Monday, June 7, 2021

The Audit, the Report, and Our Future


This is fourth in my series of blogs in response to the audit done in TEC on racism. In this one, I want to start with some observations following on the audit. Then I will turn to what I will called TEC’s missed opportunities. I will conclude by summarizing what the future holds for us if current trends continue. 

I was finally able to get a copy of the full report on the audit and their recommendations. I want to go on record that I think all our leaders and should read this revealing and helpful report. I recommend at least reading the executive summary.  I have a copy if you have trouble finding it. Of course, given our history and the fact that we remain a denomination predominately “white” by 90%, we have a great deal of introspection and work to do if we are to become more of the Church Jesus created and his mission compels us to be.

The recommendations based on the data found in the report best comes down to “continue to do the initiative we have begun toward becoming “the beloved community” and working on racial reconciliation.  It is with these conclusions that I have some reservations or at least counter thoughts.

When national leaders responded to the initial report, the consensus seemed to be expressed by our Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies. This was that the report was disappointing and revealed that we still have much work to do.  Fair enough, but if one digs further into the actual data, there is a stunning fact. Although 90% of TEC is white, 23% of our leadership is made up of “people of color.” Nothing is made of the simple fact that people of color are represented in leadership by twice the percentage of their membership.  This should have been explored more fully. Instead, we are told how much more work is needs to be done in this area, and sadly it is implied that people of color are often placed or elected in leaders for token purposes. 

I agree that people of color feel at times because of their lack of numbers to be placed in leadership as token representatives, but the report seems to me to point us toward a different conclusion. First, it is difficult for me to believe that our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is a token leader. I have known him for many years and always as a leader. I saw him as the best person with the right gifts to be in this office at this time.

Second, if we add to the percentage of people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, and, as I pointed out in my first blog, the significant movement of women into leadership since the 1970s, a much different picture emerges. Granted that these often intersect in one person as with the newly elected Bishop of Michigan, but the numbers reveal that TEC may already be the most inclusive and diverse Church in North America especially when it comes to leadership.  This is something to be celebrated by the Church and especially the Progressive leadership who have champion these issues.

It also reveals why so much of our conversation sounds like, as one astute commentator has suggested, the faculty lounge chat. This means language and words used, not in the mainstream of public life, but in the circle of college educated people.  Sad to say, TEC continues to be largely a community of elite people no matter what we think of our diversity or how hard we work toward inclusion.

This leads me to state a painfully obvious fact. The leaders of TEC today have been more evangelized and converted by secular culture than we have been able to evangelize and convert people from this culture.  We seem better at spreading doubt about faith and belief than we do about affirming its value to our society. Put another way, TEC is best educated to reach the least churched segment of our population, and yet we have failed badly in our efforts at apologetics for the place of religion, faith, and even Jesus to this group.

The outstanding counter example of this is the Presiding Bishop who gives such a compelling message of reconciliation, forgiveness and love, the values of the Jesus Movement, every opportunity he gets. My question is simple this. Why do so many leaders in our community who admire him, fail to do a better job at following his example?

When I studied evangelism many years ago, I learned that it is easier for people to evangelize those who are more like them. Teachers called this “picking the low hanging fruit first.” Has not TEC done exactly this related to leadership? We have done our best work of including in our leadership women and gay/lesbian people because they were already in our membership.

I have already pointed out that one kind of low hanging fruit for TEC is Hispanic ministry, but even though they are close at hand, we have stumbled in the vast opportunity before us. Dare I ask if the issue here is not that they speak Spanish, but that many of them are not college educated? Think further, if we continue to require leaders in the Hispanic community to earn a college degree before entering the ordination process, is our elitism showing?  Every time I have asked this question among other Episcopalians, someone always says, “We can’t create a second-class order of priest. They will never be accepted among the other clergy.” If you cannot see the elitism in this statement, you are blind to our fundamental prejudice in TEC.  The real issue is not whether Hispanic clergy need to be accepted by the rest of our clergy. The issue is whether they can do ministry and be accepted by Hispanic people.

Where will the future find us? You will not find the answer in the Report or its recommendations. You will find it painfully written in our current trends.

If things continue as they have for the past two decades and as they are now, where will TEC be in the next two decades? The first answer is painfully GONE! Contrary to much of the Anglican Communion, we will be in a quickening cycle of decline with churches closings until the only thing left is General Convention managing the decreasing resources of a dying progressive denomination. 

The future for the Episcopal Church lies not in a inward preoccupation with our racial makeup but in having a compelling message of Jesus Christ and his movement.