By ERIC GRIFFEY
Fort Worth Weekly
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Fort Worth has become a poster diocese for the issues that have plagued the whole church. There are no women or openly homosexual priests within the diocese as a result of the conservative leadership — some would say tyranny — of Bishop Jack Iker. A polarizing figure to Fort Worth Episcopalians, he has aligned himself with other dissidents within the church, steering the diocese toward a separation and legal battles over property rights. He’s also aligning the Fort Worth diocese, or at least some of its churches, with a portion of the worldwide church led by a gay-hating Nigerian cleric. Individual churches are already deciding whether to stay in the American church or possibly break away with Iker, if he tries to take the diocese out of the national church — a move that may be made as early as this fall.
Countless individuals and groups are trying to hold the church together, including Via Media (Latin for “the middle way”), a national group made up of both laity and clergy. But despite those efforts, people from both ends of the theological spectrum are jumping ship, believing that the three-legged stool of Anglicanism — scripture, reason, and tradition — has been pulled out from under the congregations as their leaders, at home and abroad, pursue a feud that could split the church forever.
One person driven away by the actions of the diocese is Trevor Gates, who moved from Virginia to Fort Worth in 2004 and stopped attending the Episcopal Church because of the diocese’s reaction to the consecration of a gay bishop.
"I have been pretty turned off by the local diocese and don’t feel like it’s a place that is supportive of me as a gay man," said Gates, who found the inclusive nature of the Episcopal Church in Virginia appealing. "Social justice and respect for the inherent dignity and worth of all people don’t seem to be a part of the equation in Fort Worth."
He said that the local arm of Integrity, a group supportive of gays and lesbians within the church, has been sympathetic, and that if the diocese does break away, he would be willing to come back to the Episcopal Church.
For many Fort Worth Episcopalians, the tension between this diocese and the ECUSA is nothing new. Katie Sherrod, a parishioner at Trinity Episcopal who is married to Episcopal priest Gayland Poole, believes that Iker is just picking up where his predecessors left off. "Ever since the diocese of Fort Worth was formed by splitting from the Diocese of Dallas, we have had very conservative bishops," she said. "Jack Iker is continuing the tradition of being unhappy with the Episcopal Church. Every time we expand the group beyond the power of white males, there is a big uproar. Any challenge to the patriarchy is going to upset a lot of people.
"The struggle goes on daily, in many ways," she continued. "At parish meetings, at adult forums, and at other gatherings in the parish, it has become clear that the parish wants to remain in the Episcopal Church, no matter what the bishop does." In addition to her membership in organizations that promote women’s issues, Sherrod is also on the board of Claiming the Blessing, an organization of Episcopalians that promotes full inclusion of homosexuals in the church.
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