Tuesday, January 09, 2007

It's All About Gender

“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?


Anonymous said...

If they are baptized, then they are full members.

Ann said...

I was also stunned - although you have been warning us all along. I alternate between rage and apathy - who cares about this stupid church? And I care.

Mark Harris said...

Absolutely the best piece I have seen on all this mess. Thank you. I will be drawing on this for some things I hope to write soon. Mark

Caminante said...

Katie, I immediately thought of you... I am past words (sort of gaping mouth) because I am so angry and incredibly sad for my sisters in FW. I barely could post anything coherent last night on my blog...anyway, prayers of solidarity are coming your way from Vermont. Lee

MadPriest said...

Of course, now the (mission) field is open and precedent set, I think it is time for the Canadian Church to set up a mission in the States. They could then promote a Fort Worth female priest to the Episcopacy (still paid for, as precedent dictates by the diocese of Fort Worth) who could wander around Texas and beyond ordaining any body she liked without fear of censure. I could see a few blind eyes being turned in the upper reaches of the American Church. I suggest Canada, merely because of its proximity, any sympathetic province would be equally as good.

Fr. John said...


I don't think I fully grasped the situation in Fort Worth until I read this piece. I can't even begin to imagine the climate of hostility that women face there. You are very much in my prayers.

Jesus loves you. I love you. The people of God throughout the Episcopal Church are bearing you up by their prayers and witness. Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

Come on -- this is a bunch of empty hyperbole, with little to do with "facts on the ground". Can you name any priest that was denied under the Dallas Plan but ordained somewhere else? Any would-be priest that was absolutely qualified but arbitrarily excluded?

Your reference to Burkburnett, a small town on the Oklahoma border, is ridiculous. Sure, it's a 300-mile round trip to Dallas, but it's nearly that far from Burkburnett to Fort Worth. From downtown Fort Worth to downtown Dallas is less than a 30-minute drive; the city limits even abut each other in places.

"Abuse"? You trivialize those that are actually abused.

Finally, with regard to your implication that there are many women that are called to be priests that are so discouraged they won't even begin the process -- well, if they have that little faith in God's will that they can't even begin to act on it, then I don't think they're set to be priests anyway.

Ann said...

Dear Anonymous 2 -- so brave and gracious a message certainly should have a name attached to it!! and yes there are names of people who had to go elsewhere (like the Dio of TX) to enter the process and be ordained. - fully qualified. Next time "cowboy up" and sign your name.

Anonymous said...

One can be called but have other obligations preventing moving to optimize one's chances. Eg, someone in the family requires specialized medical care or other care available at the current location (say, a child with autism who has been placed in one of the few available treatment slots). In that case, the prospective candidate would have no immediate option but to go through a presumably female-unfriendly process.

I'd guess that prospective candidates who can move, move out of diocese before starting the whole process, rather than encounter +Iker. How could one get those statistics?

who, although I don't have a google account, at least tries not to be totally anonymous.

Anonymous said...

I understand that you have a right to your opinion but you are acting out of what seems to be hatred...we are called to love others, even our enemies. It's not that Bp. Iker is anti-feminist--he just is following the word of God, the infalliable scriptures. As for LGBT members, I don't think that the desire of the Episcopal church is trying to expurgate them from our church but they do not see LGBT members as suitible leaders for the church. Mainly this is because it is pretty well stated in the scriptures. Romans 1:27-28 states: "And the men, instead of having normal sexual relationships with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men and, as a result, suffered within themselves the penalty they so richly deserved. When they refused to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their evil minds and let them do things that should never be done.(NKJV)" By letting an openly homsexual priest lead the church, we are condoning a sin that God clearly rejects. We should still show love to the homosexual members of our churches because we are not called to judge them but we should not condone the lifestyle. I stand firm in my faith that God has the power to change those who follow Him.

Caminante said...

It's distressing to read the words of a high school student, citing one of the seven 'texts of terror' that are used to bludgeon LGBT folks but said purportedly 'always in love'. (The message is, in fact, a bit canned, that is, reflecting the usual speaking points of people against the leadership of LGBTs in the church.)

I pray that God in time will open their heart to questioning what s/he has been taught. And perhaps in time s/he will encounter a congregation where, gasp, an open 'ho-mo-sex-u-al' ministers and is ministered to with love, as is the case in my congregation.

For this young person, I would like to say that there is no such thing as a 'homosexual lifestyle.' That phrase is absolute hogwash and really is quite empty. Go out, meet and talk with a lesbian or gay person, LISTEN to them (not with the intent to 'change them') and find out that we do the very things that straights do -- balance the checkbook well or not, take out the cat litter, drive to work, work, clean the house, all those little things that make up daily life.

Isn't it curious (not really) that when we talk about women, it always comes back around to sexual orientation and in particular 'those homosexuals'? Folks just can't untangle the two.

So I get doubly frustrated, as a woman priest and a lesbian. But thanks be to God, I live in a diocese where both are welcomed. I pray for those in dioceses who accept neither. We are all diminished because the message to some is not the resounding message of affirmation we heard in Sunday's gospel, 'You are my beloved,' a message that holds no exclusions or conditions.

Anonymous said...

If it’s good enough for heterosexual women, why isn’t it good enough for LGBT people?

Gee, if you'd read your BIBLE more often, this would be plainly obvious to you.

Anonymous said...

Re: “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.”

Ms.Sherrod,if you think that Bishop Iker or any ecclesiastical authority in Fort Worth or Dallas has abused “those in the minority”, then, by all means,bring them up on charges. Otherwise refrain from making this outrageous accusation.

Liberals/progresives often protest that a certain statement or decision “promotes violence against women or homosexuals.”
Such phrases trivialize the pain and trauma of women and homosexuals who have truly been physically or sexually abused.

By now we’ve heard this hyperbole so often that the temptation is to dismiss it as a tired, over-used phrase. If we do that, we participate in diminishing the suffering of those who have in fact been violated or abused. I view this as an attempt to induce guilt on those of us who adhere to the authority of scripture and the apostolic tradition. We should repent for the many sins we do commit, but we are not accountable for the fabricated sins that Ms. Sherrod and others attribute to us.

Anonymous said...

If you find the Bible full of "texts of terror" why on earth are you a Christian?

Anonymous said...

To H.S. Episcopalian:
At your age, it is reassuring to have rulebooks, single definitive interpretations unsullied by historical or translation/linguistic considerations. Life at your age can be very confusing (I certainly found it so), and being able to "cross out" with certainty "One Sin I Will Never Be Likely To Do Or Tempted To Do" gives a bit of comfort.

At your age, I remember being fairly self-righteous about sexual continence and secretly or not-so-secretly contemptuous of my peers and of adults who made stupid mistakes. It took a long while for me to figure out that the sexually "loose" people often had a generosity of spirit that I lacked. Sometimes there can be a certain calculated selfishness to maintaining "purity" before you have made the lifetime commitment to your mate. "No sex, sir, until you, a man with good earning potential, have a legal financial commitment to me!" Many times people will do "the right thing" for the "wrong" reasons.

Being an ever-celibate human, whether gay or straight in orientation, can leave a person without the basic training in sharing and intimacy that is needed to love deeply, and to forgive. A few people have the gift of lifelong celibacy plus the gift of deep friendship, but these are few.

Orientation can be suppressed to a certain extent, but it is certainly not fair for definitely gay and definitely straight mixed couple (with normal sex drive in at least one party) to marry - the straight one doesn't get the quality of attention desired, the gay one is acting a part.

NancyP, definitely middle-aged

Anonymous said...

Katie, you have once again stated the facts with eloquence! As I read the comment postings, I am appalled by the number of people that still do not understand the point that through Christ, there is no male, no female. So, how is the Bishop of Fort Worth able to dismiss the ordination of women? How is he able to ignore the Presiding Bishop. Yes, were I called to serve, I would more than likely be afraid to come forward in this "boys club" called the Fort Worth Diocese. As a lifelong Episcopalian and lesbian, I find it upsetting to hear that others feel I am not leadership material. I was a leader in the Army and a leader in civilian life. I am also celibate, but whose business is that? God has blessed me with life, heart, and intellect and I shall pray for the day that we can all come to the table together and celibrate the Lord's supper. I imagine were Christ to appear today, he would once again find himself tearing down the temple! Thank goodness there is only one race, the human race to treasure. Too bad there is so much ignorance to eradicate. I honestly pray that one of Bishop Iker's daughters will one day feel called to serve as an ordained Priest. How will he receive her?
a virgin blogger!

Anonymous said...

I am appalled by the number of people that still do not understand the point that through Christ, there is no male, no female.

Where does it say that?
glad to be female

Anonymous said...

I am sad. I am sad because we have taken something wonderful, God's word, and have made it either a weapon or a fictional story. We should all be ashamed. Although I have particular sadness for those who think that they can take the word of God and use it for political gain in power. These issues have torn apart the Church and have damaged peoples relationship with God. Why? For perceived power. For selfishness. For self-centeredness. We are all children of God. We are all loved by God. And in that love he wants to help us to become what he intended us to be. Mature, loving, holy, wise... Instead, we fall, as Adam did, for the power and our own glory. We think only of today and this transient life and not the eternal. I am not judging anyone...I am just sad. I am sorry. I wish I could make you all happy - I can not. But please, stop this. Stop feeling persecuted and hated. Stop being offended, stop pushing views on other people, stop caring what other people think. Just for one week stop pushing and let God enter your heart. Try to act like a grown up. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Be Still.

With all Christian Love.

Anonymous said...

Galatians (dont have ch. & v.):
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.


Caminante said...

Sherrie wrote: "If you find the Bible full of "texts of terror" why on earth are you a Christian?"

If you read my post carefully, I said one of SEVEN texts, the seven verses that people yank out of context to objectify and dismiss LGBT people (a concept that didn't even exist at the time of the composition of the particular passages). What I wrote does not exclude the entire Bible. Please don't extrapolate what is not there.

Ann said...

19 comments -- wow -- Ms Popularity. Good work Katie -

toujoursdan said...

I used to live in Dallas and moved back to Canada last year. I feel your pain Katie. Justice is a long hard path but I remain hopeful that one day we will become as Christ calls us.

(BTW, the Romans passage is clearly talking about people participating in pagan sex orgies. Look at verse 23 and verse 25. Paul even tells us what the idols look like for goodness sake! It no more tells us about how gay people are supposed to behave than all the Biblical condemnations of heterosexual cult prostitution tell us about how heterosexual Christians are supposed to behave.)

Anonymous said...

Goodness, it's Gal: 3:28. Tsk.

And prayers for Katie and the members of the Episcopal church in the Diocese of Ft. Worth. And for Fr. Jake for the link, and his Dad.


Amie said...


My heart and prayers are with you and the other women who share your pain. I am fortunte that I am in diocese that ordains women but it's an uphill battle for us to gain respect here (and almost impossible if one is more progressive in theology, which I am.) We have a long way to go and it is not helped by the Panel's shoddy work.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie+

W said...

Dear Katie,

Thank you for your post. I had not seen this post before I commented on the Panel of Reference's actions. I believed that we should consult with women on the ground in FW before making a final decision, and I asked us to remember that the Panel has only advisory authority.

I still ask us not to blame the panel too much. Perhaps the deck was stacked against us by the makeup of the panel. However, we have to remember that the Anglican Communion is changing. The largest churches are in Asia and Africa. They should perhaps have more input, based on their greater numbers. It would be presumptuous of Western churches to keep them out of decision-making, because we think we know better.

That having been said, my attitude towards Bishop Iker is no charitable. The Episcopal Church should investigate your allegations, by consulting with people on the ground in Fort Worth. If your allegations are true, then we should immediately move to depose Bishop Iker. The man has the gall to act as if he is following church canons. He has the gall to claim that he is being discriminated against by the church. Our ecclesiastical courts must presume him innocent until found guilty. But, unless I hear contrary from other women in Fort Worth, I have no reason to distrust what you said, and my mind is made up.

W said...

PS, Iker is probably going to leave the Episcopal Church anyway. Let's help him out!