[Episcopal News Service – New Brunswick, New Jersey] The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council asked Oct. 22 that law-enforcement officials “de-escalate military and police provocation in and near the campsites of peaceful protest and witness of the Dakota Access Pipeline project.”
The request came in a resolution council passed as it wrapped up its three-day meeting here. A summary of resolutions council passed is here.
Council’s resolution on the Dakota pipeline protest follows support by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry both in words and his presence with the protestors.
The Rev. John Floberg, council member and supervising priest of the Episcopal churches on the North Dakota side of Standing Rock, told the council’s Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking for Mission Oct. 21 that the way the protest has been conducted has been “the most powerful experience I have had in my 25 years on Standing Rock.” And, yet, he said, he has been shaken by the racist responses that the protest has generated elsewhere in the state.
The Episcopal Church’s ministry to the protestors opened what he called the “evangelical window of the gospel” between the Christian churches and Native Americans, “versus all the racism that has been reared up so ugly in North Dakota.”
Floberg told the committee that law enforcement’s response has been provocative and nearly amounts to martial law. He said he has seen officers shoulder their guns against prayerful groups of protesting adults and children.
“It’s going to result in death” if the response is not stepped back, he said.
Council’s resolution calls on President Barack Obama, the North Dakota governor, North Dakota’s U.S. senators and congressman, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Morton County Sheriff Department to make all necessary efforts possible to immediately de-escalate military and police provocation at the campsites. It praises the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council and its chairman and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and its council for their “prayerful and nonviolent presence.”
The resolution commends the dioceses of North Dakota and South Dakota for their supportive leadership of the Sioux Nation’s response “to the corporate and governmental intrusion onto its sacred ground”; the ecumenical and interfaith partners that have joined the Episcopal Church’s ministry there; the Anglican Church of Canada; and the Episcopal dioceses that have offered moral and financial support.
The resolution asks the Episcopal Church at all levels to prayerfully and financially support the planned winter encampment, which it says is the Sioux Nation’s “right for peaceful assembly and protest.”
On the closing day of the meeting, Floberg presented to the Archives of the Episcopal Church housed in Austin, Texas, the now-tattered Episcopal Church flag that flew over the Oceti Skowin Camp in North Dakota for months. The flag, he said, was the only Christian church flag among the 300 flags of tribal nations that flew over the peaceful-protest encampment.
On Oct. 21 the flag was part of Holy Eucharist at nearby historic Christ Church. Early in the service, the flag hung near a plaque commemorating the fifth president of the House of Deputies in the early 1800s and Christ Church Rector Abraham Beach; at the Great Thanksgiving, the flag was moved to the altar.
One of the first organizational meetings of what is now known as the Episcopal Church took place at Christ Church. During a lunch-break news conference Oct. 22, current House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings linked those organizers to the Episcopalians now ministering on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
“They were really courageous, forward-looking, patriotic Anglicans trying to figure out how to be the church in a new land and in a new way,” she said, juxtaposing their efforts with church members in the Dakotas who are now “being Episcopalians in a brave and courageous new way” and who are “trying to figure out the exact same thing.”
Curry said that the Episcopal flag with what is now an “old rugged cross” running down its middle had been in the Oceti Skowin Camp a “visible witness of what the cross is about – the out-stretched arms of Jesus reflecting the love of God and now reaching out at Standing Rock, reaching out for everyone to be treated as a child of God, reaching out for us to care for God’s creation.”
And, Curry said, that “old, worn Episcopal flag” was the “defining image” of this council meeting and its work around racial reconciliation and evangelism.
During the Oct. 22 news conference, Curry said the Episcopal Church took a stand on the Dakota Access Pipeline project, not because of the question of whether oil should be used as an energy source. “The issue here is that decisions were made which adversely affect Native communities – the Sioux reservation itself – when there may have been other alternative ways to accomplish the same thing.”
The decisions involved whether the environmental assessment process was properly conducted and whether the United States respected the Sioux’s rights as a sovereign nation.
Curry said he was glad that the federal justice and interior departments, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, had called for construction to stand down 20 miles to the east and 20 miles to the west of the Missouri River so that those decisions could be reviewed. The pipeline is routed under the river, which is the reservation’s only source of water.
The Episcopal Church’s entry into the protest is rooted in its 2009 repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, Curry said. “Part of that action was to say we have got to find more just, equitable and fair ways of being in relationship with our brothers and sisters in the Native communities in our country,” the presiding bishop said.
The pipeline protest, he said, is a way of calling people to step back and examine what is the “best, most sensible and most prudent way” to address energy needs of the nation. Curry emphasized that he went to the Standing Rock Nation at the request of Episcopalians involved in the action.
“I really do believe this is not a partisan thing. This is not a liberal or conservative thing. This is not a Republican-Democratic thing. This is a human thing and it’s a Jesus thing to do what is right for all God’s children,” he said. “I am glad our government is trying to figure out what that is.”
Executive Council met at the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Previous ENS coverage of the New Brunswick meeting is here.
The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1). The council comprises 38 members – 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons, and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by the nine provincial synods for six-year terms – plus the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies. In addition, the vice president of the House of Deputies, secretary, chief operating officer, treasurer and chief financial officer have seat and voice but no vote.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.