“How are you?”
I’ve been asked that a lot in the last 24 hours -- kindly by loving friends – and not so kindly by some not-so-loving, but happily gloating, people.
Here’s how I am: I feel like I’ve been crawling across a desert for the last 15 years only to look up and see that about 900 more miles of desert have been shoved in front of me.
The Panel of Reference’s reply to the Diocese of Fort Worth’s appeal reveals an amazingly arrogant lack of respect for the polity of The Episcopal Church. It is up to General Convention, not the panel or the Archbishop of Canterbury, to decide whether our canons are ambiguous or not.
Moreover, the report reveals an appalling lack of respect for our Presiding Bishop by encouraging people like Bishop Jack Iker to dismiss her as a priest, bishop, and Primate because of her gender.
And make no mistake. This is about all gender. Katharine Jefferts Schori holds almost identical positions as did Frank Griswold and Edmond Browning on the ordination of women and the full inclusion of LGBT people in the church. Yet Bp. Iker managed to remain in communion, however impaired, with both of them.
I admit if I had had less of my heart involved in this, I would have been better prepared. After all, look at the members of the Panel of Reference: of the 13 members, 11 are men and two are women. There are no ordained women on the panel. Eight members are from the Global South. Five are from the North Atlantic community, none of which are women.
So I have no excuse for being surprised at the panel’s paternalistic dismissal of women’s priestly ministries. But I remain appalled at their cavalier treatment of people’s spiritual lives and their disregard for the long-term effects of their report.
Once again, we are faced with a document that assumes that bishops are the whole of the church, but this time the document also makes it clear that bishops who are male are more important than bishops who are female, and furthermore, that sensibilities of male bishops must be tended to with great care.
The result is that the panel’s report enables the continuation and escalation of the abuse of those in the minority here in this diocese. The panel made no attempt to explore the realities on the ground.
Here are the realities of “the Dallas Plan”:
Women in the Diocese of Fort Worth who feel called to the priesthood are required to meet several requirements by Bp. Iker, such as getting a letter signed by their rector, writing a spiritual biography, etc. If they produce these to his satisfaction, then they are required to meet with him along with their rector.
However, you must remember that most rectors here are in mental lock step with Bishop Iker – that’s how they got to be rectors. Remember also that the women are meeting with a bishop who holds the theological position that women are not “proper matter” for ordination because they are female. That’s a high hurdle to overcome.
In the years Bp. Iker has been doing this, only three, maybe four women have managed it. Bp. Iker was consecrated in 1993. Does anyone really believe that in all these years, only four women in this entire diocese –which stretches across 21 North Texas counties and has more than 50 churches or missions in 27 cities or towns -- have felt called to ordination to the priesthood? Granted, while we are geographically big, we are small in numbers. There are at best maybe 16,000 members of the diocese. Our growth rate is embarrassingly small in proportion to the rapid growth rate of our area. Still. That’s a lot of people from which to have only four women feel called to the priesthood.
There is, of course, no guarantee that any woman will get by Bp. Iker’s screening to even begin the process in Dallas. But if they manage that, then they will have to go through all the steps required by the Dallas bishop.
Again, before people start hyperventilating, let me emphasize that I do know, of course, that there is no guarantee for anyone trying to enter the ordination process. Still, it seems wrong that women in Fort Worth have to go through two screening processes to even get a chance to begin the ordination process.
It also is clear – and I know this from personal testimonies – that this plan puts in place barriers that very effectively discourage most women from even beginning this process. First, most do not have supportive rectors. Secondly, even supportive rectors are unwilling to risk alienating the bishop by supporting a woman for ordination. Third, even if she finds a rector brave enough to back her, the woman still has to get past Iker’s screening. Then, if she does that, she is faced with the expense and personal dislocation of having to travel to Dallas (a 300-mile round trip from Burkburnett), or move there.
Now, let’s talk about a parish that might want to call a priest who is a woman as rector. If this did happen, the priest would be canonically resident in the Diocese of Dallas. She would be under the authority of the Bishop of Dallas. She would have seat, voice and vote in the Dallas Diocesan Convention. She would have none of those at the Fort Worth Diocesan Convention.
The parish that called her as rector would remain under the authority of Bp. Iker, and its money would remain in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Part of the parish assessment will go to support the Anglican Communion Network, even if the parish and its rector have withdrawn their membership in the Network. This remains the case even if the parish votes to send part of their assessment directly to the national church.
The parish delegates would attend diocesan convention without their rector. Their rector would have no say in decisions made at convention about, say, the parish’s money, or its property.
Their rector would not be welcome at clergy events in Fort Worth, including the Mass of Collegiality. She would not be welcome at clergy retreats. She would be without any local priestly colleagues except, perhaps, those who already have been labeled “troublemakers” by Bp. Iker. She would be completely marginalized.
Bp. Iker loves to point out that no parishes have ever tried to call a priest who is a woman. Well, duh. Of course not.
Why would they want to subject any priest to this second-class status?
Why would they want to subject any priest to this abuse?
Now that the Panel of Reference has put its imprimatur on this second-class priesthood for women, I hope its members will at least own up to what they’ve done. I also hope that, since the panel has put the weight of its voice behind the theological position that women are not “proper matter” for ordination because they are not male, its members are willing to take responsibility when this theological stance is carried to its logical conclusion – that women are not quite the equals of men, and therefore, not quite worthy. This kind of thinking leads to all kinds of terrible abuses of women and girl children.
And are they willing to put their weight behind a “process of reception” for the ordination of non-celibate (or even celibate) LGBT people? If it’s good enough for heterosexual women, why isn’t it good enough for LGBT people?
Additionally, I hope someone will tell me how we’ll know when this “process of reception” is over. If we have to wait until “the whole church” accepts the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, exactly what does that mean? Until every last misogynist bishop anywhere in the world accepts it? That guarantees it will never happen. For heaven’s sake, the “whole church” of the Anglican Communion hasn’t agreed on anything since it began.
But still, I’d like to know. I’d like to have some idea how long it will be before my daughter and the granddaughters of my friends and their granddaughters will be considered full members of the Body of Christ in this diocese.
How long do we have to wait?