Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Line in the Sand

While the news of the election of Bishop Jefferts Schori as our new Presiding Bishop was still hot off the press, The Diocese of Fort Worth issued a statement, declared to both houses of General Convention, calling on the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates of the Anglican Communion for "alternative Primatial oversight" for their diocese. In doing so, they made a specious appeal to the Windsor Report's suggested provision for alternative episcopal oversight for local churches that feel their pastoral needs cannot be met by their diocesan bishops.

It would be funny if it weren't so blatantly offensive.

This is no less than a "pre-emptive strike" on Katharine Jefferts-Schori. Bishop Iker and his Diocese, it seems, will brook her no respect. I find this abusive, and here's why:

Vows of the Order

Bishop Iker made vows when consecrated to "guard the faith, unity, and discipline" of the Episcopal Church. By not ordaining women, he has stretched, if not broken this vow. General Convention, the highest ecclesiastical authority of this Church, mandated the ordination of women within the last decade. Women have been ordained in the Episcopal Church now for well over a generation.

Bishop Iker and the Diocese of Fort Worth, in addition to the two other Episcopal dioceses (San Joaquin and Quincy) who refuse to ordain women, have enjoyed the privilege of being afoul of the canons and practice of the Episcopal Church simply on the basis of the majority's honoring their God-given conscience. . .on the basis of a long-held communal humility that acknowledges the human limits of parliamentary process, no matter how prayerful.

But rather than attempting to evaluate, in the biblical tradition of the gospels and Paul's Letter to the Galatians, the fruit of the Spirit that our women clergy have wrought at great personal cost in this Church over the past thirty years. . .Bishop Iker and his Standing Committee further abuse the privilege they have been afforded by snubbing the Presiding Bishop-elect out of hand.

To be fair, it could be correctly counter-argued that prayerful conscience led to the bold, extra-canonical ordination of women in this church to begin with. Such extra-canonical acts might have been grounds for presentment then, but the prayerful and sometimes painful workings of General Convention led to a new canonical precedent upholding these ordinations, rather than a condemnation. Sure, people left the Episcopal Church over this. I follow the advice of the bishop who ordained me priest: if ever the Episcopal Church moves, as a whole, through due process and prayerful discernment in a direction that I cannot abide, I hope I would fight fair or else resign my office, renounce my orders, and seek God's call elsewhere. That seems to me good conscience in the Light of Christ.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. Rather than working within the processes of discernment in this Church -- a prayerful, constitutional process that all bishops of the Episcopal Church have sworn before God and God's people to uphold -- Bishop Iker and his Standing Committee have determined themselves, in Christ's name no less, to be completely beyond procedural grounds. . .beyond the discipline of this branch of the Christian Church as they so arrogantly appeal outside of it.

This is profoundly sad and deeply disingenuous. Where is the loving truth of Christ in this?

Bishop Iker seems protected at this point from presentment by only two things I can see: 1) simple Christian charity and 2) the sheer cost -- emotionally, spiritually, and fiscally -- of ecclesiastical trial against a bishop and his diocese.

Windsor Distorted

This move abuses the Windsor Report. . .which is just that. . .a report. It is not a canonical precedent or an Anglican whipping rod. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not beholden to the document. Nor, frankly, are we in the Episcopal Church. It was designed to open exploration to a way of holding the increasingly diverse Anglican Communion together. Bishop Iker's move along with his Standing Committee is therefore deeply insulting to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the authors of the Report. While our delegates and bishops wrestle to the point of exhaustion over the Episcopal Church's response to the Windsor Report, the Diocese of Fort Worth arrogantly grants the document an almost divine authority, short-circuiting any and all honest listening, sweat, and toil of our sisters and brothers in Christ.

All this notwithstanding, the provision in the Windsor Report on alternative oversight appeals to an atmosphere of reconciliation. How is this pre-emptive move by the Diocese of Fort Worth at all indicative of a desire for reconciliation with our Presiding Bishop-elect and the Church she has been called to lead and represent?

High-handed Misogyny

Cloaked in "orthodoxy" and parading about in the name of Christ, this move abuses women. I don't know what scriptural contexts Bishop Iker uses in defense of his action, but the Jesus I read about bucked the patriarchal cultural mores of his day and spoke publicly with women and welcomed them amongst his disciples. They were the first to see the empty tomb at Easter.

With this in mind, the least the Bishop of Fort Worth could do is afford Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori an opportunity for responding to the request before the appeal was publicly made over her authority and the authority of our current Presiding Bishop to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates.

With this pre-emptive move, Bishop Iker and his diocese seemingly objectify her as an abomination rather than a person lovingly made in the Image of God, with basic human dignity. . . who through time-honored process and prayerful discernment has been properly elected as a leader for this church.

This is misogyny par excellence.

The Breaking Point

It seems to me that the long-feared schism has already occurred. By throwing down the gauntlet and flagrantly dismissing the open process of discernment in the Episcopal Church, Bishop Iker and the Diocese of Fort Worth have left the building.

Let's stop kidding ourselves. Let them go.

Good old fashioned Christian charity says the door opens both ways. If indeed we are so apostate that Bishop Iker and Fort Worth can't stand it anymore, they should leave, and, in good biblical tradition, shake the dust from their sandals.

May the love of Christ go with Bishop Iker and the Diocese of Fort Worth. God only knows why they have chosen to stay so long.

For the present, I am grateful that Katharine Jefferts Schori has the backbone, compassion, intelligence, and pastoral understanding -- God given -- to weigh carefully any response to this appeal. I sincerely hope the Archbishop of Canterbury stands up to this abusive behavior and, if he decides to respond, at least asks to meet with Bishop Iker and Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori together for an open discussion. If Bishop Iker won't have it, I think he, nor his diocese, deserves any response from the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Primates. Just as they deserved and received no response from either House of General Convention.

May we soon get on with the Christian work our Presiding Bishop-elect envisions through the words of Isaiah:

"The poor are fed, the good news is preached, those who are ostracized and in prison are set free, the blind receive sight."

God be with her, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies.

God be with the Episcopal Church.

More importantly, may we be with God. After all here is said, this is the best prayer this thirty-something, green-around-the edges priest can offer from the comforts of home for everyone still hard at it in General Convention. 2006.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Although Bishop Iker would like for everyone to believe that "the whole Diocese of Fort Worth wants to leave the Episcopal Church," it is simply NOT TRUE! One church's vestry has unanimously passed a resolution stating it's intent to remain a FULL member of the Episcopal Church, and I expect a few more will follow. Here's the web address for Trinity, Fort Worth's webpage, which has a copy of their resolution:
Resolution of the Vestry - 05/19/07

The Vestry of Trinity Episcopal Church wishes to express its profound disagreement with the actions of the Executive Council taken on May 16, 2007, concerning alternative primatial oversight.

Trinity Episcopal Church, while affirming its place in the Diocese of Ft. Worth and in the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, does not support any search for forming a new Anglican Province. Trinity Episcopal Church does not support transferring to another existing province of the Anglican Communion. Trinity Episcopal Church does not support seeking the status of an extra-provincial diocese. Trinity Episcopal Church affirms the place of the Diocese of Fort Worth in the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America.

There ARE some in the Fort Worth Diocese that see Bishop Iker's actions are NOT an attempt to "preserve orthodoxy," but a grab for power, and a dishonest one at that!

I don't know if you realize it or not, but at Bishop Iker's consecration, PARISHONERS from Fort Worth gave 40 minutes of speeches about why Iker should NOT become Bishop of Fort Worth, while more protested OUTSIDE THE CHURCH! Some of us knew from the beginning that his election was bad news, although there was a large crowd that jumped on the bandwagon and voted for him. I think that crowd will be leaving soon, but the Episcopalians are STAYING in town, rest assured! Please pray for us!