House of Bishops pledges advocacy to end gun violence, sexual violence

March 7, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops said March 7 its members will support two major social movements, one to end gun violence and the other to end sexual harassment, violence and gender bias.

The bishops said they “wholeheartedly support and join” young people who survived the deadly Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in their call for an end to gun violence.

In the other statement, they said they knew the “church has fallen short of our responsibility to listen and respond” to “the reality of sexual harassment, gender-based violence, and the cultural stronghold of gender bias and inequity.” The bishops “invite the church to a deeper examination of what God intends for our relationships,” including at the July meeting of General Convention.

Both statements were “accepted” during their annual spring retreat, according to press releases issued by the church’s Office of Public Affairs. The bishops are gathered March 6-9 at Camp Allen, an Episcopal camp and conference center in Navasota, Texas.

Bishops say students are ‘choosing life’

In their statement on the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, the bishops noted that “at this critical moment young people of our nation are inviting us to turn away from the nightmare of gun violence to the dream of choosing life,” the bishops said

The statement endorses the goals of the student organizers of the March for Our Lives, scheduled for March 24 in Washington, D.C. Companion marches are planned in many U.S. cities and towns, and many Episcopal bishops have voiced their support for those marches. The bishops’ statement reiterated that support.

They also pledged to observe “a day of Lament and Action” on March 14, one month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which killed 17 students and adults.

The bishops said that, while they stand in support of the students’ efforts “we acknowledge that black and brown youth have continuously challenged our country to address the gun violence that they and their communities are experiencing,” the bishops said. “We repent that, as bishops, we have failed to heed their call.”

Some commentators have observed that the media and the public in general have appeared to be more sympathetic to the calls to end gun violence that have come from predominantly white communities. Others have expressed concern about potential racial bias among teachers who might be armed, as President Donald Trump and others have proposed.

The bishops said they “recommit to working for safe gun legislation as our church has called for in multiple General Convention resolutions.”

The Episcopal Church bishops acted a day after receiving a letter from Episcopalians Philip and April Schentrup, the parents of 16-year-old Carmen Schentrup, who was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. The Schentrups attend St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in nearby Coral Springs, Florida, where their daughter was a youth group leader. Southeast Florida Bishop Peter Eaton shared the letter with the bishops.

“In our attempt to heal from despair and grief, we are compelled to try and make the world a better place for our two remaining children and for all children,” the parents told the bishops, imploring them “as leaders of Christ’s church, to address the issue of gun violence head-on.

“We ask that you make this a priority for the church and to leave little ambiguity as to ‘what would Jesus do.’ The scourge of gun violence on this nation, especially with military assault rifles, is a problem of our own creation and counter to God’s desire for peace and love. As a nation we can solve this problem, and as leaders of the church in our country, we ask that you help lead the way. In Christ’s name, we beg you to take action.”

They also asked the bishops to “to come with us to stand up for the lives of children and for the ministry of Christ’s church” during the March 24 events.

“One can only imagine the example of leadership and solidarity that such a showing could make on our fractured and divided country,” the Schentrups wrote.

Responding to the #MeToo movement

In their statement on sexual harassment and violence, the bishops note that this is the first time the House of Bishops has met as a body since the #MeToo movement began last fall.

“Many of us have experienced sexual harassment and perhaps sexual violence,” they wrote. “Bishops who are women know the ‘me-too’ experience. Some bishops who are men know it as well. We live with different experiences of the cultural endowment of power.”

The house pledged to continue what it called “our own work of reconciliation within our branch of God’s church, honoring what we have learned and accomplished, as well as acknowledging the distance we still must travel.”

They said that the work “will take courage.

“As many women and men bravely come forward to speak the truth of their experience, courageous men and women will listen, where appropriate repent, and take an active role in repairing the brokenness, working to change the culture of our church.”

The statement also announced what the bishops called a “listening process in an open meeting at General Convention to hear more fully the stories of those who have been victims of sexual harassment and violence in the church.” That session will be July 4 from 5:15 to 7 p.m. in the House of Bishops convention meeting space.

The bishops’ plan follows a Jan. 22 letter from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, calling on Episcopalians to spend Lent and beyond examining how the church has handled or mishandled cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse. The letter also said that they wanted General Convention to discuss these issues because they “want to hear the voice of the wider church as we determine how to proceed in both atoning for the church’s past and shaping a more just future.”

Jennings later announced that she would appoint and chair a special House of Deputies committee on resolutions regarding sexual harassment and exploitation. The committee will have five subcommittees to draft resolutions on inclusive theology and language; disparities in pay, hiring, leave and pensions; changes to the Title IV disciplinary process and training; truth and reconciliation; and systemic social justice beyond the church. The committee appointments were announced a week ago.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.

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