Here I am, in Venice, Italy -- taking time with my husband to rest, read, and feed our souls.
Call me a coward, but my spiritual and physical health could not take the toxicity of two days of our diocesan convention. Even reading e-mailed reports from home fill me with grief.
Many friends and observers have reported that there was an armed police officer at the opening Eucharist, standing within feet of the altar. He patrolled the church aisles prior to the start of the service, apparently making sure no lavender storm troopers were there.
And, as my friend Marvin Long said, we ain't done crashin' yet.
How did it come to this?
The truth is, this crash was inevitable. It has been years in the making.
Our diocese was born out of negativity. It was carved out of the Diocese of Dallas, its founding principle being opposition to the ordination of women. The resentments and piques of its founding bishop were imported into its DNA.
All three of its bishops have defined themselves by what they were not, ie. the national church. Theirs has been a leadership of us versus them, the "us" being them and their cronies, and the "them" being anyone who disagreed with them. All three have worked out of a theology of scarcity -- if God loves you, then there's less love for me; if God approves of your interpretation of scripture, God must disapprove of mine.
From the beginning, the concept of a loyal opposition has never never been recognized. Disagreement is disobedience, and, according to some, proof of complicity in heresy. In recent years this has escalated into blatant statements that those who disagree with Bishop Iker "don't love Jesus."
Both of Bishop Jack Iker's predecessors have left The Episcopal Church. Donald Davies formed his own breakaway church and Clarence Pope left three times for the Roman Catholic Church, and this last time it seems to have "stuck." Jack Iker has acted as if he had one foot out the door since he was consecrated as bishop coadjutor, although he, like Clarence, reassured us he had no intention of leaving The Episcopal Church. [Clarence told us this right up to the first time he left.]
Bp. Iker has surrounded himself with mostly young, white, male priests who treat him like a rock star and who seem to have serious "father" issues as well as a constantly outraged sense of entitlement being thwarted. Many of them seem to think it is their birthright to be a bishop one day, and the fact that The Episcopal Church at large doesn't share their wizened sense of who is worthy of inclusion enough to confirm them in this belief is cause enough to leave it.
Many of these priests control their parishes by telling them horror stories about the national church, and then assuring them that "father" will keep them safe from the bad ol' presiding bishop. They define who is "good" and worthy of inclusion in God's love and grace by telling their followers who is "bad" and not worthy of God's love and grace. Lots of energy is spent on excluding people.
Bishop Iker believes that women are not "proper matter" for ordination. He forbids the use of supplemental liturgies, any use of the New Zealand Book of Prayer [especially it's "heretical" version of the Lord's Prayer], and even the mildest forms of inclusive language. My husband was once called an apostate by another priest because he, in a reading at a clergy retreat, used God as a second reference instead of "his," as is "God and God's people."
When it became clear to Bp. Iker that he was losing traction on the issue of women's ordination -- it just wasn't that hot an issue with most of the people in the pews -- he borrowed a page from the Republican Party's book of wedge-issues-good-for-fear-mongering-and-fundraising and took up the issue of homosexuality. Here in the heart of the Baptist Bible Belt, it was a guaranteed way to make people afraid of a national church that was not only baptizing gays and lesbians, but also ordaining them. Iker and his cronies constantly warned that "the national church" would soon be forcing him to not only ordain women, but also to ordain homosexuals and put them in charge of the churches here.
The ugliness and mean-spiritedness began to go off the scale in the last few years, culminating in this last diocesan convention.
Those of us who have no wish to leave The Episcopal Church can only watch in grief and dismay. There was no hope of stopping this crash, because it's been happening in slow motion for decades. Bp. Iker and his predecessors have been building toward this day for years. I could have told you the vote -- at least 80 percent for, 20 percent against every measure the bishop favored -- long before convention convened.
So now we enter a time of terrible uncertainty, a time when pressures will increase exponentially on those few clergy who ain't leaving, and on lay people who are trying to understand all the ramifications of what their leadership is telling them.
In a sad way, I guess I'm glad we've finally reached this point. Maybe once the flames of all Bp. Iker's and his followers rage has burned out, and all the court cases are settled, those of us Episcopalians left can start over.
A new diocese will rise from these ashes. But getting from here to there is going to be a long hard painful journey.
I pray God will give us the strength, wisdom, and fortitude to overcome our history and create a new healthy place where all people can grow in God's love and grace.
Please pray for us.