the United States.

    I don’t expect this resolution to take much time in legislative committee and probably none on the floor, but I think it’s worth registering after all these years that we are not forgetting the men who are languishing there, and and to say that we uphold their dignity and the rule of law. It will give a boost to those who are still working on this issue, after all these years.

    Finally, regarding prison abolition. Yes, it’s a complex issue, and a complex industry, but worth grappling with at a deeper level than just passing this and that resolution. Jesus actually talked about prisoners. What is the Gospel call here to us as disciples? I would call attention to the recent essay in The Living Church by Hannah Bowman, who is not a deputy but is one the authors of the resolution. Yes, she is involved in this work on a deep level: https://livingchurch.org/covenant/abolition-is-gospel-work/. I think she raises important Gospel questions and I hope this resolution will push us to engage in them more deeply.

    Okay, this was a responsa-palooza to your post! As always (how many years now?), I appreciate the opportunity to engage on these topics, even when we disagree. For me, this work is part of my discipleship. I can’t separate from my prayer life, from my congregational life (we’re a very active, largely LGBTQ urban church in the anglo-catholic slum church tradition; or from works of service and mercy (my church is open from early in the morning to evening to serve our unhoused neighbors, so we are deeply involved in service as well as advocacy). It’s Christian life for me, to bring these concerns forward. I’m always happy to have conversation about them, and I’m willing to learn from the other deputies and bishops in the room.

    Faithfully,
    Sarah Lawton
    Lay Deputy, California

    • Scott Gunn says:

      Dear Sarah,

      Thank you! I *knew* you’d have something to say about these resolutions, and I’m grateful for your time in sharing your comment.

      It’s interesting that CCSR has received direction over the years from GC. I makes senses, given the way we’ve done things. One of the things that I think we disagree about is that when we DO take policy decisions, my sense is that we’d be better off with the smallest group possible doing that work, because I think it’s more likely people will have time to do the in-depth work. At GC, I worry that many deputies and bishops don’t make time to do much homework, and we are more likely to weigh in unhelpfully. But, as you say, I’m ready to learn from deputies and bishops in the room.

      In a time of strident disagreement and dehumanization, I’m especially thankful for your gracious comments and for your efforts to educate me and others. If we could all learn to speak with graciousness more often, our church and our world would be better off.

      Peace,
      Scott

      • SarahELawton@gmail.com says:

        Thank you, Scott.

        I will say that the public testimony I’ve heard this year, even though only two minutes, is often quite thoughtful as well as passionate — and I do appreciate zoom hearings for public testimony. What I miss is the committee deliberations together in person; I think we’re missing something important by not being in the same room. I recall a labor resolution I brought forward in 2018, on just transition / decarbonization issues; even though I wasn’t on that committee that year, I ended up going for coffee with a subcommittee member of that committee who was focused on this resolution, who was from Pittsburgh. He had a perspective on fossil fuel extraction as a driver of the economy, and he also had a perspective on the importance of labor. He wanted to understand the reasoning behind some of the specific policies in my resolution. We had a lovely conversation, batted around some phrasings and ideas, and the resolution ultimately passed in a perfected version that was made better by his amendments. We had enough spaciousness and openness to have that conversation, and it was good. That’s I missed in the Covid convention of 2022. I’m missing it now in our online deliberations (not the testimony, but the committee conversations).

        Anyway, thank you for your kind words. Graciousness is something I value in many of my interactions at General Convention and I hope to model it.

        Blessings,
        Sarah

  2. SarahELawton@gmail.com says:

    Also – for more on CCSR’s work over 50+ years, we have a video! Just 30 minutes but lots of info:
    https://www.episcopalchurch.org/video/the-ccsr-story/

    It did take a policy resolution to move our Church forward on opposing apartheid – and we helped to kickstart a faith-based investor movement in corporate shareholder advocacy.

  3. Sandy says:

    I very much appreciate your focus on the efficacy of resolutions and supporting resolutions that involve action over stating opinions. This perspective is badly needed in today’s world.

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