On July 9th, 2022, shortly after the House of Deputies elected me to serve as your 34th president, I experienced an incident of unwanted and non-consensual physical contact. I was physically overpowered and lost bodily autonomy by a retired bishop waiting for my arrival to greet our colleagues in the House of Bishops. This, along with some accompanying inappropriate verbal statements, compelled me to submit a Title IV complaint via my chancellor to the intake officer in the Office of Pastoral Development. PHOD Ayala Harris went on to share that after a 13 month process with multiple affirmations of clear violations of both the spirit and letter of our commitment to "safe church culture" the issue was being referred for pastoral rather than disciplinary action. And all I could muster in the moment was "How long, O Lord?" as I read:
My motivation for sharing this story stems from a deep love for our church. It is from this place of profound care and concern that I raise important questions about safety and accountability. If the president-elect of our House and deputy chair of the Legislative Committee on Sexual Harassment, Sexual Exploitation, and Safeguarding can experience unsafe treatment right at the door of the House of Bishops during the General Convention, then who in our church can truly be safe? If there is no discipline for well-documented violations, then under what circumstances would discipline be imposed?
Within hours a letter generated by members of the House of Bishops to members of the House of Bishops was posted -- a letter which included the message “We are angered by and deeply concerned about the perception – or the reality – that bishops get a free pass on behavioral issues” and a call for a thorough discussion at the upcoming House of Bishops meeting later this month.
And then my phone started pinging and my DMs started buzzing as a powerful cohort of sister-in-the-struggle organized to create and distribute a sign-on letter for the church-at-large to stand with and speak out for Title IV reforms in general and President Ayala Harris in specific.
The text of that letter is posted below ... and here's a link to add your name.
Ready. Set. Go!
AN OPEN LETTER IN RESPONSE TO EPISCOPAL HOUSE OF DEPUTIES
PRESIDENT JULIA HARRIS AYALA’S LETTER OF AUGUST 30
To President Ayala Harris: WE STAND WITH YOU. We see you living out the commitment to truth-telling and full inclusion that you promised when you stood as a candidate to lead the House of Deputies. We bear witness that what you have described represents an assault on you, our elected leader, and by extension on the entire Episcopal Church. We acknowledge that you have taken a great risk and shown great courage and love in making visible that which was meant to remain hidden. We commit to work alongside you to build the safe and life-giving church we all deserve. Finally, we are so, so sorry. We recognize the toll that the Title IV process must have taken on your first year as President of the House of Deputies. We are grieved and outraged that on your first day as our elected leader, you were abused by a member of the most privileged class in our church’s hierarchy.
To our Bishops: WE NEED TO HEAR FROM YOU. We applaud those within the House of Bishops calling for accountability and attention to the need for Title IV reforms. That important work does not take the place of a direct and public response to the report that the second ranking officer in our Church – a lay Latina woman of color – was publicly assaulted at the doorway to your House, by a member of your House. She has taken a tremendous risk in making this incident public and calling the church to greater accountability. You now have a choice. Will you make a strong statement about your commitment to safety for all and your unwavering solidarity with the people of color, women, and lay people who regularly experience being “put in our place” when we dare to step into positions of power? Will you step out of the cozy collegiality and privileged opacity that has characterized the (still) overwhelmingly white and male House of Bishops and address all four orders of the faithful? Now is not the time for silence or mumbling about not really knowing all the details. We know enough to make our commitments clear. What do you stand for? What will you fight for? Scripture gives you an excellent starting point, “As for me and my House…”
To Presiding Bishop Curry: WE NEED A GOOD WORD. We are praying for your health and your energy and your spirit. We know that this has come at a time when you needed and deserved rest. We probably count too heavily on you. Your powerful words and your fire for justice have carried us to a whole new place of faith and commitment to the path of love. We know that you have that fire within you, even in times of physical weakness. This is a critical moment for our church and a bland bureaucratic statement will not be enough. We await a powerful word as only you can bring it.
To us all: WE SHARE A POWERFUL FAITH. 1 John 3:2 reminds us, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” Our Church has faced moments of reckoning before. We are at our best when we let our faith, not our fears, carry us forward. May this be a moment when more is revealed about what it looks like to be a gathered community struggling towards a fuller and deeper commitment to the dignity of every human being.