This has been a lovely few days since Christmas Day. I've had some rare "time off" to do all the things I put off in other more frantic times.
Some of these are necessary -- as well as wonderfully satisfying -- chores such as cleaning out and organizing closets, bathroom shelves, and storage rooms. I've accumulated lots of clothing and other items to give to various resale shops run by Safe Haven and The Women's Center, as well as all those paperback books we seem to acquire in airports during delays and layovers.
I've needed these soothing chores because I've also had time to read and reflect on the happenings in the Diocese of San Joaquin, a situation we here in Fort Worth are watching closely because it's like watching our own future unfold -- a very unsettling experience, by the way.
We were probably less surprised than most at the actions of their former Episcopal bishop, John David Schofield, in announcing his takeover of St. Nicolas Church in Atwater, CA., and the firing of the rector, Fred Risard. [The best coverage of all this at Jake's place, here.]
We've witnessed -- and actually personally experienced -- equally brutal behavior on the part of our own bishop on more than one occasion. But I have to say that John David Schofield has outdone Bp. Iker in his masterful use of timing. What better way to win hearts and minds than to close a church called St. Nicholas on Christmas Day?
No, I'm not being sarcastic. Remember which hearts and minds he's trying to win. Not those of loyal Episcopalians. No, he's out to the win the steely hearts and tight little minds of THOSE-WHO-KNOW-THE-MIND-OF-GOD and who want to live in safe purity among others who agree with them -- or who will at least obey them.
If there is one piece of advice I have for the larger church, it is to please not forget who these people are.
They do not "play fair" and they follow only the canons, rules, and regulations that they find convenient at any particular time -- but they will scream to the high heavens if anyone opposing them overlooks the tiniest jot or tittle of a canon, rule, or regulation.
They are bullies, and like all bullies, they can dish it out, but they can't take it. Any one who "pushes back" is persecuting them. They have perfected the roles of victim and martyr --indeed, they relish them.
They steal. The ones in San Joaquin are obviously are willing to steal property from a church with which they are no longer affiliated. Here in Fort Worth, Bishop Iker is consolidating his position to be able to do the same thing after the second reading to "leave" TEC.
These are people who love using warlike metaphors and who describe differences in the church as "epic battles," all-out war," and "major warfare." These are Manly Men and the Women Who Admire Them. They love cowboying swaggering princes of bishops who fear no man, and certainly no woman.
Indeed, these are men who really like women only in their "proper place," which means subservient to men and "under their direction." Like the Southern Baptists, they expect women to "submit graciously" to men in authority.
They will turn on their "own" in a nanosecond if they think a person has "betrayed" the cause of patriarchy. These events are not pleasant to witness.
Does this mean we should fear them?
Absolutely not. We should have compassion for them, love them, and wish them well as they go the way they have chosen.
Then we do what we have to do to make sure they don't take things that belong to The Episcopal Church and her members.
John David Schofield is no longer a bishop in The Episcopal Church, no matter what smarmy letters he writes or how many ways he tries to stretch the truth. He's made his choice, and now he must deal with the consequences.
One consequence is that he no longer has authority over parishes and missions of The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of San Joaquin. But even as I write that, I know that Fred Risard's position as an ordained priest puts him in a terrible position.
This is not the case, however, with lay people.
And that's the thing -- it is the lay people of San Joaquin and soon, the lay people of Fort Worth, who will have to lead the struggle to reconstitute our dioceses.
Clergy have too many career issues at risk, and it's clear from watching San Joaquin that they are being left in a no-man's land right now while the national Church leadership wends its way through the canonical processes dealing with a bishop who abandons his see.
But while The Rev. Risard may be stymied for a time, the laity of St. Nicholas are well within their rights to ignore orders given by a bishop and a canon of the Southern Cone.
They may indeed want to change their locks and bank accounts, but they should do so only to prevent theft by foreign prelates.
I pray God will grant them the courage, heart, and will to prevail.
I don't know how it is in San Joaquin, but I know how it is here. Bishop Iker has worked long and hard to create mistrust and suspicion of those who are loyal to The Episcopal Church. By publicly humiliating those who speak out against him, by allowing others to ridicule those who disagree with him, by retaliating against clergy who have dared disagree, he has created an atmosphere of fear. This has been fertile ground in which to sow his seeds of alienation and isolation, resulting in a terrible passivity on the part of the clergy and the laity. It's like rabbits in a field hoping that if they are still enough, the predator won't notice them.
If you think I am overstating, just remember that Bp. Iker has made it clear in more than one convention address that those who oppose his policies are "demons."
Indeed, at the very first convention over which he presided, in October 1994 [just before his Recognition and Investiture as the Third Bishop of Fort Worth on January 7, 1995], he laid out the course he has followed ever since:
"But of course, there are always a few who seem to thrive on conflict and sow seeds of discord and suspicion at every turn. There is always an element of the demonic at work deep in the life of the Church --forces of destructiveness and enmity, rather than of reconciliation and healing."
In case there was any doubt to whom he was referring, he went on to say, "I will not allow the General Convention to set the agenda for this Diocese. Nor will I allow the radical feminist lobby [The Episcopal Women's Caucus] to dictate to me the priorities of this diocese. I do not need the proposed expansive language for God, because I believe in the sufficiency of the revealed religion of the bible and that Jesus taught us how to address God and all that we need to know about the nature of God. When we pray, He taught us to say "Abba," Father, and that is sufficient enough for me. Post-Christian theologies and terminologies continue to sound more like New Age Religion than New Testament Religion."
He went on for several more paragraphs, ridiculing inclusive and expansive language, and then returned to his description of how he was going to protect us all from the heresies of the awful national church.
". . .The so-called "liberal' coalition that so manipulates and controls the agenda of General Convention and the 815 establishment is not going to be imposed upon the mission and work of this Diocese. We have one agenda and one priority: the proclamation of the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to the whole world, in word and deed. We will minister with love and compassion for all people, of whatever persuasion or orientation, calling them to repentance and newness of life, inviting them to become partakers with us of the risen life of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Savior.
". . . However, I want to be very clear that the lesbian-gay rights group called Integrity, which orchestrated so much of the General Convention, is not going to play a tune to which I will dance as the Bishop of Fort Worth. There will be no blessings of same sex relationships, nor even the study of the development of any such rites, in this Diocese. We cannot condone or bless that which God forbids. There will be no ordinations of practicing homosexuals in this Diocese, nor will such persons who have been ordained in other Dioceses be permitted by me to exercise any sacramental ministry in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Furthermore, I want to go on record today as stating that any bishop of this Church who advocates, practices or allows same sex blessings or the ordination of practicing homosexuals will not be permitted to exercise any ministry as bishop here in this Diocese. I regret to have to draw such lines in the sand, but these are painful realities of the impaired communion brought upon us by their actions, in violation of the clear teachings of this Church.
". . . the diocese is the basic unit of the Catholic Church, not the congregation, though the diocese is meant to enhance and support the work of every local congregation. The diocese, quite simply, is wherever an orthodox bishop is found, surrounded by his faithful clergy and lay people. We are a Church under the authority of our Bishop as our Father in God.
"This is our theology and that is our ecclesiology; it is an Episcopal polity, not a congregational one. We must resist efforts which seek undermine this understanding of the Catholic nature of the Church, and we must work together, all of us, to help keep this diocese sound and solid and orthodox. "
See? Jack Iker was George Bush before George Bush was George Bush.
I know this is not going to be easy, but I remain hopeful. As we move into the new year, I pray that God grants us the strength, courage, patience, compassion, and wisdom we are going to need in the coming months.