All Saints Parish in Fort Worth is one is one of the major parishes in our diocese. I have a great deal of affection for the parish, as I used to be a member there, and Gayland and I were married there. I have many many close friends who still worship there.
Christopher Jambor, the rector of All Saints, has been doing an excellent job of letting the parish make up its mind about the current situation in our diocese. This is the exception rather than the rule in this diocese, where most of the rectors are “true believers” who refuse to allow much, if any, discussion at all.
Jambor, on the other hand, has had speakers from our diocesan leadership come make their case, and he has had Bonnie Anderson in to speak to the parish on behalf of TEC. Recently Bp. Iker visited All Saints after the parish requested that the bishop come “speak for himself” instead of sending surrogates. He bought Ryan Reed, president of the Standing Committee, with him, although Reed did not speak.
Several people have told me what they heard at the meeting with Bp. Iker. Once again, he made it clear that his basic issue is women, not homosexuality. Here’s a summary from several reports of the meeting:
The bishop continues to maintain that he is not responsible for the current situation in the diocese. This is not all about him. He is simply doing what the diocesan convention directs him to do, he said.
“I do not have a vote. I don’t buy the idea that I’m trying to make the diocese anything other than it is,” he told the meeting at All Saints.
I confess to being surprised at this statement. Jack Iker has never struck me as a bishop willing to be passively led by his” flock.” Indeed, he’s made it clear that it is his responsibility as bishop to save us from the heretical TEC, to serve as protector of the faith “once delivered to our fathers.”
Bp. Iker said that the current controversy is not all Gene Robinson’s fault. The issue, according to Bp. Iker, is bigger than Gene. It’s the “world-wide problem” with the consecration of Katharine Jefferts Schori – a woman – as presiding bishop.
Bp. Iker is irritated that he is blamed by some for causing division in the church. “To say I’ve caused this division is ludicrous. . . the problem is with TEC, who has the arrogant attitude that we will shall do as we please.”
According to several people who were at the meeting, Bp. Iker said he would take communion from an immoral gay priest who was male before he would take it from a moral priest who was a woman. This is because with the male, he would be assured the consecration was “valid,” which is not possible with any woman.
When asked what besides women’s ordination are the issues of contention, the bishop went on at length about the diocese being “forced” to ordain women. Of course no one is forcing him to do such ordinations. Nor could they. No bishop can be forced to ordain anyone.
But this is part of Bp. Iker’s standard “slippery slope” argument – once you start ordaining women, who aren’t “proper matter” for ordination, pretty soon you are ordaining gays and lesbians and God knows what else.
According to this argument, even though the “General Convention Church” has not approved a rite for blessing same sex unions, it’s only a matter of time before Bp. Iker and all the priests in this diocese will be “forced” to perform same sex blessings. Of course, no one could force them to do any such thing, just as no one can force any priest to perform a marriage for anyone.
Bp. Iker said he can name 16 dioceses that do bless same sex unions. He is deeply annoyed that no one is punishing the bishops that allow these things to take place. Of course, no one is punishing Jack Iker for refusing to ordain women to the priesthood either.
Bp. Iker reassured listeners that if All Saints “leaves” with the diocese, those who believe there can be gay priests and same sex blessings will still be welcome in the parish and the diocese. He said that there are good Episcopalians in other denominations, such as the Lutheran Church, that “denomination is not important.”
He also said that he always attends church on Sundays when he travels, but he always checks to see what he can learn about a church first – making sure there are no priests who are women for one thing. He wants to be sure the church espouses a correct form of Christianity before he will worship there. But he also said that he’s taken communion from churches with whom he is not in full communion.
After much roundabout talk, he finally said that the diocese is “in communion” with those who profess Jesus as Lord and place an emphasis "on the word of God as found in Scripture.”
Bp. Iker said he is going to attend the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem and Jordan with all the other “orthodox” bishops for “refreshment,” but that he’s also going to go to Lambeth. He is in favor of an Anglican Covenant, but he doesn’t think there’s a lot of hope for it. While it will be discussed at Lambeth, “the Southern Bishops” won’t be there – the implication being that without their voices, the Covenant won’t have much support.
Bp. Iker said that when he visited parishes after 2003, vestries would tell him that they are embarrassed about what was being said about Episcopalians and wanted to know if he was going to do something about it or whether they would have to do it themselves. He said it was challenging for them to have to explain, “Oh, we’re not THAT kind of Episcopalians.”
He said that if the diocese “leaves” it will still be the “Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth," but he also cautioned folks not to “get caught up in the invitation from the Southern Cone. We may not align with the Southern Cone. We asked if we could align with them as a ‘safe harbor,’ just as Fr. Jambor has asked me about a safe harbor for All Saints. I have been in recent communication with the Presiding Bishop and with Rowan. Rowan does have extra-provincial dioceses.”
Of course, "being in communication" with people can mean anything from sending an e-mail to having a face-to-face meeting. It doesn't mean they agree or approve of what Bp. Iker is doing.
So here are the main points of his presentation:
-- The whole mess started with the ordination of women.
-- The election of a woman as presiding bishop is much worse than the election of a gay man as bishop, just as any male priest, no matter how "immoral", is better than any female priest.
-- Bp. Iker is not responsible for the division in the diocese. He is only doing what diocesan convention tells him to do.
-- We may not align with the Southern Cone.
-- He is still clinging to the idea of an extra-provincial diocese.
The suggestion that we might not align with the Southern Cone came as a big surprise to nearly everyone in the room , given the full court press that's been on to persuade everyone that we "must" go there in order to be safe from the heresies of The Episcopal Church. This suggestion of a change in plans is worrying on many counts, not the least of which is that he may not "go" anywhere.
Additionally, Bp. Iker may find it is harder to change horses in mid-stream than he thinks. Nearly always, one slips and ends up getting very wet.
One person present at the meeting also suggested that it is not a good idea to irritate every woman in the room with misogynistic statements. It often is just the push needed to move many a person off the fence.