Friday, July 13, 2018
Today is the last day to hear the dulcet tones of the Secretary respond to the President's question with, "The matter before the house is the Legislative Calendar. The next item on the Calendar is Report..." I love those words. Those words mean that we're getting something done. We've gotten a lot done, but there's still more to do, which is why we're starting at 8am today.
Today will be tedious. Most of the exciting, eye-grabbing work is done. We're finished with prayer book revision. We're essentially finished with access to same-sex liturgies. We've passed a budget. But there's still a lot of important work to do: the Book of Occasional Services, safeguarding issues, plenty of canonical amendments, and a host of other things. Still, it's probably safe to begin summarizing our work and reflecting on the substance of this Convention.
Despite what might grab headlines and get discussed back in our parishes, I think the most important work we have done is make space for individuals to tell their stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault. We began that work liturgically with a service designed by a group of bishops for stories of abuse within the church to be given voice and to be lamented by the congregation. They were terrible stories of clergy and other church leaders using their power to subject individuals to physical, emotional, and spiritual assault. And they were just a few stories. Everything I have heard leads me to believe that there are more stories like that throughout the church than anyone could count.
We also responded to this in the legislative process. We voted to suspend the statute of limitations on Title IV offenses for a three-year window so that victims might bring their stories to the clergy disciplinary process. We voted to make the omission of material facts by a postulant, candidate, or ordinand from the ordination process a Title IV violation. We are preparing to vote for a study on the vocations of women and minorities to try to explain why "there has not been adequate investment in [their] career development." And we voted to make the demographic data of all nominees for bishop elections available for study and publication in an attempt to address the lack of women and minorities in the House of Bishops. Those are important steps toward a safer church, but they aren't enough.
The treatment and value of women is one area in which I think the General Convention is in danger of becoming an echo chamber. Our home parishes will be interested in prayer book revision and same-sex marriage. They will want to know about budgets and liturgies. Will we stop to talk about the church's role in sexual assault and in covering it up? Will we likewise make space in our parishes for people to tell their stories without retaliation? Will we address the deeper issues of misogyny and patriarchy that upon which these acts and their shielding have been built? Just because the General Convention has voted to suspend the statute of limitations does not mean that anyone will tell their story. A canonical change does not suddenly make it easy for a woman to talk about the priest who abused her, the priest to admit how her bishop spoke to her, or the church worker to talk about the boss who treated her in subhuman ways. That requires a culture shift. It requires the unraveling of decades of patriarchy. It requires that the power structures of the church be turned on their heads. Will we take that back with us, or will this be a moment for the Church to pat herself on the back for spending a few hours pretending to take sexual assault and harassment seriously? In other words, we still have work to do.