Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"But I Thought You Said This Was a Hierarchy!"

Here are some fundamental preachings from 815 and its allies:

The General Convention - with its House of Bishops and House of Clerical and Lay Deputies - represents the highest authority within the Church. . . .

The authority of the General Convention is the center of the hierarchical nature of The Episcopal Church. Its authority gives unity and leadership to the Church and its mission.
--Prof. Robert Bruce Mullin, Affidavit filed in support of ECUSA in Ft. Worth Litigation

As the highest legislative authority of The Episcopal Church, the General Convention is the body that will ultimately decide The Episcopal Church’s position . . .
-- Executive Council of ECUSA, A Response to Resolution ACC-14
The General Convention holds all authority in The Episcopal Church . . .
-- Bonnie Anderson, President, House of Deputies, in her speech opening GC 2009. See also this quote to the press, before GC 2009 opened:
Anderson pointed out the importance of General Convention to the church. "All other positions and bodies in the Episcopal Church derive their authority from General Convention," she said.
And the clergy chime in, as well:
The highest authority in the Episcopal Church, for example, is the General Convention, and the chief prelate is the Presiding Bishop.
--The Rev. Walt Zelley (ret.), Diocese of New Jersey
The General Convention is superior to any given individual diocese, and establishes laws that limit what the dioceses can do.
--The Rev. Tobias Haller, Diocese of New York

Even the Encyclopedia Britannica has joined the chorus (note, however, the factual error in the statement):
The highest authority in the church is the General Convention, which is headed by the presiding bishop (elected by the House of Bishops).
And here is an enactment by the "highest authority" within the Episcopal Church (USA), binding on the Church "at all levels":

Resolution Number: 2003-A130
Title: Support the Establishment of a Living Wage
Legislative Action Taken: Concurred as Amended
Final Text:
Resolved, That the 74th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, through the Secretary of the Convention, call upon the President of the United States and members of Congress to establish a living wage including health benefits as the standard of compensation for all workers in the United States; and be it further

Resolved, That it is the policy of The Episcopal Church and its dioceses and congregations to provide employees with a living wage including health benefits and be a model for ethical labor practices; and be it further

Resolved, That it is the policy of The Episcopal Church to insist that companies in which the Church invests or with which it contracts provide their employees with a living wage and serve as a model for ethical labor practices; and be it further

Resolved, That the 74th General Convention continue to support living wage campaigns in the cities and counties of every diocese; and be it further

Resolved, That the 74th General Convention strongly affirm the right of workers to organize as protected by federal and state law especially in low wage industries and businesses and including the institutions of every diocese.

Not content with that, the same "highest authority" within the Episcopal Church passed a similar enactment three years later, to wit:
Resolution Number: 2006-D047
Title: Support Worker Unions and a Living Wage
Legislative Action Taken: Concurred as Amended
Final Text:

Resolved, That the 75th General Convention support actively the right of workers to form a union, and increase the support in our cities and states for passage of “living wage” legislation; and be it further

Resolved, That the Convention commit the Church at all levels to contract solely with union hotels in its meetings, or to obtain confirmation that local prevailing “living wages” are paid by all hotels the Church uses; and be it further

Resolved, That the 75th General Convention strongly urge the Church Center staff and especially the General Convention Planning Office to assure that dioceses that host events of The Episcopal Church comply with GC2003-A130 and provide a living wage for their employees . . .
And at its latest session, the "highest authority" of the Episcopal Church (USA) passed not one, but two binding enactments on the subject of fair wages for common laborers. First was this:

Resolution: C083
Title: Support for Day Laborers
Topic: Labor
Committee: 10 - Social and Urban Affairs
House of Initial Action: Bishops
Legislative Action Taken: Concurred
Proposer: Diocese of Virginia

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 76th General Convention commend the actions of elected officials and community leaders who have established and are establishing sites at which day laborers are treated fairly and in a manner which befits their communities; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention call upon the dioceses of the Episcopal Church to recognize and support these efforts and those involved in endeavoring to create a just environment for day-labor employment.

And next came this -- a measure which may be fairly said to have crowned nine years of advocating "social justice" for union laborers:
Resolution: D039
Title: Fix Our Broken Labor Laws
Topic: Labor
Committee: 09 - National and International Concerns
House of Initial Action: Deputies
Legislative Action Taken: Concurred
Proposer: The Rev. William E. Exner

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church urge the Congress of the United States to pass, and the President to sign into law, labor law reform legislation designed to better protect employees seeking to engage in collective bargaining, to simplify and streamline the procedures by which employees may choose to organize, and to assist employers and employees in reaching agreement. Said legislation should contain the following elements:

1. Provide workers the choice of seeking union recognition either through an election, or through a majority sign-up on cards which are then verified by the National Labor Relations Board.

2. Adopt more effective remedies for violations of employees' rights, comparable to the remedies for discrimination provided by existing civil rights laws.

3. Where the employers and unions are unable to reach agreement on their first collective bargaining agreement within a reasonable period of time, resolve the dispute by submitting it to mediation and if mediation is unsuccessful, then to binding arbitration; and be it further

Resolved, That church members and the Office of Government Relations communicate the position of the Episcopal Church on this issue to the President and Members of Congress, and advocate passage of federal legislation consistent with this Resolution.
In justification of this last resolution, the following explanation was offered:
The Episcopal Church supports the right of workers to organize unions and to bargain collectively for better wages, hours and working conditions. The Executive Council in 1991 expressed alarm at reprisals taken against workers who seek to organize union, issuing the following statement:

"The Executive Council deplores reprisals taken against workers who exercise their rights to initiate collective bargaining as protected by federal and state statutes; calls upon corporate and business leaders to respect the letter and the spirit of the National Labor Relations Act; supports all working Americans, whether organized into unions or not, in the struggle to restore fairness in the workplace; and calls upon our congregation and local communities to reach out to working people who have been denied their jobs, their respect and their livelihoods, joining with them in their struggle for justice and fair compensation."
Well, how does this "hierarchical relationship", with General Convention acting to bind all the other levels of the Church, work out in practice? The following news item may serve to enlighten you:
They worked for years cleaning and maintaining the Episcopal Church Center in midtown Manhattan. But after they were fired on Dec. 30, nine hard-working people are in desperate need of divine intervention.

"We came to work on Dec. 30 as every day, hoping to leave a little earlier to celebrate the new year," said Bronx native Héctor Miranda, a father of three. "But when we got to the building we were told that we no longer worked there. Just like that. They picked the date well to fire us."

Now, without the means to support his family, Miranda has no idea how he will pay the rent.

"Even worse," he said, "without health coverage I don't know how I am going to pay for my wife's treatment. She is a diabetic, you know."

The workers lost their jobs - which paid standard wages and benefits - when the church canceled the contract with Paris Maintenance, a union cleaning contractor, and replaced it with the nonunion Benjamin Enterprises.
My, oh my -- what a resounding demonstration of the sincerity of the Episcopal Church (USA), and the diligence with which it adheres to resolutions of its "highest authority", at all levels. What a convincing message to send to the President and Members of Congress about how the Episcopal Church stands behind its words, and backs them up with action -- whenever the constraints of maintaining some fifty lawsuits across the country, to preserve the legacy of the Church intact for future generations, do not get in the way.

In fact, the sincerity of the Episcopal Church (USA) on this subject was so great just last summer that deputies to the General Convention at Anaheim marched on Disneyland to carry the following message:
Episcopalians attending General Convention linked arms with hotel workers July 14 to march to the gates of Disneyland to demand economic justice for 2,300 Disney employees . . .

"It seems to me, as our church has moved toward a position of justice for all its members, particularly in the area of health care, this is the perfect opportunity for the church to witness to the world about its convictions regarding economic justice," said the Rev. Lisa Hackney, from the Diocese of Ohio. . .

. . .
A letter in support of Disney workers signed by 13 Episcopal bishops said they were taking seriously "our call to stand with the poor and those who are suffering from injustice." The protest included Episcopal bishops Greg Rickel (Olympia), Gene Robinson (New Hampshire) and Barbara Harris (retired of Massachusetts).

Henry Atkins Jr., of the Episcopal Church Peace and Justice Commission of the Diocese of Los Angeles, is asking Episcopalians to boycott Disney hotels if the workers ask.

"We're now marching with these people who are working for Disney for their rights, their privileges that they deserve as human beings," said Bishop Bruno. "We ask you to let us turn the eyes of Disney toward justice and mercy; toward benefits, and the things necessary for people to live a just and abundant life."
But those noble sentiments did not apply last week to people who worked for 815 itself:
Last Thursday, more than 100 people gathered in front of the church to support the workers and ask church officials to help them get their jobs back.

"They [church officials] just looked out the windows," said Colombian-born Andrea Saavedra, 32, who worked at the church building for two years and 16 for Paris Maintenance.
For the Church's official spokespersons, no explanation was necessary. The Church was just carrying on business as usual:
"It needs to be clear that looking for a new contract is a normal business procedure," said church spokeswoman Neva Rae Fox.
. . .

Linda Watts, chief operating officer of the Episcopal Church, put out an official statement: "Budget constraints have prompted The Episcopal Church to review all contracts and to implement cost-cutting measures where possible," she said. No mention of the plight of the nine men and women thrown out to the streets or of lending them a helping hand.
Ah, but this is a church, remember -- and a hierarchical one, at that. So not to worry -- there was some official recognition of the policies laid down by the past three General Conventions. For look what the fired workers found when they showed up for what turned out to be their last day on the job:
"Good luck, we wish you all the best," read the note the workers found in their lockers on Dec. 30.

And that is how a true "hierarchy" operates: the ones at the top, you see, are all for anything that keeps them there; those at the bottom are fully expendable -- especially when it comes to having to pay those expensive attorneys to maintain all those nasty lawsuits against dioceses and parishes, and their bishops, clergy and vestries, across all this wide country.

Hypocrisy? Perish the thought: it's just a matter of priorities -- as determined by a true hierarchy.


  1. "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." James 2:14-17

    Just saying.....

  2. Years of silly resolutions that are ignored and not enforced indicates either a non-hierarchal structure, or a corrupt hierarchal structure. Which one is it?

  3. Dear Underground Pewster,

    I believe that you have ignored a third hypothesis, but mayhap that is because it is implicit in the two you state. Namely, it is more likely, based on the evidence to date, that an apt description of TEC's structure is that it is both non-hierarchical and corrupt.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  4. Y'all don't understand. The faith of the Episcopal Church is a living faith. The spirit moved in one direction at General Convention and now the spirit is moving in another direction.

    The only bits of Scripture that are written in stone are those that mention tithing. Those portions of Scripture are immutable. Everything else is open to discussion.

    Flexibility is all.

  5. Pewster:

    Why don't we just try a "corrupt non-hierarchical" structure and see if the shoe fits.

    What I suspect we will find is that it fits very well indeed because, by their consistent patterns of behavior, their acts and failures to act, it is painfully obvious to most reasonable people that the TEC crowd are not wearing the "shoes of the Fisherman".

  6. Martial Artist,

    You got the picture!


    I like that one. Especially since it is not enforced by the non- hierarchy.