'Clear Pattern of Institutional Racism' Emerges from Convention Audit

Episcopal News Service. July 25, 1991 [91150]

Mike Barwell, David Skidmore

The numbers are in, and it appears the church has some catching-up to do.

Deputies and bishops to the 70th General Convertion learned the results of a racism audit, conducted during the second day of convention, indicating that the church is not paying adequate attention to the problem of racism -- at least in the eyes of those surveyed.

The racism issue was brought to the forefront of General Convention months before bishops and deputies descended on Phoenix. Last November -- after Arizona voters defeated two conflicting ballot issues to establish a statewide paid holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.-- a number of leaders called for a boycott of Phoenix and demanded that the convention be moved.

During months of consulting with black leaders, the Executive Council, and other constituencies, Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning maintained that coming to Phoenix presented "a gift from God" and a chance to witness against racism.

Included in the agreement to remain in Phoenix were establishing the Martin Luther King, Jr., Legacy Scholarship Fund to support minority students, focusing on racism in daily Bible study and worship, lifting up Native American ministry, and conducting a racism audit.

Despite the intense focus, 35 of the 143 bishops declared during roll call that they were "present under protest," and a large number of deputies at the opening session signed a statement charging that the "church had turned against its people of color."

By the end of the 10-day gathering, attitudes had changed and participants left with a clearer picture of racial attitudes in the Episcopal Church.

Part of that clearer picture was the result of the racial audit.

'Clear pattern of racism'

"Based on the findings, we have a clear pattern of institutional racism emerging," Dr. Lennox Joseph told an estimated 1,000 deputies, bishops, and visitors gathered in the House of Deputies meeting hall a week after taking the hour-long, 58-question survey.

In response, Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning Dledged that he would do all in his power to assure that "this church take seriously that which we have stated that we want to do, and that is to combat institutional racism at every level."

The most significant question raised by the panel, Browning said, was one of accountability, which rests with church leaders at every level. He vowed he would demonstrate his own accountability by ensuring that any resolutions dealing with racism "be brought forward as quickly as possible so that this convention can have the opportunity to decide on them without question."

Deputies and bishops did respond, although to some it seemed late in the game.

While the bishops concurred with several resolutions directly related to racism issues, Bishop Herbert Thompson of Southern Ohio expressed his disappointment that "we dealt with this at this stage of the convention when there are so few of us here." Many bishops had already left the hall during the final day as convention struggled to deal with an avalanche of legislation overwhelming both houses.

For a convention dedicated to issues of racism, such delayed attention is "inconsistent with what we've said," Thompson said. "What we do here is what is significant."

Racism in fabric of church

The findings in the audit provided a significant clue regarding the church's success or failure to deal with racial issues since the civil rights era 30 years ago.

"I call it an institutional CAT scan that we can use to see where we are at this particular point in the church," said Diane Porter, interim executive of the church's Office of Advocacy, Witness, and Justice Ministries and staff to the Commission on Racism.

The question format, said Porter, was intended to elicit the personal experiences and attitudes of the bishops and deputies toward racism. Combatting institutional racism requires personal intervention, she added. "We have a lot of perceptions," Porter said, "but we don't have actual facts."

Dr. Lennox Joseph, chief executive for National Training Laboratories Institute for Applied Behavioral Sciences (NTLIABS), and Dr. Clay Alderfer, a consultant to NTLIABS and a professor of organizational behavior at Yale, spent the first hour of the hearing reviewing the findings of 14 of the audit's 58 statements. The 14 statements were selected according to the extent they embraced issues in other statements. "The ones we picked," said Alderfer "were the most representative of all the items."

Both Joseph and Alderfer agreed that racism was woven in the fabric of the church and that the key issue was what the church was going to do about it. "There is a clear mandate there that the church must press on with its work on racism," said Joseph. "The Episcopal Church is not considered to be moving directly with its work on racism. There is a clear signal from this community that new programs should be developed to encourage the explicit recognition and appreciation of racial and ethnic differences within the church."

Good intentions or solid action?

Deputy Antoinette Daniels of New Jersey -- who led the protest on the opening day in the House of Deputies -- observed, "I think it's interesting that they said the church is racist; it's a racist institution. But we want to do something about it."

There's a willingness and openness to acknowledge the church has a problem, said the Rev. Joseph Pelham, the African-American convenor of The Consultation, an umbrella organization for 20 Episcopal social activist groups. Pelham noted, however, that there is a "difference between good intentions and solid action."

Pelham said the great divergence in attitudes between white and blacks, a condition the audit revealed, was "very troubling, especially in light of the fact that the real power in the church and the decisions made there are by whites, especially white males." There is now a need for intentional action from the church's leaders, Pelham said, "to pin down the accountability question. We need to design responses that will get at the issue of behavior of persons."

Results 'gratifying'

The audit results were presented in a 21-page report distributed to the audience prior to the hearing. Following their presentation, an eight-member panel, representing white, AfricanAmerican, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American members, shared their reactions to the audit

The audit and analysis was faulted by some panel members and observers for shortchanging Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans. Cailos Zervignon said lumping Hispanics into one category led to misleading conclusions. Hispanics are not a people of color, he said, but of "a whole spectrum of colors, from very, very fair to very, very dark." Answers, he said, reflected an amalgamation of people of various colors, and this may have painted Hispanics as overly conservative.

The truth is that Province IX (incorporating dioceses in Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean) is doing everything it can to support cultural diversity, said Zervignon, adding, "I want my black colleagues not to jump to conclusions about who we are." He also faulted the audit analysis for listing gender only for white and black responses.

The Rev. Phil Allen, a Sioux deputy from Minnesota who was attending the hearing as an observer, said the Native American responses to statement 10 -- "The Episcopal Church is called to fight for cultural diversity" -- were skewed because of a single word. Only 68 percent of Native Americans, the lowest of any group, agreed with the statement.

"I think their response was low because of the word 'fight,"' said Allen. "We are peaceful. We go out peacefully. We don't fight. It's a negative reaction. Now if they had said 'to really work for racial justice,' or whatever, then it would have been very high."

Despite criticisms of the audit, the results were "gratifying," Porter said. The outcome "portends an openness to change and a willingness to engage this issue seriously." It also shows "that the church is ready to get on with being an inclusive community," she said.

What now?

Despite the criticisms, the findings were clear enough to raise the issue to new importance in the life of the church. All of the strife and anxiety about coming to Phoenix and witnessing against racism also may have long-range effects.

According to Thompson -- one of the only black bishops who sided with the presiding bishop in the decision to stay in Phoenix -- black leadership in the church may have learned an important but hard lesson. "The politics of protest no longer work," he said. "We need to find a new and better way to carry forward our concerns, along with our Indian brothers and sisters."

In the end, bishops and deputies were encouraged to take back to their dioceses the message that more work needs to be done, and many attitudes still need to be changed.

The following resolutions related to racism and ethnic concerns were adopted as church policy:

  • Dedicate the Episcopal Church to spend the next nine years "addressing institutional racism inside our church and in society (D-113a).
  • Endorse the Martin Luther King Scholarship Fund, providing funds for African-American and Native American and other minority students (A-241a).
  • Instruct interim bodies of the General Convention to explore how racism, sexism, and otherdiscrimination may limit their work (A-085a).
  • Mandate that Episcopal clergy abstain from racism (B-051s).
  • Urge dioceses to implement and to strengthen initiatives with all congregations toward becoming a church of and for all races. (D-043a)
  • Urge each diocese and local congregation to conduct an audit on institutional racism in its life and work (A-199).
  • Urge each diocese to establish a commission or committee on racism, and include persons of racial or ethnic diversity in appointments to diocesan commissions and committees (A-082s).
  • Endorse and support in 1992 the national bicentennial celebration, "200 Years of the Black Presence in the Episcopal Church" (D-149a).
Native Americans
  • Celebrate the survival of Native Americans (D-179).
  • Support efforts at local, state, and national levels to protect the Native American Church's right to practice its religion in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision denying the right to sacramental use of peyote (C-069).
  • Support new directions in American Indian ministries (B-002a).
  • Call on Congress to create a Special Presidential Commission on treaty and civil rights of American Indians, and that the church advocate for fair and prompt settlement of Indian claims (C-041s).
Hispanic Ministry
  • Extend grant to Hispanic Scholarship Trust Fund (C-052).
  • Request appointment of a blue-ribbon task force on Hispanic ministries (C-049a).
Asiamerican Ministry
  • Direct the Asiamerican Ministry Office to recruit and support ethnic Asian leadership (D-166).
  • Strengthen the development of Asian congregations in the Episcopal Church (D-168).