Resolution #5: Access to Prison Ministries
Last Update: November 15, 2023
This resolution passed the 174th Convention with amendment. The final version of the resolution incorporating the amendment is below.
Resolved, That the 174th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of California submits the following resolution to the 81st General Convention of The Episcopal Church:
Resolved, the House of ______ concurring, That The Episcopal Church affirm its commitment to prison ministries consistent with the current theological and spiritual values of The Episcopal Church and provide all of God’s children with opportunities to minister to and with this marginalized and oppressed population, in accordance with the following principles and policies:
• The Episcopal Church supports inter- and multifaith ministries that contribute to our mission to follow Jesus, loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40) and demonstrating particular care for those who are marginalized and oppressed (Matthew 25:31-46);
• Episcopalians find common cause and minister with organizations and individuals with whom we have theological differences, without proselytizing or demanding that our ministry partners adhere to the tenets we espouse;
• The over one million incarcerated individuals in this country are among the most marginalized and oppressed members of our society;
• Episcopalians faithfully engage in ministry with incarcerated individuals, seeking to provide support, encouragement, and hope to these persons;
• Among the many members of the incarcerated population as well as those who minister to and with them, are individuals who are LGBTQIA+, a community that also experiences marginalization in this country;
• Following the Way of Jesus, Episcopalians minister to and with all God’s children, with special focus on the support and liberation of those who are oppressed;
• Our canons prohibit the denial of access to any ministry of this Church “because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital or family status (including pregnancy and child care plans), sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age” (Canon III.1.2);
and be it further
Resolved, that Episcopalians may not be forced to overtly or tacitly endorse theological statements or practices that conflict with our stated policies and beliefs in order to participate in shared prison ministry programs; and be it further
Resolved, That this Convention urge any prison ministry program in which members of The Episcopal Church volunteer hold policies consistent with our spiritual teachings and stated policies, asking such programs to change their policies if they conflict with our nondiscrimination canons; and be it further
Resolved, That if such ministries refuse to change such policies, that this Convention encourage dioceses to develop and share programs for their members to minister with incarcerated individuals, thos
Members of The Episcopal Church have long-supported Prison Ministry, and many Episcopalians have faithfully ministered to incarcerated individuals under the auspices of Kairos Prison Ministries International, Inc. over its 48-year history without awareness of conflicts that have developed between its ethics policies and The Episcopal Church’s nondiscrimination canons. Multiple Episcopal dioceses have congregations listing Kairos as one of their ministries. In addition, Episcopal congregations have also offered meeting spaces to Kairos, whose representatives have signed agreements with these congregations without disclosing these discriminatory ethics policies. The Episcopal Church previously provided Kairos Prison Ministries International as a resource for Episcopalians seeking opportunities to minister to incarcerated individuals, including the National Cathedral.
In August of 2023, it came to our attention that the Code of Conduct developed by Kairos International, which describes itself as “a lay-led, interdenominational Christian ministry in which men and women volunteers bring Christ’s love and forgiveness to prisoners and their families,” espouses an anti-LGBTQIA+ stance. Specifically, it precludes transgender individuals from this ministry, as evidenced in the following passage from the code: “Kairos uses sex assigned at birth for volunteers and for Kairos Outside Guests. Kairos believes in the Bible as God’s authoritative and inspired Word for our faith and our lives as set forth in the Statement of Faith. Scripture is the authoritative and inspired Word upon which decisions are made. (‘But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female.’)” In addition, the ethics code of Kairos clearly espouses a view of marriage as occurring only between men and women and describes our LGBTQIA+ siblings as sinful, declaring that they “do not condone any volunteer or staff to openly represent their sins and behaviors to others as appropriate. (‘You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness’ (Ephesians 4:22-24).”
This Kairos policy is incompatible with the non-discrimination canons of The Episcopal Church (Canon III.1.2). It also violates our baptismal vows “to seek and serve Christ in all persons” and to ”strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being” as well as the mission of the Church as described in our catechism: “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 855). Scripture reminds us that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) and that we are to “love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13). Jesus asks us to do as he did and “Bring good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19).
Prison ministry and supporting the ministry of our LGBTQI+ siblings are both consistent with Jesus’ command and the church’s commitment to bring help and hope to those who are particularly marginalized and oppressed in our society. It is, therefore, appropriate to seek opportunities to minister to individuals who are members of both of these marginalized groups, many of whom suffer from heinous treatment at the hands of the criminal justice system. The exclusion of LGBTQI+ individuals from participating in a ministry that describes a desire “to share the transforming love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ to impact the hearts and lives of incarcerated men, women and youth, as well as their families, to become loving and productive citizens of their communities,” is contradictory.
The leadership of The Diocese of California is committed to participating in prison ministry that is respectful and loving to both marginalized groups of people, developing new and more just ministries as necessary so that we may conduct ourselves as members of God’s household, “which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
Diocese of California Deputation to the 81st General Convention.
The Very Rev. Deborah White, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Very Rev. Kirsten Snow Spalding, Holy Nativity, San Rafael
Canon Amy Cook, Diocesan Staff