Deputies send apartheid resolution back to bishops, adopt bishops’ version of ceasefire resolution

By Logan Crews
Posted Jun 27, 2024

[Episcopal News Service – Louisville, Kentucky] The House of Deputies passed three resolutions concerning violence in Israel and Palestine in their legislative sessions June 26. Two of them, D007  and D056, went on to become official acts of convention while the third, D013, will be sent back to the House of Bishops. 

Bishops passed D013 – which supports a two-state solution – with amendments June 23, but the deputies’ Social Justice & International Policy Committee restored part of the original text the next morning. One of these changes involved reinserting the word “apartheid” to refer to the current government of Israel’s policies against the Palestinian people, a term the bishops were hesitant to use.

After a floor amendment removing the word failed, the deputies voted to pass the resolution as it was presented by the committee. It now returns to the bishops for another vote, following a conference committee meeting where the two houses will try to work out a potential compromise.

General Convention is a bicameral governing body, and bishops and deputies are assigned to parallel legislative committees on about two dozen topics. The parallel committees, though distinct, typically meet together for hearings and deliberations. Bishops and deputies work together to formulate their recommendations. If resolutions are amended in the house of initial action, the other house’s committee meets on its own to consider the amendment, and possibly revise or amend the resolution further.

Conference committees are created when there is a language dispute between the two houses, said House of Deputies Parliamentarian Bryan Krislock. The deputy members of the committee, appointed by President Julia Ayala Harris, include the chair and vice-chair of the Social Justice & International Policy Committee and three deputies, including the author of the resolution. 

Resolution D007 calls for an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages and prisoners, and humanitarian aid to Gaza. It also condemns the increasing seizure of land and violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. The resolution passed without discussion.

Resolution D056 also came to the House of Deputies amended by the committee after its vote in the House of Bishops. D056, titled “Calling for a Ceasefire in Gaza,” originally described the acts of the Israeli government against the Palestinian people as an “ongoing genocide.” After the bishops voted to remove this language and instead call for prayers that the “conflict not end in genocide,” the deputies’ committee made further changes to indicate the situation constitutes genocide.

Janet Day-Strehlow, committee chair and deputy from the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, told the House of Deputies that the committee felt strongly about defining the violence as an ongoing genocide after listening to 160 diverse testimonies from Episcopalians across seven hearings on 16 resolutions the committee received on Israel and Palestine. 

“People want The Episcopal Church to speak out and take a stand,” she said. “Silence is considered complicity and that is not who we are. We are called on to be courageous even if it is uncomfortable.”

There must be a proven intent on the part of perpetrators to physically destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, to constitute genocide, as defined by the United Nations. 

Some deputies debated whether “genocide” is an appropriate word to use based on that definition, but some argued for its removal for strategic purposes, even if they believe it accurately describes the current situation in Gaza. The Rev. Megan Castellan, a deputy from the Diocese of Central New York and author of the original resolution, filed a floor amendment that would restore the bishops’ decisions to avoid giving them another chance to vote it down.

“It would be an awful betrayal of our responsibility as Christians to leave this place and remain silent on Gaza, which would happen if we fail to concur or pass this resolution,” Castellan said. “What this resolution wants to do is give every single Episcopalian the tools to act for peace, to pick up the phones and talk to their congressional leaders, and work for a ceasefire.”

The deputies’ committee had anticipated this line of reasoning and stood by the use of “ongoing genocide” because three other resolutions – now acts of convention – call for a ceasefire, and the church’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations has urged Episcopalians to contact their congressional representatives advocating for a ceasefire for months already. This resolution, they said, could reiterate this call but stand as a stronger statement of conscience should it be adopted.

However, the house voted 57% yes to the amendment, restoring the bishops’ version of D056. The House then voted overwhelmingly to concur with the House of Bishops, making D056 an official act of convention.

Unlike other resolutions, the House of Deputies prayed before and after the votes for resolutions D013 and D056 to honor the gravity of the situation.

Before the house moved on to prayer book resolutions, one ordained deputy asked if the house could get a short break of music and dancing as a “palate cleanser.” President Julia Ayala Harris had earlier kicked off the evening’s legislative session by playing “Rhythm of the Night” by Corona while deputies waving glowsticks danced under colorful lights. She obliged the request for another short round of “Episco-disco” with the lights on. 

As the music began and some deputies danced, others remained seated and silent, and one deputy who had earlier defended the use of the word “apartheid” in the debate for resolution D013 stood up and walked out of the hall, waiting to return until the house resumed its business.

–Logan Crews, a former Episcopal Church Ecojustice Fellow, is a seminarian at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale who serves on the student leadership team of the World Student Christian Federation-United States.