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[ENS, by Mary Frances Schjonberg] The House of Bishops of the US-based Episcopal Church said that its members will support a major social movement to end sexual harassment, violence and gender bias. In a statement, the bishops said they knew that 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.
The statement was “accepted” during their annual spring retreat, according to a press release issued by the church’s Office of Public Affairs. The bishops are gathered 6-9 March at Camp Allen, an Episcopal camp and conference centre in Navasota, Texas.
In their statement, the bishops note that this is the first time the House of Bishops has met as a body since the #MeToo movement began last autumn.
“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, honouring 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 4 July from 5.15 to 7 pm in the House of Bishops convention meeting space.
The bishops’ plan follows a 22 January letter from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Revd 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.