Friday, May 18, 2007

A New Moses or an Old Lemming?

Thoughts on the Fort Worth Statement
(by the Rev. Thomas B. Woodward and the Episcopal Church Institute)

News from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is causing a considerable stir within the Episcopal Church and the World Wide Anglican Blogosphere. (Several references are provided at the end of this post.) Some on the “orthodox” side see Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker as the new Moses, leading the faithful out of a wayward and oppressive church into a land of plenty. Other “orthodox” are crying out to centrist and progressive parts of the Episcopal Church to save them from Fort Worth’s recklessness, saying, in effect: “Make TEC agree to Windsor, to the Primates, to whatever Covenant anyone devises – so Fort Worth will reconsider!” Most others will see Bishop Iker and his cohorts as Old Lemmings, leading one another over the precipice of the nearest ecclesiastical cliff.

Bishop Iker and the Executive Council of his diocese have announced their disdain for the Episcopal Church and their desire to disassociate themselves from it (even further than they did months ago). They note that “every attempt to find ‘an American solution to an American problem’ has failed.” That simply is not true. An American solution to this American problem was presented to Fort Worth by our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, in late November. The American solution was offered; but Fort Worth snubbed it.

The question that comes to mind is: “What was unacceptable to Fort Worth in our Presiding Bishop's offer to them?” Is the problem that it was offered by a woman? Or is it that the primate appointed for the Alternative Primatial Oversight would be accountable to a woman? If it were on theological grounds, Bishop Iker should have informed his people that, contrary to those who have been misrepresenting and twisting her remarks, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori is firmly within the orthodoxy of the Anglican Communion and the church catholic. (See Bishop Whalon's remarks for one example countering the inappropriate and inaccurate attacks by the dissidents.)

The Episcopal Church Institute has informed The Episcopal Majority that it is prepared to offer a three-point American plan to keep the Diocese of Fort Worth within the Episcopal Church.

  1. Upon word from the Diocese of Fort Worth that it will accept Alternative Primatial Oversight from a bishop appointed by our Presiding Bishop on the condition that she will release that Alternative Primate (AP) from accountability to her, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori will appoint the Primate of Canada to provide Primatial Oversight to Fort Worth.
  2. Given the objections of Bishop Iker and his disciples within Fort Worth to the ordination or consecration of women, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has consented [This is not public knowledge yet, so please do not pass this around] to be referred to by her middle name, nicknamicized as “Jeff.”
    This decision has come after considerable conversations with various theological committees which, together, concluded that because what is specifically male or female is not involved in the performance of any sacramental or sacerdotal action, that the only viable objection to the ordination and consecration of women to the priesthood or episcopate is that Jesus only called people with male names to the office of Apostle. Ipse dixit (and facto), “Jeff’s” orders can now be fully recognized within the dioceses of Fort Worth, Springfield, Quincy, Rome, and others.
  3. The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth can invite one of the four members of the Episcopal Church Institute who are still in this country to consult with them about the meaning and importance of the consecration vows of Bishop Iker signed in the presence of his family, the bishops who consecrated him, and others, which read: “I solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.”
    The consultant will also provide a detailed analysis of the notion of obedience within ancient and traditional Christianity, especially as related to priestly and episcopal vows, noting that vows of obedience were never meant to end with matters any of us would do on our own, anyway.
So What about Moses and the Lemming?

What Bishop Iker and his Executive Committee have forgotten is that, in their leaving the Episcopal Church, all diocesan property (real and personal) belongs to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. Bishops, clergy, and laypeople who leave the Episcopal Church and its doctrine, discipline, and worship leave like Moses and his band – with a few loaves of unleavened bread – and that is all.

The Cathedral, the parish churches, the embossed stationery, vestments, pipe organs, plaques from community organizations, and probably even the episcopal vestments worn in the past by Bishop Iker – they all belong to the Episcopal Church. The crosier stays for the next bishop of Fort Worth. With that in mind, is this about Moses or the Lemming?

Property law in Texas is about the same as it is in New Mexico. Both Texas and New Mexico are “Deference States,” whose laws defer to the hierarchy in property matters. We went through this recently in New Mexico when the State Legislature was asked to change the basis of the law from deference to church hierarchy to deciding property matters on "neutral principles" (which holds in California). The change was rejected because the State does not want to get into the adjudication of church disputes. They said, in effect: You have a structure; let those at the top decide this. The bishop and Standing Committee of Fort Worth may leave as individuals with their nametags, but …that's all, folks.

What is some foreign jurisdiction going to do with an Iker, several clergy, perhaps hundreds of parishioners with no money and no property? Is the new primate going to build new churches for this lot, buy new vestments for the bishop, provide cars, health insurance, and rectories for the clergy? Does that look like what Archbishop Akinola or any of the "Global South Primates" have been dreaming about?

If that weren’t enough, given that Fort Worth turned down a sincere and genuine offer of AlPO (Alternative Primatial Oversight) within the U.S., what overseas province would want to take a chance on its loyalty to a foreign jurisdiction when disagreements arose – money aside?

If this is a new Moses, it is a deceptive Moses – or, probably better put, a Lemming in Moses’ clothing. Our canon law is clear about property – and it is clear about who can leave the Episcopal Church. One entity that cannot leave is a diocese, no matter how hard they want to believe what isn’t true.

The Episcopal Church will continue to care for those who stay in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. Even if Bishop Iker, the full membership of all diocesan committees, as well as other clergy and laypeople leave the Episcopal Church, the diocese will remain with all its buildings and property to be used wisely and prayerfully by those who remain. The Episcopal Church will continue in Fort Worth.

Moses himself may have been the prototype Anglican of pre-Christian and pre-Reformation days, for he led a group of people with enormous differences amongst themselves into a strange and often baffling culture, eventually transforming it. His leadership was courageous, and it was open to a developing and increasingly complex faith in the God who was calling him and his people to be God’s people for the world. Moses and others have been known as the pioneers of our faith, as they have led the way forward into new ways of being God’s community and new ways of expressing God’s inclusive love for all creation. Lemmings, however, are not guided by such a vision, nor are they heedful of those who warn them of their own self-destruction.

As we look around our beloved church, we can often recognize the Mose figures and the lemmings amongst us. We pray for a common vision and for a future based on the inclusive love, righteousness, and passion for justice and mercy we have met in Jesus Christ.

About the Authors
The Episcopal Church Institute, patterned after the Anglican Communion Institute in Colorado (currently decimated after the departure of Don Armstrong and some impressive financial backing), comes down to four middle-aged guys in the Southwest with no website and too much time on their hands. Members of the Institute are Arthur Sargent, Pepper Marts, Bill Easter, and Tom Woodward.

Addendum: Two Episcopalians in the Diocese of Fort Worth have written about the latest statement. See Barbi Click's "Posturing Imitators" and Katie Sherrod's "Flying Chickens."

Links and Background

On Wednesday, London Times columnist
Ruth Gledhill managed to create quite a stir with her "scoop" that Fort Worth, Quincy, and three other dioceses to be named later were about to announce their departure from the Episcopal Church. When the dust settled and Fort Worth released their highly-touted statement, nothing of the sort had occurred. (If you can't access the PDF file from the Fort Worth site, go here for an online version.) As the ever piquant Father Jake put it: "It appears the Diocese of Fort Worth has issued a statement, which can be summarized as 'we want Alternative Primatial Oversight (AlPO), and we really mean it this time!'" Other worthies have already commented on the Fort Worth statement, including Episcopal Majority member Mark Harris, and Episcopal News Service now has a story here.

The Fort Worth statement is not being uniformly welcomed by the dissidents, as is evident in the comments (verging on in-fighting)
here and here.

At the Network's November 2005 "Hope and a Future" conference hosted by Bishop Robert Duncan and the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Archbishop Akinola urged the faithful to make their choice between scriptural fidelity and clinging to property:

"Many of you have one leg in ECUSA and one leg in the Network," declared Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria. "You must let us know exactly where you stand - are you ECUSA or are you Network?" . . . . Best-selling author and Southern Baptist pastor Rick Warren delivered the keynote sermon, during which he warned conservative Episcopalians not to fight over property. "It's your faith, not your facilities," Warren admonished. "Jesus didn't die for buildings. He died for people, not a steeple." [As reported by ENS and several other sources.]


Blogger David said...

A quick note on "Bishop Iker and the Executive Council of his diocese have announced their disdain for the Episcopal Church and their desire to disassociate themselves from it..."

The Dio of Fort Worth has held TEC in disdain since its inception in the 1980's. There has never been a time in its history that Fort Worth has truly considered itself part of TEC...

5/18/2007 11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a quick question: If DFW amended their constitution by deleting the accession clause, how does that play in Texas?

5/18/2007 11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I am flattered to be described as middle aged (although I would resent losing my senior citizen discount on airlines). In the interest of full disclosure, middle age is so far behind my rear view mirror, I can not even see its vague outlines. So far behind I have to struggle to decipher the "word verification," and I remain absolutely clueless when it comes to choosing my identify: am I Google/Blogger? (I don't think so), Other? (maybe) Anonymous (well not since I am signing this comment).

Arthur Sargent

5/18/2007 1:19 PM  
Blogger TBW said...

In response to anonymous's question: FW did not have permission to change its accession clause -- I assume any judge would see through the ruse in a second.

A two year old can scream "You are not my parent!" to his father, but the screaming does not alter the relationship.
Tom Woodward

5/18/2007 2:10 PM  
Blogger Lionel said...

Forget about solutions, what, exactly, is the problem?

5/19/2007 11:43 AM  
Blogger Lauren Gough said...

If FtW leaves TEC (which it cannot do) can I then go to FtW and set up a church on my own as a missionary from TEC? I wonder if there is a bishop out there who would support a church planting in Ft. W?

5/19/2007 12:01 PM  
Anonymous TomB said...

Hello, Tom W. Just curious about something. If TEC is changing its basic beliefs (I think you have to agree that they have undergone a change) then is it right for TEC to keep the tithes that have been given to support the spread of the 'old' beliefs? I believe that the 'new' TEC has changed the belief structure that they used to 'draw me in' to ECUSA. Doesn't that make the right thing a refund of all those monies that have been donated to maintain the 'historical' church? (or is it OK to take my money to spread one set of beliefs, then turn around and spend it on another completely different thing?).

5/23/2007 11:13 PM  
Blogger TBW said...

I think my parents and grandparents gave to the church in support of the ministry of Jesus Christ. That ministry has changed or grown from generation to generation. My grandfather believed that racial segregation in churches was godly. My father did, too, until he came to believe that the church had had that one wrong. He did live long enough to see the ordination of women in TEC. In his Episcopal Church world women were not permitted to serve on Vestries or to speak in church.

It has been my family's experience that we are learning more and more about the will of God and we are coming to a deeper understanding of the ministry, teaching and witness of Jesus Christ. I am not giving a cent of "my" money to keep The Episcopal Church anchored in my present and another generation's past. For me, that would be supporting a relationship with a dead god, not the Living God I know through Scripture and the Church.

Hope this helps -- if it doesn't, let's keep at it. We "Doubting Thomas'" have to hold on to one another!!
Tom Woodward
Santa Fe, NM

5/26/2007 5:38 PM  
Anonymous Malcolm+ said...

One of the four candidates for Primate of All Canada is the Rt. Rev'd Victoria Matthews of Edmonton. She had been nominated in the previous Primatial election but withdrew when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Many speculate she is the leading candidate. Thus, I guess the APO in the proposal would have to go to the Primate of Mexico, perhaps, or the Primus of Scotland.

Of course, My Lady of Edmonton was once known in a parish as "Father Vicky" if that helps.

Curiously, there are two bishopric names in the Anglican Communion that are repeated. There is a Bishop of Rochester in New York, USA and another in England. There are likewise two bishops of Edmonton - the one in Canada and the other a suffragan to the Bishop of London. The English Bishop of Edmonton is opposed to the ordination of women.

Life's little ironies.

5/31/2007 4:52 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home