This interview was conducted Saturday, November 8, 2008 in Fort Worth, one week before the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth’s annual convention prepared to vote on leaving the Episcopal Church.
Greg Griffith: You have a small but vocal opposition here in the diocese of Fort Worth, in the form of the “Via Media” and “Remain Episcopal” organizations. They’re having an event this morning - can you tell me about it?
Bishop Iker: They’ve got an event talking about the once and future diocese of Fort Worth, and they have some grief counselors and therapists there to help them deal with their separation anxiety, and grief and pain about the division in the diocese.
Greg Griffith: But shouldn’t they be happy that you and the rest of the orthodox are finally leaving?
Bishop Iker: I would think so. I’d think that people who support Via Media would be the first ones voting for the separation, because it’s the only way they’re going to get their agenda through, in the church here: By forming another diocese out from under my Episcopal oversight.
Greg Griffith: Do you have any intention of changing the name of the diocese?
Bishop Iker: We’ll remain The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, because that’s who we are, and who we were when we were formed, before we came into union with General Convention in 1982. In 1982 the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth applied to be admitted into union with the General Convention (the wording of the resolution), and we were. This will be our 26th annual convention, and we’ve decided we cannot remain faithful to the Gospel and the teachings of scriptures while we’re under the authority of the General Convention Church. But that doesn’t change who we are; it changes our relationship with the General Convention authority.
Greg Griffith: So not just from a conceptual standpoint, but really from an official standpoint, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is not a creation of General Convention.
Bishop Iker: Not at all. If it’s a “creation” of anything, it’s a creation of the Diocese of Dallas, which decided for missionary and church growth purposes that they would divide the diocese in two. Two-thirds of the geographical area remained the diocese of Dallas. They wanted to create a new diocese which at the time didn’t have a name; it was referred to as the “western diocese,” so the first convention had to, among other things, choose our name - it wasn’t given to us by someone else. There were several proposals, and the vote was that we call ourselves the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.
Greg Griffith: Provided the resolutions at your convention pass, you’ll be joining Bishop Schofield and San Joaquin, Bishop Duncan and Pittsburgh, as well as the diocese of Quincy, which voted yesterday, in a realignment with the Southern Cone under Archbishop Venables. I think we have to be candid and say that’s probably it for the near term - that’s probably all the dioceses that will be aligning with the Cone for the time being.
Bishop Iker: I think so. It’s interesting, though, that historically to form a new province it’s been customary to have 4 dioceses.
Greg Griffith: Four geographically contiguous dioceses, though, right?
Bishop Iker: We’re not geographically contiguous, which some people have suggested is a problem, but I think we have to remember the non-contiguous nature of the province of TEC. For example, the diocese of Honduras, which is right in the midst of the province of Central America, is a diocese of TEC. Dioceses of South America, which border the province of the Southern Cone - such as Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela - are not part of the Southern Cone province; they’re members of TEC. And clear on the other side of the world you’ve got the diocese of Taiwan, which is not part of any Asian province, but part of TEC. So it doesn’t hold water to say that dioceses have to be contiguous to be members of the same province.
Greg Griffith: Your opposition will note that that’s a separate issue, though - not their main complaint. That would be provincial border-crossings.
Bishop Iker: Well no one’s crossing our diocesan boundaries without our permission, and once we separate ourselves from the province of TEC, there will no longer be any border crossings of any sort within their borders.
Greg Griffith: So far, Bishop Schofield has been inhibited and deposed; Bishop Duncan has famously been “deposed”; Bishop Ackerman chose to retire before his convention voted to separate from TEC. Do you foresee any deposition action against him?
Bishop Iker: It depends on what Bishop Ackerman does. If he simply stays at arm’s length from the congregations in Quincy that have left the Episcopal Church, there won’t be anything they can do to him. If he exercises any Episcopal ministry with those congregations, I think they’ll come after him lickety-split.
Greg Griffith: You’ve done just about everything Bishops Schofield and Duncan have done, in the way of distancing your diocese from the Episcopal Church. Why do you think you haven’t been inhibited or deposed?
Bishop Iker: That’s a real mystery, and I’ve wondered about that from time to time myself, because as you say, I’m in the same category as Bishops Schofield and Duncan, but all I can figure is that the Title IV review committee simply hasn’t issued the required certification.
Greg Griffith: But surely Katharine Schori and the powers that be are not going to let the diocese of Fort Worth - which is not just a high-profile diocese, but one that hasn’t been shy about expressing its disagreements with the national church - surely they’re not going to just let you go without exhausting all of their canonical and legal options.
Bishop Iker: I fully expect that I’ll receive notification from the Presiding Bishop’s office, within days of our diocesan convention, that I’ve been inhibited. Of course by then it will be irrelevant, because I won’t be under the authority of the Episcopal Church. But they’ll play that out in the same that they did with Bishops Schofield and Duncan. What the “Remain Episcopal” people here are told by David Booth Beers - they’ve been to New York and met with him - is that I’ll be inhibited right after our convention, then I’ll have sixty days to recant, and if I don’t then I will be deposed at the next meeting of the House of Bishops, which is some time in March. After that, they’re planning on having the new organizing convention here in April, and probably get organized, elect a new standing committee, and a new provisional bishop. [Greg’s note: Other sources in the diocese have confirmed that the “provisional bishop” will be Sam Hulsey, retired bishop of the diocese of Northwest Texas]
Greg Griffith: Do you expect any attempts by the Episcopal Church’s national leadership to take property from your diocese?
Bishop Iker: The plan is to do the same thing they’ve done in San Joaquin - that is, to form a new diocese and then bring a lawsuit against the true diocese that separated - a lawsuit for all the assets, including property. Obviously the difference (between their approach and ours) is that the “Remain Episcopal” people have a winner-take-all attitude, that they believe everything belongs to the Episcopal Church and those who leave the Episcopal Church should be deprived of their buildings, property and assets. Our position is that those who don’t want to continue to be a part of the diocese after our separation from TEC, under certain conditions, should be given their buildings, property and assets, and be cut free from the diocese.
Greg Griffith: If I’m correct, you’re not looking for them to “purchase” their property again. You’re not looking for any monetary settlement - except in a few cases that may be unusual for whatever reason - but to essentially turn them loose, and let them go.
Bishop Iker: Right. It would be foolhardy to go back and try to figure out who owns what, down to the last detail… some of these parishes go back to the 1890’s. What would be gained by trying to exact some purchase price from them? We’d want to cut them free. If they have any indebtedness to the diocese, we’d expect them to pay that, obviously.
Greg Griffith: In San Joaquin there is a group of people who are doctrinally orthodox, who chose not to leave with Bishop Schofield. Do you have a similar group here in Fort Worth, of any size, that intends not to go with you?
Bishop Iker: We would have - the best I can tell - six congregations where the vestry have said basically that they want to remain in the Episcopal Church. There are varying degrees of orthodoxy within those congregations. All of them would obviously want to have women priests and women bishops, and are very proud of the fact that Katharine Schori is the Presiding Bishop. On the same-sex blessings, it’s more of a mixed bag. Some are very much in favor, others say “not yet.” But they think they can continue to be what they would see as a conservative voice in the Episcopal Church, and they say ‘why doesn’t the diocese continue in the Episcopal Church to be this faithful remnant?’ But our conclusion is that after 26 years of struggling with this, that we have no future in the Episcopal Church, and I don’t think this small group who wants to remain, after we’ve separated, has a future in the Episcopal Church in the long term either, unless they submit and comply to everything that General Convention does.
Greg Griffith: What do you say to people - not necessarily in your own diocese, because there seem to be fairly few of them - but in dioceses across the country, who are sensing trouble, looking around for alternatives, and as uncomfortable as they are in TEC, are even less comfortable with the prospect of leaving for a foreign jurisdiction? Can you understand what they’re going through, and can you speak to that?
Bishop Iker: The fact is there’s some very good people who cannot bring themselves to leave the Episcopal Church, and there are others who share their beliefs, and convictions, and their commitment to scriptural authority, who cannot bring themselves to remain any longer in the Episcopal Church. So each person has to do what they can do, where they are, given the circumstances of their parish and their diocese. But in the long run, what we’re trying to accomplish is not just a separation from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, but the establishment of another - a new - orthodox Anglican province in North America.
Greg Griffith: The African provinces, particularly Nigeria and I believe Uganda - have said that whatever primatial oversight they give to American churches is intended to be temporary -
Bishop Iker: Correct.
Greg Griffith: - and by that we mean several years, perhaps a decade or even more in some cases. Is this your expectation as regards your affiliation with the Southern Cone - that you will be part of the Southern Cone for the next five to ten years?
Bishop Iker: No, not at all. It’s supposed to be on an emergency pastoral basis, and very temporary. I think the formation of a new province is going to come much more quickly than any of us really thought. I think it will be up and running in early 2009. So it’s possible that we’ll be part of the province of the Southern Cone for less than a year.
Greg Griffith: This new province will presumably be a creation of the people who are members of the province. What, though, does it expect its status to be as a member of the Anglican Communion? Will it “apply” for membership? Will it consider itself “born into” membership by virtue of what it is and who created it? How do you think we can expect the Archbishop to act in response to the formation of this new province?
Bishop Iker: Obviously for a period of time it will be in transition and seeking recognition. I think the first thing is to organize the structure for the province, and then have members of the Common Cause Partnership to declare that “we are now that province.” Then it would be looking for recognition. Obviously it would get recognition from the GAFCON provinces and perhaps even several other primates who are not identified as GAFCON primates. It would be put before the Anglican Consultative Council, I suppose, at their meeting in May 2009… we’ll see what happens then.
Greg Griffith: If, as it looks like, receiving an invitation to Lambeth is the definition of membership in the Anglican Communion, you’ve got 9 years between the formation a new province and the next Lambeth Conference. Do you see that as a good thing, a bad thing, or do you think it doesn’t matter? Nine years is a long time to put facts on the ground and slowly gain allies to the point where, by the time of the next Lambeth Conference, it’s a fait accompli - you’re going to get invited. On the flip side, nine years is a long time for things to go badly wrong - for the province, either through faults of its own or from what will almost certainly be relentless attacks from the Episcopal Church, to find itself as odd man out.
Bishop Iker: Well, nine years along the way is really too long to try and predict, but by that time it’s more likely that there will be a deeper division in the Anglican Communion, and that you’re going to have opposing Anglican Communion bodies. I think that the Instruments of Unity have failed to preserve the communion, and that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. In fact, I don’t think it’s going to get better. I think TEC, Canada, and perhaps some other of the more liberal western provinces are going to go their own way, and that the Global South and other more conservative provinces are not going to be in communion with them.
Greg Griffith: Why don’t you think the Instruments of Unity have been successful in maintaining unity in the communion?
Bishop Iker: Because they’ve been unable to exercise any discipline, and the unity that we seek has been compromised.
Greg Griffith: I’ve often remarked that it’s a failure of the communion’s design: No one has ever offered an answer for, or settled the question of, who’s in charge. I also think that no one has ever volunteered to take charge, partly because no one wants the responsibility. As a result, in a church that’s held together by trust, it is only as unified as its least trustworthy member chooses to be, which in this case is the Episcopal Church, which has repeatedly gone back on its word and betrayed its fellow provinces, and relied on the fact that no one can do anything about it.
Bishop Iker: Yep. [laughs]
Greg Griffith: You have nothing to add to that? [laughs]
Bishop Iker: The Episcopal Church is going to do what it wants to do, and other people are just going to have to deal with the consequences. Again, there’s a kind of arrogance about the Episcopal Church’s leadership at this point in the life of the communion; They want to do what they want to do, and let other people deal with it.
Greg Griffith: It’s almost certain that the Anglican Communion - even if it had a mechanism by which to eject the Episcopal Church - would never choose to do so, and even if it said it wanted TEC to leave, there’s nothing that can really compel them to do so (we’ve talked about the design problem of the communion). But by the same token, what if official recognition of the new province is similarly muddled - either by the communion’s collective action or inaction - and the result is that you have a “twilight zone” of existence for one or both of the provinces - TEC and the new one? My question is: How competitive will the new province be? Because that’s what you’re going to be doing, you’re going to be out there on the market, competing with the Episcopal Church for membership, and you’re going to have to explain to people why it’s better to be in “our” province rather than “the other” province. Doctrinally, that should be a slam-dunk, but when it comes to a feeling of permanence, I think there are a lot of people still inside TEC who are of the mind that, while TEC may be apostate, maybe even heretical, in many places, there is perhaps less of a question of where one stands - at least in terms of one’s “official” Anglican membership - in a TEC that’s over two centuries old, than in a brand-new province with only four dioceses.
Bishop Iker: I think that one of the realities in the Episcopal Church is that there’s a great deal of institutional loyalty, and an attachment to buildings, and in the end you have to ask yourself: Is a denominational label, or institutional loyalty, or loyalty to a building, more important than holding to the Gospel? And what has made this time so revolutionary is lots and lots of people deciding that they’re willing to walk away from their buildings, and their property, and their denominational loyalty for the sake of the Gospel. And I think the momentum is along those lines, and that it’s going to continue to build. ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’ is going to be the indicator of how churches grow in the next decade. There will be competition, and there will be rivalry, and one will be blessed by God with growth and one will not. One only has to take a look at the numbers for the Episcopal Church up through 2007, which have just been released, to see that the Episcopal Church is a dying church, a decaying body, and that people are fleeing from it for their own souls’ health. The Presiding Bishop said she thought the worst part of the crisis was over, and I think that it’s just begun.
Greg Griffith: We’ve discussed division in the communion as a whole, but I want to talk now about division within the orthodox movement, and I wanted to start generally and then get more specific. Generally, I’d want to start with the inside strategy versus the outside strategy - in America, the desire to take a stand by staying inside the Episcopal Church versus the desire to take a stand by leaving it. At Stand Firm, we try - with varying degrees of success - to foster an attitude whereby both sides respect each other. Can you talk about these two approaches to the crisis?
Bishop Iker: We’ve tried to remain and be a faithful witness to the Gospel for the last 25 years, and the situation has gotten worse, not better. It’s said that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results, and we have no intention of trying to remain and be that faithful remnant any longer; there’s just no future for us. I think the people who have chosen to remain in the Episcopal Church for the time being are going to come to that same conclusion, and it’s going to be sooner rather than later, because they’re going to have an option to remain faithful Anglicans, by means of another province. TEC won’t be the only game in town.
Greg Griffith: Moving from the general to the specific, one recent and troubling development has been the decision by the diocese of Sydney to authorize lay presidency. That appears to contradict the Jerusalem Declaration by GAFCON, of which Sydney is a member. Two-part question: 1) How easy is it going to be for a Jack Iker to live with lay presidency, and 2) What does this portend for unity within GAFCON in particular and the orthodox movement as a whole?
Bishop Iker: Well, obviously lay presidency or diaconal presidency of the eucharist is not Anglican, and I regret to see them moving in that direction, because it does mean further division among the orthodox. That’s not something that Anglicanism is able to accept or affirm. So in a sense, Sydney is causing a similar kind of tear in the fabric of the communion as the Episcopal Church did by moving ahead with ordaining a practicing homosexual as bishop. So I hope they pull back from that, but it’s not something that a reformed, catholic religion can affirm or accept. We’ve always said that the Anglican church is a reformed, catholic body owing to the unbroken faith and practice of the historic church, and this is certainly a departure from that.
Greg Griffith: If Sydney does not pull back from lay presidency, and if it’s true that Sydney is tearing the fabric of the communion in a way that’s comparable to what TEC has done, and if the GAFCON primates continue to agree to have Sydney as one of its members, doesn’t that undercut GAFCON’s objections to the actions by TEC and Canada regarding homosexuality?
Bishop Iker: I suppose the difference between the two is that one is a moral issue, and the other is not - it’s more of a sacramental/theological issue. But the effect is the same - to break communion and cause division.
Greg Griffith: What is your suggestion to your colleagues - to your fellow American bishops, to the GAFCON primates - as to how to address that?
Bishop Iker: I think we just have to speak the truth in love, to say that this does not further our cause, our unity, our mission; and to ask Sydney to reconsider that development. I don’t know that it’s restricted to Sydney - there may be other parts of the communion where evangelicals are more supportive of that development - but you wouldn’t find that support obviously among any of the Anglo-Catholic bishops or dioceses.
Greg Griffith: Let’s talk about the differences in opinion and practice among the orthodox on the issue of women’s ordination. If any two bishops have emerged as the leaders of the American orthodox movement, it’s been Bishop Duncan and you, yet you have distinctly different positions and policies regarding women’s ordination.
Bishop Iker: As much as Bishop Duncan and I may be able to stand together and witness together and work together, when it comes to that issue there’s an obvious difference. And so what we’re hoping for is an arrangement whereby those who hold to the historic position of an all-male priesthood will have a place of integrity, and respect, and freedom to grow, and to allow the other side to have that same freedom. But obviously, we don’t have that same freedom in the Episcopal Church, and that’s one of the reasons our diocese has been driven to the point of separation. So the bishops who are part of the Common Cause Partnership are going to have to address this issue as one of the first items of concern.
Greg Griffith: Some of the speculation a few years ago, when it became necessary for you and Bishop Duncan to stand arm-in-arm more strongly than you had to do previously, even some observers on the orthodox side of the aisle were saying it wouldn’t be long before you two ran into problems over your differing views on women’s ordination. But if anything - at least from what I’ve seen - the two of you have grown closer and more supportive of each other over the past few years. Is that fair to say?
Bishop Iker: I think it is. I guess our primary difference is that Bishop Duncan may see this as kind of a second-order issue, but I see it as a first-order issue. And we recognize that and are able to work together despite our difference.
Greg Griffith: First order, yes, but not to the point where you feel it necessary to break communion with him?
Bishop Iker: Correct. I’m in communion with him, and I’m in a state of impaired communion with women he ordains to the priesthood. Obviously they’re welcome in our churches, but not as celebrants of the eucharist.
Greg Griffith: This is an interesting distinction between the way the diocese of Fort Worth has decided to conduct itself, versus those Anglo-Catholic organizations - I would say to the right of you for lack of a better term - who have decided that they simply can’t be in communion with anyone who ordains women. Even if they’re not asked to license them, they feel they cannot be in communion with bishops who ordain women to the priesthood. How do you explain the difference between their position and yours?
Bishop Iker: It goes back to the concept of the Windsor Report that discussed the goal of being able to maintain the highest possible degree of communion, given differences such as these. For me, it means that I can be in communion with a bishop who ordains women to the priesthood, but I cannot recognize them as priests or be in full communion with them. So that’s maintaining the highest possible degree of communion. Forward in Faith in the UK has decided that if a bishop ordains a woman to the priesthood, that that’s a cause for division, so they can’t be in communion with a bishop who does that. That’s more of a hard-line position than the one we’ve taken. There are priests in my diocese who would agree with that position, and who are not at all happy with being part of a province that ordains women to the priesthood. But that’s part of the reality of where we are: That to be in the Anglican Communion is to be part of a church where some do, and some don’t.
Greg Griffith: I’m interested in what you see happening when the bishops and dioceses that will make up the new province find themselves, after some of the dust has settled… when you are in a province with people who are more doctrinally aligned with you… and let me back up and say that, for certainly the past five to ten years, the main point of division has been over homosexuality, so whenever the issue of women’s ordination comes up, you and Bishop Duncan and your colleagues on both sides of that issue can say, ‘Well it’s true we have a difference of opinion over a very important issue, but it pales in comparison to what we’re all opposed to, which is the blessing of homosexuality in all its various forms in the church.’ When you’re in your new province, presumably this issue of homosexuality is not going to be a point of contention; so now does this issue of women’s ordination rush in to fill the vacuum left by homosexuality? How do you see yourselves continuing to get along so well when you don’t have the issue of homosexuality against which you can easily unite?
Bishop Iker: One of the great challenges of the new province will be to let the divisions which have broken up the Episcopal Church be part of the past, and focus in a positive sense on evangelism and growth, so yes, it’s more important to say what we’re for than what we’re against. To me, leaving the General Convention Church means leaving behind the issue of blessing homosexuality, but the issue of women’s ordination has been with us for, what, 30 years? And there is still a different theological position which ought to be respected on both sides of that issue. That kind of respect is what the new province is going to embody. It’s not always going to be comfortable, but parishes are going to have the freedom to be under a bishop who respects their theological position; there’s not going to be an effort to force women priests on parishes, dioceses, and bishops.
Greg Griffith: The trend over the past few decades in the Episcopal Church has been for each new major innovation - women’s ordination, prayer book revisions, homosexuality - to cause the right-most side of the church to splinter off, leaving those to the immediate left of them as the new Episcopal right. For the next few days, Jack Iker represents the Episcopal right, but once you’re gone, that leaves, for example, Mark Lawrence in South Carolina, Bruce MacPherson in Western Louisiana, maybe Bishop Love of Albany… so as the Episcopal right moves leftward, do you see a continuation of the pattern in which the right is again isolated and targeted, and eventually driven from the church, or do you see it reaching a state of equilibrium, where the divide between those on the far left and those on the far right is narrow enough for them to co-exist more or less peacefully?
Bishop Iker: That’s something they’re going to have to decide for themselves. What’s important, I think, is for those who have chosen to depart the General Convention Church and those who remain, to cooperate with one another, support one another, meet with one another, and share as much as possible together. The right continues to be redefined, shifting more towards the middle, so who knows what the future will hold. But what we’re going through now is unprecedented: There have up until recently been congregations leaving the church, but it’s unprecedented now to see entire dioceses leaving. And I think that, in a sense, not only redefines who the right is, but it redefines options and possibilities people didn’t consider even a decade ago. It’s going to be unsettled for a while, but I think those orthodox who remain for now, we need to work closely together, not distance ourselves from one another. We are, after all, fellow Anglicans.