The Rev. Tom Woodward spoke last Friday night to 66 people in Wichita Falls and to more than 100 people in Fort Worth on Saturday about what is at stake for Episcopalians in the Diocese of Fort Worth.
A synopsis of his speech can be read here at the Fort Worth Via Media web site.
One image in particular from his talk in Fort Worth has stayed with me as I've spent the last couple of days fighting a cold, sore throat, and fever.
Woodward likened the situation between Jack Iker and his followers and The Episcopal Church to that of the older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
The Return of the Prodigal Son (1773) by Pompeo Batoni
You know the story: the younger son takes his share of the inheritance while his father is still living and leaves to squander it in riotous living only to end up as a swine herder -- a terrible fate for a Jew. Finally he decides to return home and throw himself on his father's mercy. He practices his speech asking forgiveness, but hardly gets a chance to deliver it, because his father, seeing him coming at a distance, picks up his skirts and runs to embrace him. Rejoicing in the return of his child, the father orders the fatted calf killed for a celebratory feast.
But the older son, who has remained dutifully at home, watches all this from a distance, jealous at the fuss being made over his feckless brother and angered over the lack of reward for his faithfulness.
His father urges him to join the family celebration:
Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
– (Luke 15:32, KJV)
But the older son refuses the invitation. He cannot embrace this kind of family, one that includes even sinning swineherds. In his righteous indignation he separates himself from the family, holding himself apart from a family he considers contaminated by its inclusion of his brother.
Just so has Jack Iker and those who agree with him chosen to hold themselves apart from The Episcopal Church's inclusion of all the baptized in the life and ministry of the church. They cannot bring themselves to be part of a "family" that includes women ordained as priests and bishops, as well as gay and lesbian priests and bishops [at least one of whom has been open about who he is and who he loves].
So in their pain they are seeking a purer church "family."
And while that is a source of grief for those of us who remain in The Episcopal Church, no one argues with their right to such a search.
What we do argue with is their attempt to take the possessions of the family they are leaving behind with them.
What we do argue with is their willingness to tear other families apart -- parish families as well as actual blood related families -- in their move to a new family.
What we do argue with is their characterization of those who remain with the Episcopal family as unChristian, as "demons," as people who do not love Jesus, as people who are members of a "pagan" church, or at best, a "mythical national church."
Yes, we are sinners -- as are Jack Iker and his followers. Yes, we fall short of the vision God has for us, just as do Jack Iker and his followers.
But in The Episcopal Church we still find our unity in common worship, the Holy Scriptures as the revealed Word of God, the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, the historic episcopate, and the ancient creeds of the Church.
What this dispute is about is interpretation of scripture and the historic Anglican practice of encompassing and respecting a wide spectrum of theological views.
Jack Iker and his followers wish to impose a much narrower interpretation of scripture, especially in the area of human sexuality, and to exclude those who do not agree with their views.
Having failed to achieve this at General Convention, they now choose to leave the table entirely. And while we wish they would stay at the feast with the rest of us, they can leave. But they can't take the table with them.