The Gunn Rule

A few days ago on twitter I retweeted a post that said, “Supporting the Gunn Rule for General Convention. Political resolutions must say what we will do, not what others should do.#GC77”  Deputy Gunn (@scottagunn) is a friend and colleague of mine.  I deeply value is insights and work in The Episcopal Church.  Without too much thought, I supported what some are calling “The Gunn Rule.”  Well, another friend and colleague called me out for it.  Shortly after my post, The Rev’d Susan Russell (@revsusanrussell) retorted, “@deetavolaro re: “Gunn Rule” — Seriously? You don’t want TEC advocating for an inclusive ENDA? Or against DADT? Or for marriage equality?”  This is a somewhat long way of introducing the fact that I had some thinking to do, and my response in no way could be in a tweet.  So here it is, my thoughts on The Gunn Rule.

The Gunn Rule is: Let us tell the world what we are going to do about political problems, rather than telling the world what they should do about political problems.  I encourage you to go over to Seven Whole Days and read Scott’s comments on the political resolutions of General Convention.  Are you back? Good?

I find it rather discouraging when the General Convention passes a resolution saying something along the lines of, “Resolved, that the secretary of the Convention send a message to (The President, Congress, the Attorney General, etc.) urging them to consider (fill in the blank) about (issue xyz).”  To be totally honest, I think this is a bit of a cop-out.  We’ve sent a memo to whomever is in power and then we’ve done out bit for this issue. Some of these resolutions cause a great deal of tension and their overall effectiveness and outcome is virtually nonexistent.  Do I think we need to be taking a stand on these issue?  Of course.  Are these General Convention resolutions the best way to do it?  I don’t think so.

Let us tell the world what we are going to do about political problems, rather than telling the world what they should do about political problems. Let’s start lifting up leaders of the Church – on local levels – to step up and work for justice, freedom, and peace in real concrete ways.  Look at what Bishop Curry helped lead the Diocese of CT to do in their state.  Look at the work of Sara Miles and the people of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco. I’m sure you can think of the great work your diocese, parish, and individuals have done.  I think these are the things we should be lifting up.  Let’s craft resolutions for General Convention, to aid the Episcopal Public Policy Network to travel to Diocese and lead workshops on political advocacy.  Instead of telling others how to treat people financially, let’s work so that all lay employees are given just compensation.  What we’ve already done there is not enough.  Now parishes are hiring for 15 hours instead of more so they can avoid having to pay benefits.  Let’s work to make our parishes accessible for people regardless of ability.  General Convention did not need to write a resolution to say that hunger is unacceptable for the Diocese of RI to make feeding the hungry a priority.

As to Susan Russell’s comments about ENDA, DADT, and Marriage Equality.  Yes, I want TEC to keep advocating for these issues, but I think there are better ways for this to happen than General Convention.  Let’s support the work of organizations like Integrity and TransEpiscopal.  I rejoice when I see my clergy colleagues at the RI Statehouse in support of Marriage Equality – even more when they testify at hearings.  However, General Convention can not afford to spend its time passing resolutions on everyone’s favorite issue.  Let’s focus on doing work that will enable us to form Disciples.  Then those Disciples can go out and work for social justice and change in ways that will be far more effective than Gregory Straub sending a letting to President Obama.


Filed under General Convention

8 responses to “The Gunn Rule

  1. I guess my primary objection to this whole line of discussion is the reductionist nature of the “either/or” presumption that we EITHER strive for justice OR focus on the mission of the church. (See also: false dichotomy.) I love the idea of grassroots EPPN workshops — AND I have experienced first hand the important work they do for us on Capitol Hill when they have the weight of a General Convention resolution behind them to speak for the Episcopal Church. And — if you’ve read the “Shared Governance” essays that came to us a week or so ago — it’s clear that ONLY General Convention CAN speak for the whole church.

    It’s a busy staff meeting Tuesday here at All Saints Church in Pasadena so I only have time for this quick comment but suffice to say I stand firmly on the other side of the “Gunn Rule” and believe that General Convention can not afford NOT to spend its time passing resolutions that offer our collective witness to the civic discourse on issues of social justice.

    Tick Tock #GC77

  2. Pingback: The Tavolaro Compromise « desiringthekingdom

  3. First of all, I don’t really mind of the Episcopal Church speaks out, in fact I think it is essential. But more than that, I think there are ways for the Episcopal Church to speak other than GC resolutions. Too many people think that GC = The Episcopal Church = GC. We have a tremendously high opportunity cost when we spend so much time in political resolutions at GC, and we focus ourselves too often on a particular American political agenda rather than a churchwide moral agenda. I say this as a progressive — when I say “moral” it is not code for some kind of right-wing notion of morality.

    What about social media campaigns, grassroots? What about groups like Integrity? What about the PB’s role to speak for the church? Or Executive Council? Or bishops? Or groups of people? To say that only GC can speak for the church seems limiting.

    I question the efficacy of lobbying by our church when compared with some other alternatives. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be effective, but rather raising the question.

    Quite often, GC resolutions look to me like cheap talk rather than costly action. We want to dictate economic and healthcare policy to the US govt, but we treat our own employees poorly and too often fail to offer health insurance. And GC never spends a second thinking about church employees outside the US.

    So I really have nothing against speaking out by resolution, per se, but I think it’s not the best way to (a) get things done or (b) use our time at GC.

    But as in all things, I am prepared to be educated as to the failings in my (possibly knee-jerk) opinions.

    Thanks for posting this, Dante. See you in Indy!

  4. Oh, one more thing, others might have created the dichotomy you describe, Susan, but I hope it wasn’t me. I would say that striving for justice is a central part of the mission of the church. That is, that work for justice derives from being a disciple.

    If I suggested a dichotomy, it relates to the opportunity cost of doing things a certain way, rather than some of the alternatives.

  5. Sarah Lawton

    I like Scott’s ideas of how we might expand or improve our social justice outreach, for example, through social media.

    I also agree with both of you that our resolutions should, unless it really doesn’t make sense, have an “Episcopalian action” component that asks us to give something on the issue.

    The false dichotomy I see is why any of this must preclude passing GC resolutions on the issues. I take Scott’s point about how we use the time of convention, but I feel strongly there is an *important role* in GC’s authorizing and encouraging action from the highest and widest level of the church. If we can make a statement about ENDA or immigration at that level, it does mean something both to our allies and also many Episcopalians that we have done so.

    For example, our 2009 statement on transgender civil rights has been used in many venues in the last three years (including in Massachusetts as well as in the national ENDA fight), not least because we are one of the few faith groups to have made such a statement at the highest level of our governance. We also give encouragement and courage to other faith groups to follow our lead.

    That’s not to say that the non-official groups such as Integrity or ENEJ don’t have their own advocacy role. Or that the PB in her very official role shouldn’t speak out as the PB. Just that there is a place for GC to say something. It means we can say to staff at OGR that the church has deliberated and spoken, so that staff is not making up priorities or taking direction mainly from whoever happens to be PB at the time. There is accountability.

    As for grassroots action, the Episcopal Public Policy Network, of course, exists to put these resolutions directly grassroots action. If you haven’t signed up, I encourage you to do so! They make taking action easy.

    The harder thing is translating ideas into deeper action at the grassroots congregation level. I can say that my own congregation actually is deeply involved in a few issues, including immigration and foreclosures. Of course, no one congregation can do it all. If every resolution has a directive clause for congregations, it would keep us all very busy and cause much resentment. Thus we use the words “urge” and “encourage” rather than “direct” since we can only really direct Church Center staff, including OGR and EPPN.

    One thing we might do is to resolve to really focus on a few issues nationally and encourage congregations to follow suit — for example, on immigration. However, I would hate to limit our ability at the Washington office to sign onto certain initiatives, or to limit our congregations who feel called to work on a particular issue in their locale that might not be the big focus. I still see a role for GC passing resolutions even if we agree to mainly focus on a few in terms of providing resources on them for the grassroots.

    Just brainstorming here ….

    Looking forward to seeing you all in Indy.

    • I like the idea of picking a few issues that, as a church, we might work on at all levels — in lots of ways. That would seem much better for the world and for us.

      Also, I think we need to find ways to get the OGR to be able to do work without GC resolutions. It’s simply not efficient to direct an office with 1,000 people — or to make that the only way. Maybe we allow multiple possibilities.

      At the risk of repeating myself too many times, I want to reiterate that my objections are not that church and politics don’t mix (which is a ludicrous claim) or that the Episcopal Church shouldn’t have a voice in the public sphere. I simply wonder if there are better ways to effect the change we want.

      I’m grateful for your conversation here and elsewhere, Sarah. Seems like a real conversation, which is a good thing. Our church could use more of that, too.

      • Sarah Lawton

        Hi Scott,

        I’m glad you see this as a real conversation. I do appreciate that you are not trying to take social justice advocacy out of our church but rather to improve how we do it. I too would love to see “…. better ways to effect the change we want.”

        I’ve been defending OGR and also GC-level resolutions because I do think they have value, value for our money and yes, our time. But they’re not enough, for sure, in terms of real and also effective engagement in advocacy on the local level.

        Thanks for getting the conversation going.


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