After two years and more than 1,300 surveys, the ground-breaking Racial Justice Audit of Episcopal Leadership is now available to the wider church and public. The audit identifies nine “patterns” of systemic racism – ranging from the historical context of church leadership to current power dynamics — that will also be highlighted in three public webinars in May and June.
Conducted by the Mission Institute in partnership with The Episcopal Church’s Racial Reconciliation and Justice Team, the audit focused on two key questions: who makes up the leadership of the church; and what are their experiences of race and racism in their leadership roles? The Mission Institute team mined the data for key insights about race and power and offered long-term recommendations.
“This racial justice audit, I think for the first time, has given us a real picture of the dynamics and the reality of structural and institutional racism among us,” Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said. “It has given us a baseline of where we are, to help us understand where we can, and must, by God’s grace, go.”
The survey was sent to nearly 3,000 clergy and lay leaders, with a response completion rate of 45 percent, or 1,326. Research focused on the church’s major leadership bodies: the House of Bishops, House of Deputies, Executive Council, Episcopal Church Center/churchwide staff; and a representative sample of diocesan leaders from 28 of the 109 dioceses of The Episcopal Church.
Of the leaders surveyed, 77 percent identified as white and 22 percent as people of color. Fifty-one percent identified as laypeople, with a higher proportion of people of color than the 49 percent who identified as clergy.
Survey respondents were invited to participate in more in-depth narrative interviews designed to surface personal stories and reflections on race and racism across the church. The Mission Institute team conducted approximately 65 interviews, in person and via Zoom after the onset of COVID-19.
The Rev. Gay Jennings said the audit has already been helpful to the House of Deputies, of which she is president. The House of Deputies comprises equal numbers of clergy and laypeople, all of whom are elected to the governing body.
“This audit of church leadership, which represents the work of many people over several years, provides us with invaluable data that will help us draw closer to the Beloved Community that we long to be,” she said. “We are already taking action based on its findings, and we look forward to continuing this essential work.”
Acknowledging the complexity of racism and working from an understanding of white culture being the embodied standard in the majority of U.S. institutions, the audit identified the following dominant patterns of systemic racism in The Episcopal Church:
- Transformation vs. Transaction – A transactional approach to addressing racism relies on workshops, book studies, protests, etc., and can be disconnected from true cultural transformation, forcing people of color “to placate and pacify white dominant systems to survive and keep a job…,” the report states.
- Leverages of Power – People of color reported varying degrees of struggle in navigating Episcopal power structures. The report notes that the church “often uses money to either harm or help anti-racist efforts,” whether by withholding funds, paying less to people of color, or by measuring clergy of color not by the health of their ministries but by the money they bring in.
- Hypervisibility vs. Invisibility – People of color surveyed reported feeling both “hypervisible” as “tokenized” members of the church expected to do work around diversity and anti-racism, and “invisible” in the sense of being overlooked for certain positions and not being seen as individuals with unique cultural identities.
- Faith & Spirituality – Some respondents noted how liturgy, theology and spiritual practices are used both to encourage anti-racism engagement and to maintain a white supremacy culture.
- Political Polarization – White respondents reflected an urgency and anxiety about the need to engage in anti-racism, while leaders of color mentioned an increase in racism within the church after the murder of George Floyd. “While they knew this kind of racism was present, it is moving from the shadows and into the light,” the report states.
- Anti-Racist Leadership – While leaders of color showed self-confidence and a deep commitment to their church and anti-racist work, they also experience stress as the first or only people of color in mostly white settings. White culture often holds leaders of color to unreasonable expectations, including being primarily responsible to call out and confront racism.
- Intersectionality – Leaders of color who were surveyed noted the internalized racism and tensions that can exist between different groups of people of color. The “black/white paradigm for challenging racism” has limitations, and more work is needed to examine the intersection of power and privilege – or their lack — across racial groups.
- Historical Context – Respondents showed “a deep longing and commitment” to tell “the whole historical truth” about The Episcopal Church’s participation in white supremacy and racist practices, and how it continues to benefit from and perpetuate racism today.
- Intentionality & Ongoing Commitment – Many respondents recognize that the work of racial justice and healing is ongoing, requiring a commitment to learning, intentionality, accountability, financial redistribution, and courageous leadership.
The Rev. Katie Ernst of the Mission Institute said they hope the Racial Justice Audit “invites the whole church into liberating itself from racism and white dominating culture. We must be committed to being a community who not only demands justice in the world but also with our own structures, policies, and culture.”
The audit rose in response to resolutions at The Episcopal Church’s 78th General Convention in 2015 and as part of the church’s long-term commitment to Becoming Beloved Community. The resolutions to Work for Racial Justice and Reconciliation and to Address Systemic Racial Injustice formally acknowledged and repented of The Episcopal Church’s “historic and contemporary participation in this evil” and urged the Executive Council to conduct an internal audit to assess racial disparity and systemic injustices within the church.
Mission Institute initiated the interview process with deputies and bishops of color in 2018 during the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas. The current phase began in 2019 with the Mission Institute’s extensive survey and followup interviews.
The audit report was completed at the end of 2020. Since January, Mission Institute and church staff teams have been meeting with the surveyed leadership groups to review data and findings. The Rev. Shaneequa Brokenleg, staff officer for racial reconciliation, said this was an important stage in the overall journey.
“Before I was a priest, I was an epidemiologist in Indigenous communities,” Brokenleg said. “It was critical for us to use what are called ‘Community Based Participatory Research’ methods. One of the tenets is that you give the data back to the groups that gave data, before you share it with the public. The respondents really shared their hearts with us, so we needed to honor that by having them engage the findings first.”
As the audit findings are released publicly, Brokenleg hopes they will prompt discussion and action both inside and beyond The Episcopal Church.
“This audit is meant to be something to interact with and incorporate into our lives,” she said. “What would it look like to do a racial justice audit of your own congregation? I would also encourage other religious denominations to consider doing something similar – or if they already have, to share those results. Where you have you seen strides moving forward?”
Three public webinars are scheduled from 6 to 7 p.m. Eastern time on May 11 (audit findings), June 1 (systemic racism patterns), and June 29 (next steps). Learn more about the webinars and audit and find supporting materials at the bilingual website, https://www.episcopalchurch.org/ministries/racial-reconciliation/racial-justice-audit/.