“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” -Desmond Tutu
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- September 10, 2015
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Working as a legislative aide for Oasis and Integrity during the 78th General Convention, I saw a multitude of living, breathing examples that the Episcopal Church does not and will not remain neutral in situations of injustice. Though it may seem to some on the outside (or even the inside) that the Episcopal Church is an old, curmudgeon who despises change, the experience I had at General Convention showed me something quite different. I witnessed a church that is alive and passionate. A church that is willing to lay its heart on the line in order to do what is right. A church that truly does seek justice and peace for all and respects the dignity of every human being.
The most poignant example of this justice-seeking Episcopal Church that I was able to witness as an Integrity intern at General Convention was ‘tracking’ the Marriage Committee. As an intern, one of my jobs was to keep track of all the legislation that was important to Integrity and Oasis. At this convention, that meant I got to hang out at the Marriage Committee meetings a lot. I would arrive at 7:30am with my coffee and hard-boiled egg to start my day with them, and I would end my day in prayer with them at the close of their meetings at 8:30pm. From day one, it was easy to see that this group of 25 or so people were committed to hearing each other out and prayerfully and thoughtfully making decisions on the resolutions before them. It was clear from the beginning that they were going to respect one another no matter what their differences were. I was relieved to see this because on my second night at convention I ended up testifying in front of the Marriage Committee. I spoke for resolution pertaining to marriage equality and explained to the committee that I hoped the Episcopal Church would be able to say fifty years from now that they stood on the side of justice and equality. I was nervous, but for the next few days, many people on the Marriage Committee thanked me for my testimony. Being able to testify for these resolutions, and hearing all the other passionate and insightful testimonies of others was truly an outward, visible sign of the inward, spiritual grace of the Episcopal Church.
So, over the next several days, I spent my time listening to the Marriage Committee discuss the important issue of marriage equality. My most memorable experience came on a Friday morning. I was at an early morning committee hearing listening to these 25 dedicated Episcopalians discuss how to bring justice to all through marriage equality when one of them raised their hand. They announced that SCOTUS had ruled to make same-sex marriage a right nationwide. It was a surreal moment. Here I was, listening to 25 Episcopalians discuss their opinions about marriage equality as a church, both the negatives and the positives, and then get the news that the United States has made it a right for all. It was an overwhelmingly beautiful moment. It only made it clearer to everyone in the room that their work became that much more important. The Marriage Committee did a marvelous job of crafting a resolution that would seek justice for all while trying not hurt those who were not yet ready for it.
The last part of my job as a resolution tracker was to go to the House of Deputies and House of Bishops to track the resolutions after they left the committees. I was astounded when the House of Bishops passed the resolutions that I had testified for and had been tracking so diligently. When you track resolutions like that, they begin to grow on you and you feel a need to stand up and fight for them. I was so relieved and inspired by the House of Bishops and their trust in the church and its people. I was proud that though they may have some qualms still, they are willing to set those aside and stand for justice. Seeing our leaders set aside their differences in order to do, not what was easy, but what was right was very rejuvenating. It just kept getting better when I was able to see the House of Deputies pass the resolutions with resounding majority. I was elated and enormously proud of the Episcopal Church. My mother, the Rev. Jane Johnson, served as a deputy at Convention. After the vote came through, I found her and hugged her tight. We cried tears of joy in each others arms. I found out the next day that our photo was taken in that moment and used in many news stories about the Episcopal Church passing these resolutions. I was happy that our joy could be used as a representation of the great work that the Episcopal Church accomplished that day.
As a cradle Episcopalian, I have heard one joke many, many times. ‘How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?’ ‘What! Change.’ It is true. I did bear witness at Convention to people who were afraid and uneasy of change. However, I also saw many more people who embraced change, especially when the change was to right a wrong. When the House of Deputies passed the marriage equality resolutions, my faith was renewed. Not only my faith in Christ, but my faith in my church. It was in that moment I knew that my beloved Episcopal Church would not remain neutral in situations of injustice. It was in that moment that I knew that as long as the Episcopal Church was seeking justice and peace for all, that I would be right there with it. Being a legislative aide for Oasis and Integrity gave me the opportunities to not only witness history, but be a witness for our church’s history.