Anglican Watch

Julia Ayala Harris tries to slide one by in discussion about transparency, inclusion

The three candidates for President of the House of Delegates (PHOD) recently met in an online forum to discuss their vision for the PHOD should they be elected. Moderated by VTS dean Ian Markham and Deputies of Color Convener convener Joe McDaniel, participants included incumbent President Julia Ayala Harris, the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, and Zena Link.

We won’t explore the details of the meeting itself, as those are well-covered by the Episcopal News Service. But we do want to flag a key issue, which is that Ayala Harris tried to slide one by in her discussion of transparency, inclusion, and the newly proposed changes to the rules of order governing debate in the House of Deputies.

Specifically, Ayala Harris attempted to refute concerns about a lack of transparency by saying:

It is up to the House of Deputies if they want to support these various rules,” she said, noting the changes require a two-thirds vote. We have a democratic process. We decide for ourselves what our rules will be. No one is imposing it on anyone.

On that, we are calling BS.

TEC is not a democracy. Far from it.

One of the great flaws in the current governance of the Episcopal Church is that it is not, repeat not, a democratic process, contrary to Ayala Harris’ claims.

Indeed, it isn’t easy to get measures onto the floor absent going through the labyrinthine and often overlapping committee structures that operate behind the scenes.

And guess who handles appointments to these committees? Just two people control access to these chokepoints–the presiding bishop (PB) and PHOD. In other words, access to the reins of power is controlled by a small circle of the nomenklatura.

So, Ayala Harris is technically correct that no one is imposing changes to the rules of order on anyone. But it’s a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, and it takes a better person than anyone here at AW to figure out how to get a meaningful alternative onto the floor of the House.

Nor do we see, in practice, a commitment from Ayala Harris to communication and transparency. Indeed, like many in the hierarchy, she ignores most emails she receives. That stands in contrast to Gay Jennings, who, to her credit, was excellent about this.

Thus, Ayala Harris talks a good game, but the reality is she’s not committed to dialogue. Dialogue requires communication, and by her own statement, she hasn’t even communicated with the vice president of the House since late last year. (Her definition of communication, which is attending the same meeting, isn’t exactly ideal, either.)

That raises the question: Why is the denomination paying more than $230K a year in contractor fees to an officer who can’t be bothered to answer her email? And what example does Ayala Harris set with this behavior?

Ayala Harris and misconduct

Then we come to the bit about misconduct and Ayala Harris’ experience with sexual misconduct.

As we have said before, we loathe all forms of sexual misconduct and harassment. And we are convinced that Ayala Harris did experience an inappropriate advance from a retired bishop.

But the resulting proposed changes to Title IV read like something out of “My Little Narcissist,” reflecting as they do almost exclusively Ayala Harris’ negative experiences with the dysfunctional Title IV disciplinary system.

In other words, the proposals sound like there is zero outside input.

Imagine that.

To be clear, the issues raised in the Ayala Harris proposals are valid concerns.

But there are many other concerns out there about Title IV and its implementation, and no sign that Ayala Harris is pushing these to the fore. In fact, we see no indicator that she is even aware of these issues.

Speaking of communication, inclusion, and Title IV, we have sent several specific Title IV concerns directly to Ayala Harris. You’d think, given her personal experiences and her claimed interest in Title IV, our concerns would elicit a response, wouldn’t you?

The reality, however, was a deafening silence.

What about that database?

And while we’re on the topic, what about the Title IV database previously approved by the General Convention but not yet funded? If Ayala Harris is serious about cleaning up the unholy mess of Episcopal governance, this would be a great place to start.

Indeed, the fact the denomination won’t take this basic step toward accountability undercuts its claim to take clergy discipline seriously and puts it in the same boat as the SBC, with its long-promised but never-delivered database.

Three years: long enough to settle in

So, Anglican Watch believes three years is sufficient time for any PHOD to get her feet wet and figure out the lay of the land.

In that regard, Ayala Harris’ tenure leaves us profoundly underwhelmed on every front. The notion that she now needs another three years to do her job and do it well is disturbing, and we do not see that she has the underlying inclinations and skillsets required to be effective.

If the denomination is to survive, it must clean up its act. This process starts with having responsive, inclusive persons at key chokepoints in the bloated Episcopal bureaucracy, and thus far, Ayala Harris has been anything but.

It’s time for a change, and Ayala Harris needs to go.

In the meantime, Julia, don’t take us for fools.

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