Dear People of the Diocese of Olympia,
I am just now on board a plane flying back from the Holy Land Pilgrimage which had been postponed twice due to the pandemic. I am glad to report that we successfully walked in the footsteps of Christ and were able to do that safely, and in health by and large. Of the many joys and moving moments along this journey no doubt the saddest moment was our hearing of the US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe vs. Wade, and by so doing presenting a mighty setback for the reproductive rights of women and the right to govern their own bodies. I think I speak in unanimity for those on our trip. I am just now able to take my attention off the running of this pilgrimage to wrap my mind and heart around the implications of this pivotal decision.
On that day I did send out a communication which I felt was urgent in regard to credible threats received by the FBI. These threats were directed at clergy and houses of worship deemed to be supportive of reproductive rights for women. I felt that could not wait, and needed to be sent out, not to squelch commentary or protest, but simply to make sure clergy and congregations were aware of these threats as quickly as possible. I sent this to all clergy that day. Since that posting, I am aware of at least one instance where it was stated that my statement, and that of the Presiding Bishop, was urging silence from clergy and the pulpit. I find this to be an inaccurate characterization of that statement and a rather serious one.
While it is not my job to defend statements by the Presiding Bishop I will state my belief that neither his, nor my statement, much of which was a direct quote from his posting, said any such thing. There was a plea within it that our responses be peaceful and non violent and I stand by that plea. That is our faith. However, in the spirit of clarity and transparency, I have reprinted that entire statement word for word after these reflections, so that you might make your own determination. The fact of the matter is that speaking out, and up, may well put us in danger, but that does not, in any way mean we should not do it and that initial statement does not suggest that. In fact, I believe it is our duty as Christians, on many such issues, to, even in the face of danger, speak out, and act. But when that danger is known, or suspected, I will stand by my responsibility to make it known to you, and I will not change that policy, nor will I apologize for it.
I know there are many and varied feelings on this subject and while I recognize that I feel you should be aware of mine. I am deeply saddened by this ruling and I believe strongly that this is supported not only by our constitution but also by our faith. The shortest version of my theology is “God is Love”. I believe God resides, as love, within each and every being, and in every thing. I believe strongly that this decision is a grave injustice to women first and foremost, but in reality to all. And I believe this decision is a very dangerous one as well. It is a step back, and its ramifications will deeply harm many. Even now Marti and I, personally, are looking for ways to help our Governor, and any group willing to help those women most affected find the care they need. However, even if that is somehow remedied, the greater issue is that we have now written into law, and hence given the state, the authority over the rights of women to set their own course with their own bodies. That is a slippery slope for everyone in this country, female, male, non-binary, gender fluid, transgendered, everyone. And it is clear this Court is set on a course to rescind many other rights of many other people which have been heroically worked for and won long ago.
I want to say that I am openly supportive and working with several people in our diocese who were already working on ways to help secure women’s reproductive rights if this decision became a reality. I am even more committed to that work now. So, it is not a time to be silent, but it is a time to be vigilant and if the events of the past few years have shown us anything, it has shown us that may well be dangerous. It is in exactly those moments, that Christians are often called on to absolutely NOT be silent. I believe this is one of those moments. Any preacher should preach as they see fit to do so on the matter, but no matter what personal belief you have around it, and however it is done, I would urge both nonviolence and peaceful means. Both are completely supported by our faith, speaking out, and peaceful nonviolence. Pastoral sensitivity is also our call, for all, and from whatever perspective they come at this, but there is no plea from me to be silent. I also believe the greatest heresy for a Christian is to claim to know the heart and mind of God. It is not our job to judge, but with fear and trembling, it is almost always our call to decide. I am clear where I stand on this.
I would remind anyone who somehow believes this to be a new position or one not previously taken up by the Episcopal Church that we have been consistent throughout much time on this issue. This was the statement sent out by our Presiding Bishop on the day of the decision:
Today the Supreme Court released its decision in the case of Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The court has overturned the constitutional right to abortion that was recognized in the seminal 1973 case Roe v. Wade.
While I, like many, anticipated this decision, I am deeply grieved by it. I have been ordained more than 40 years, and I have served as a pastor in poor communities; I have witnessed firsthand the negative impact this decision will have.
We as a church have tried carefully to be responsive both to the moral value of women having the right to determine their healthcare choices as well as the moral value of all life. Today’s decision institutionalizes inequality because women with access to resources will be able to exercise their moral judgment in ways that women without the same resources will not.
This is a pivotal day for our nation, and I acknowledge the pain, fear, and hurt that so many feel right now. As a church, we stand with those who will feel the effects of this decision—and in the weeks, months, and years to come.
The Episcopal Church maintains that access to equitable health care, including reproductive health care and reproductive procedures, is “an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being” (2018-D032). The church holds that “reproductive health procedures should be treated as all other medical procedures, and not singled out or omitted by or because of gender” (2018-D032). The Episcopal Church sustains its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions [about the termination of pregnancy] and to act upon them” (2018-D032). As stated in the 1994 Act of Convention, the church also opposes any “executive or judicial action to abridge the right of a woman to reach an informed decision…or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision” (1994-A054).
The court’s decision eliminates federal protections for abortion and leaves the regulation of abortion to the states. The impact will be particularly acute for those who are impoverished or lack consistent access to health care services. As Episcopalians, we pray for those who may be harmed by this decision, especially for women and other people who need these reproductive services. We pray for the poor and vulnerable who may not have other options for access. We urge you to make your voice heard in the way you feel called but always to do so peacefully and with respect and love of neighbor.
In another statement this was summarized:
Since 1976, The Episcopal Church has maintained its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions [about the termination of pregnancy] and to act upon them.” We uphold the conscience rights of pregnant women and other pregnant persons to determine whether they want to continue a pregnancy. The Episcopal Church views reproductive rights as “an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being.”
In light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, we reiterate our opposition to any legislative, executive, or judicial action at all levels of government that would restrict or limit a woman’s right to choose, or that would limit the rights of women and other pregnant people to access a safe abortion procedure. For us as Episcopalians, this is a matter of faith. Respecting the dignity of every human being means respecting the rights and freedoms of women to control their own bodies, destinies, and future.
Hear me: I wholeheartedly agree with these statements and all they imply. The days ahead present a struggle, one I never thought I would see us have to take up again, but I believe we must and that work will have to go far beyond prayers, or good wishes. There are resources for just that purpose here and as those grow and are discovered, and even created, we will add to it and make sure you are aware of it.
I do hope, as we move ahead, no matter where we find ourselves on this issue, that we assume the best of one another, not the worst, and that we adjudicate it in a way that is befitting of the Holy One we follow.
The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel
VIII Bishop of Olympia
My initial statement regarding the threats to clergy and houses of worship with direct quotes from the Presiding Bishop’s staff communique
With the overturning of Roe V Wade today we have just received this from the Presiding Bishop’s office. I know there are a host of feelings about all of this. I am, personally, deeply saddened by it but I pass this along and as I receive any other information I do promise to let you know. I am traveling in Jordan on pilgrimage currently but did want to get this out to you all.
We have received information from federal authorities of credible security threats against clergy and churches around the potential release by the US Supreme Court of its abortion decision. There is concern that clergy who have advised parishioners about abortion access and their reproductive rights may face threats or violence.
The guidance we are hearing is for religious communities to encourage peaceful responses to the decision when it comes – in the days following the decision and also in weeks to come — while remaining vigilant about potential security threats.
Thank you for your leadership on this, and so many other matters.
Blessings to all of you, and peace