House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church

Three Buckets of Water

President Jennings delivered these remarks to Executive Council on June 9 at the beginning of a meeting held in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Good morning. I’m glad to be here with you in the Diocese of Puerto Rico. It’s been nearly ten years since Executive Council convened in Province IX, and although this meeting has been planned for some time, it’s fortunate that we are here both to share the excitement about the ordination and consecration of Rafael Morales as bishop next month and to learn more about the debt crisis that is burdening the lives of so many people here. I am grateful for the hospitality of everyone who is making our visit possible.

I am also glad to be with all of you because it is a very difficult time in the United States to be a Christian committed to justice and peace among all people and the dignity of every person, and it is good to be together in the midst of that difficulty. In April, Bishop Ed and I attended a conference in Chicago sponsored by Bishops United Against Gun Violence called “Unholy Trinity:  the Intersection of Racism, Poverty, and Gun Violence.” While I was there, I moderated a panel discussion with three extraordinary leaders who helped me to see even more clearly the church’s historic and contemporary complicity with white supremacy and anti-black ideology. Tomorrow morning, Bishop Ed, who was one of the conference’s leaders, is going to lead us in a discussion about this unholy trinty, and I will be glad to reflect with all of you on what is required of us in these difficult times.

At the conference, my friend the bishop of Newark, Bishop Mark Beckwith, said, “Since the November elections, many of us feel as though the house is on fire and we have only one bucket of water. And we are asking ourselves, where do we pour that bucket?” We studied Bible passages like the difficult passages from 2 Kings and 2 Samuel that we tackled at the Unholy Trinity conference, and we know from those and others that God commands us to welcome the alien in our midst, to care for creation, and to stand with the oppressed in the face of violence and injustice. And then we turn on the news and know that we have to speak, we have to act. But as they say, life comes at you fast.

So, right now, I’m imagining that I have three buckets of water. Here’s what I’m doing with them:

Bucket one is the Stand With Refugees Campaign taking place next week. Thanks to the work of the Office of Government Relations and Episcopal Migration Ministries, we Episcopalians have the opportunity to advocate for the fiscal year 2018 federal budget to include funding for refugee protection, assistance, and resettlement. Here’s what Lacy Broemel from OGR wrote in the action alert recently posted on the Episcopal Public Policy Network website. “During the worst human displacement crisis in history, the time is now to urge Congress to allocate funds to assist the most vulnerable displaced persons and to support increasing refugee resettlement admissions to at least 75,000 refugees.” There are more than 21 million refugees in our world today, so resettling 75,000 of them is a pretty modest commitment.

Bucket two:  The Texas Legislature. Some of you will remember that the Presiding Bishop and I wrote a letter to Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus objecting to the proposed “bathroom bill” that the Texas Senate, but not the House, passed in its last legislative session. The bill became a source of political struggle, as you’ll know if you’ve been following the news from Austin in recent weeks. Just a few days ago, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called the legislature back for a special session beginning July 18 and said that he wants a bathroom bill, which would discriminate against transgender people, to be passed. I’m paying close attention, the presiding bishop and the executive secretary are paying attention, to this situation and to the legal challenges that are already arising to Texas State Bill 4, which threatens law enforcement officials with stiff penalties if they fail to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The bill also allows police officers—even campus police–to question people about immigration status during arrests or even traffic stops. We are watching the situation very closely with an eye to ensuring the safety and dignity of everyone traveling to General Convention next summer.

Bucket three:  Since 1979, General Convention has been on record in favor of environmental sustainability and stewardship and environmental justice. In 2015, just two years ago, we passed several environmental stewardship resolutions and commended Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change in advance of the Paris climate summit. The Episcopal Church had a very active presence, led by Bishop Marc Andrus of California, at the Paris conference. And then, last week, President Trump decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord.

Since then, many cities, states, universities, and other institutions have announced that they will continue to support the Paris climate accord and abide by its goals. I hope that Episcopalians at all levels of the church will do the same, ensuring that our decades-long witness to the stewardship of God’s creation and the compatibility of science and faith remain strong and steady during this perilous time for our planet. It’s especially appropriate for us to think about this issue here while we are in Puerto Rico, which is one of the most vulnerable places on Earth to the impacts of climate change.

So, after prayer and reflection, these are the three priorities where I’m pouring my three buckets of water. During this meeting, as we pray and study and talk together, I’m looking forward to hearing about where God is leading you to pour yours.