Anglican Watch

Anglican Watch endorses Rachel Taber-Hamilton as PHoD

Corruption in the Episcopal Church

Anglican Watch has been watching the evolving conflict between the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton and Julia Ayala Harris for some time. Additionally, we are monitoring Taber-Hamilton’s unprecedented effort to oust Ayala Harris as president of the House of Deputies (PHoD).

Presently, Taber-Hamilton serves as vice president of the PHoD.

We agree with Taber-Hamilton’s assessment of the managerial and interpersonal dysfunction at the upper echelons of the Episcopal Church. Anglican Watch thus endorses Taber-Hamilton to succeed Ayala Harris as PHoD.

Ayala Harris, the hierarchy, and dysfunction

Before we go further, we want to be clear: Taber-Hamilton’s assessment of dysfunction within the hierarchy is accurate. Leaving aside our personal confirmatory experiences, the conflict between Ayala Harris and Taber-Hamilton is, itself, proof of an underlying problem.

How so?

In a healthy family system, there would be psychological room and organizational incentives to resolve conflicts and address unmet needs.

Instead, we see Ayala Harris publicly assert that one of Taber-Hamilton’s key concerns, which is the empanelment of a commission on Indigenous American concerns, is going according to plan. Meanwhile, Taber-Hamilton lacks the authority to make this outcome happen despite being a long-time advocate for these issues. Were that not the case, there would be no controversy.

Nor are Ayala Harris’ comments about this situation honest or helpful.

Specifically, she may say that things are deliberative and going according to plan. Still, the concerns of Indigenous Americans are every bit as crucial as Ayala Harris’ claims of sexual harassment by her former bishop, retired Bishop of Oklahoma Ed Konieczny. The latter resulted in more than 20 pieces of proposed legislation; the former, per Ayala Harris, is working to “clarify and understand their charges, visions, and strategy going forward. This work is intentional, time-intensive, and ongoing beyond the 81st General Convention.”

Spare us.

In other words, it’s not all about you, Julia.

Meanwhile, other serious issues, including a database of abusers, which has been approved but not funded by the General Convention, continue to be ignored.

That begs the question: How can the church say it is a safe place, or wants to be beloved community, when it can’t make these things happen? Or why bother with the time and expense of the General Convention when it can’t even be bothered to address abuse?

As to Ayala Harris’ claim that she and Taber-Harris, contrary to the latter’s assertions, have been in touch, as evidenced by jointly attending the same meeting in late October 2023, that is a double blast of BS.

Indeed, the two are the two ranking officials in the House of Delegates, but last communicated in October 2023? And that is Ayala-Harris’ definition of leadership communication, attending the same meeting?

Holy cow. Welcome to cognitive dissonance-land.

But then, Ayala Harris routinely ignores emails from journalists and church members, even on a topic that should resonate for her: abuse.

So perhaps Ayala Harris really does think that talking once in six months is adequate for two senior leaders of the Episcopal Church.

As to claims by Ayala Harris’ chancellor that Taber-Harris embarrassed her, that is the sort of petty grievance that proves our point. If Ayala Harris is worried about being embarrassed, she needs to resign, effective yesterday.

It’s called the cost of leadership. And if the denomination is going to shell out almost a quarter of a million dollars annually for Ayala Harris’ services, she needs to act according to the interests of the organization, not her own petty feelings.

That’s part of being a fiduciary, and it’s called duty of loyalty. Surprisingly, or not, her chancellor appears to have overlooked this little detail in their discussions with Ayala Harris.

Taber-Hamilton’s assessment of leadership in the church

Anglican Watch is mindful of the possibility of confirmation bias, or concluding that another’s opinions are spot-on because the views mirror our own.

That said, Taber-Hamilton’s assessment of the profound dysfunction and interpersonal conflict within the church are spot on. All evidence we have seen supports her conclusions. We have seen no evidence that contradicts her views.

Moreover, Taber-Hamilton’s blog is excellent. So, rather than attempting to paraphrase her assessment of the current mess at the top of the steaming pile that is the Episcopal Church, we reprint the relevant portion below.

If we want a church that seeks truth and justice, then it is incumbent upon us to:

  • proactively develop safe and intentional opportunities for truth telling
  • to see and touch the living wounds among us in our church that even now are being inflicted
  • to care about the human development and spiritual well-being of our staff and the diverse volunteer members of our governing bodies
  • understand that when we say nothing we are not keeping the peace, we are keeping the tension
  • to promote leaders who are skilled in emotional intelligence; who are competent in leading crucial conversations in moments of conflict; who take personal responsibility and are intentional about their own accountability; who promote and communicate transparent processes; and who include even dissenting voices and challenging perspectives into decision making processes – the outcomes of which affect us all

For me, the full gambit of leadership elections that will take place during General Convention are about equipping our church organization with leaders in every aspect of our governance who have the ability and capacity to cultivate healthy corporate culture. They must have a genuine and lasting commitment to closing relational divides and building bridges that are based in mutual respect. We need compassionate and skilled leaders of every order who understand that our corporate journey is not about controlling for self interest but about empowering all of us for authentic community.

Through the lens of over 30 years of experience in organizational assessment and development, I am disheatened by what I have experienced and observed over the two years that I have served as Vice President of the House of Deputies. Behind the prose and photos that are public facing, there are unaddressed internal dynamics that in my professional opinion are contributing to an unhealthy corporate culture, jeopardizing our ability for forming the collaborative relationships necessary for effectively moving forward in the crucial work of The General Convention. I am in awe of the staff and volunteer members of our commissions and committees who are doing extraordinary work and maintaining a goal oriented focus in spite of relational challenges, but there are those who are exhausted from expending the amount of emotional labor it takes to function within compromised management systems. Additionally, there are some who are simply striving to stay out of harms way. I call this survival isolationism, and it is indicative of an organizational culture that is unsafe for personal and professional growth. The added messaging from leadership that we are “loving and faithful together in this work” is not especially in touch with our current corporate reality.

To this, we say “amen.”

Indeed, our only criticism of her post is slight, and that rests in the last line, which states her view that “we are ‘loving and faithful together in this work” is not especially in touch with our current corporate reality.’ Precisely, this concern lands too gently; engaging in what the denomination calls missional work typically involves getting one’s backside kicked 18 ways to noon. And then, Episcopalians being what they are, they will demonize you, claiming you’re mentally ill, a troublemaker, a domestic terrorist, or the laughably circular “disgruntled.”

Nor is this dysfunction confined to the upper echelons. We are dealing with a narcissistic construct in which church members view themselves, in the words of one particularly unhelpful rector, “good people doing God’s work.” Far too often, neither is true, and the ethics of the church are only as strong as the ethics of its members.

The reality is that, from the pinnacle of the General Convention, to the hallowed halls of Church Center, aka 815, to the smallest rural vestry, normative behavior in the church is far too often abusive, selfish, lacking in accountability, and unethical. Yet again, this is a church that sneers at child sexual abuse–why should we take anything it says or does as reflecting the Incarnation? (And yes, we have directly confronted Hollerith over his corruption. Lies, followed by silence.)

Our endorsement

Because we believe that truth-tellers like Taber-Hamilton are essential for the survival of the Episcopal Church, we endorse her candidacy as PHoD without reservation.

Further, our endorsement is not limited to the position of PHoD. As Taber-Hamilton correctly notes, this is a discussion that urgently needs to happen and transcends the near-term role of the PHoD. Thus, we hope that church leaders, instead of treating her comments as threats, will treat Taber-Hamilton’s remarks as prophetic words of welcome.

Indeed, this is a conversation that needs to happen at every level of the church, right down to parish vestries.

Anglican Watch also cautions against fig leaf “solutions,” which often are as unhelpful as throwing a rubber duckie to swimmers outside the Titanic.

We’re thinking specifically of transactional solutions, often deployed in the wake of unexpected clergy departures and other perceived crises.

Far too commonly, these purported solutions, which talk about a three-phase model loosely constructed around Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief, narrow interpersonal dynamics to three phases, including loss/grief, followed by resignation, then a moving-forward phase.

However, the fallacy in these models is that they rarely evaluate or engage on the structural level. In other words, parishes or other organizations with unresolved trauma/conflict often carry unhelpful relational models forward for decades. In these cases, the underlying issues may simmer behind the scenes for years at a time, only to spring into the open, often over some otherwise trivial matter.

Thus, parishes that engage in these so-called truthtelling and healing exercises almost never actually identify or address the real problems. That results in an unintentional but inherently narcissistic outcome, where participants can declare “peace with honor,” even as the underlying mess continues to grow like cancer, threatening the very survival of the underlying organization.

In other words, these are cheap and easy non-solutions that lure leaders into the comfortable notion that everything now is fine, even though it’s not.

Evaluating our endorsement

In considering our endorsement, we encourage readers to put to one side whether they agree with us, like us, or any other extraneous matter.

Instead, we encourage readers to look at the rapidly collapsing state of the Episcopal Church and consider whether the current model is sustainable.

We submit that the Episcopal Church is dying, and in considerable measure, it’s dying because of its inability to live up to its promises.

Those promises include the Baptismal Covenant, which gets babbled routinely in parishes lucky enough still to have regular baptisms. Yes, talk is cheap, but those looking at the church evaluate the denomination based on its actions. And right now, the Episcopal Church’s conduct, taken as a whole, is abysmal.

Folks, the time is now. The survival of the Episcopal Church is at stake. Pull your heads out of the sand and act.

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