Friday, July 6, 2018
Most of the debate of General Convention happens not in the large legislative sessions, in which all deputies or all bishops gather to debate particular resolutions, but it legislative committees. Every piece of legislation is given a public hearing, at which anyone is welcome to testify. Every piece of legislation is debated in committee and then acted upon, and that action--actually a recommendation--is then brought to the whole House. Many resolutions then end up on the Consent Calendar because the committee feels that all the debate that is fruitful has already taken place. Other resolutions get debated again in the House, but then it's usually for no more than thirty minutes--more often closer to six--before a vote is taken, and the House moves on to something else.
Because of that, if you want to see where the real clash of opinions happens, you should go to a committee meeting. But which one? Last night, the legislative committee that is dealing with liturgy and music heard testimony on the resolution authorizing a change in the prayer book. But I was in my own committee meeting, hearing testimony on several resolutions, including one that calls for the expansion of paid family leave. In that moment, I encountered two limitations of this legislative process. First, I could not hear or take part in the debate on prayer book revision. Instead, I'll have to try to piece together an understanding of how it went through conversations and by reading social media posts. I'm sure it will come up on the floor, but that debate will only be a tiny sliver of the rich conversation that takes place in the committee setting. The other limitation that I encountered, one that I find even more frustrating, is the fact that the fruit of the process isn't always best, and I have to learn to live with imperfection.
In particular, we debated resolutions C004 and C052, which, except for their title, are identical. They call, admittedly in a rather awkward fashion, for the expansion of paid family leave. Here's my take on how the debate went. At the last General Convention, we also heard calls for the expansion of family leave, though those calls centered on parental leave. Birth mothers can get short-term disability coverage, but other parents, including fathers, co-parents, and adoptive mothers, are not necessarily entitled to any leave. There are many in the church who would like to change that, and here is the resolution that passed at the last General Convention. But here it is before us again because nothing has happened.
Initially, the debate in our committee made it clear that we wanted to do something. It wasn't good enough for us to kick this can down the road for another three years and call for a study. We wanted something with teeth. We proposed some amendments to do more than study but to try to implement something, at least in part. Then, before we finished, we put it aside so that we could move on to another topic. Then, last night, a hearing happened on C004 and C052. In the midst of that, a representative from CPG rightly noted that the resolution as it is drafted is clumsy. How can CPG pay for something that isn't an insurance benefit? Where will the money come from? Are we calling for a study? Do we want a church-wide policy? Do we want to ask dioceses to develop a policy? The debate stalled. The tide shifted. Suddenly, someone found the resolution from the previous Convention. Then, someone else noted that resolution C019, which belongs in another committee, calls for the creation of a task force to study the matter. It's a neater resolution, not as messy as ours. There was a motion to discharge and not act on our version. Partly, that was because it was someone else's job. Partly, that was because it had already been addressed. Partly, that's because we didn't have an easy answer. Partly, that's because it was 9pm, and we were tired, and we were ready to go. And so we let it go. It may come up on the floor. It may not. There wasn't an easy answer, but it seems the best our committee will say to the church workers who need paid time off for a birth or to care for a loved one whose parishes cannot afford it and who have been asking for help for at least three years is that you should ask your diocese to help. It's not our problem.
In today's gospel reading from the Daily Office (Matthew 22:15-22), the Pharisees come to Jesus and ask him a question: "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" But Jesus knew their malice. He knew that they were asking him a question for the purpose of catching him. So he asked them to bring him a coin. "Whose head is this, and whose title?" It was, of course, the emperors. "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s." In a sense, it was the perfect answer. They were amazed. But, in another way, it was imperfect. What does that mean? How does that help? What belongs to the emperor when everything belongs to God? Jesus' answer may not have solved the problem, but it addressed it fully and in a holy way. I can live with that. Today, I'm struggling to live with moments when the Convention gives an answer that neither solves the problem nor addresses it fully. And I'm asking God to help me know when the struggle is my problem and not someone else's.