An interview with Forward in Christ
FIC: At the Diocese of Fort Worth’s recent Convention you urged unity with the broader catholic Church, East and West. What does this mean in practical terms?
Bishop Iker: We have begun formal conversations with the local dioceses of both the Orthodox Church in America and the Roman Catholic Church. At the present time, these dialogue committees involve only priests and their bishops as participants, but we hope to include laity at some point in the future. Our initial approach is to define "what we have in common and what differences continue to divide us."
FIC: How does the Pope's recent Apostolic Constitution affect the Diocese of Fort Worth?
Bishop Iker: The interest is greater among our priests than our laity, at this point in time. Most of our clergy are Anglo-Catholics, who have long been committed to healing the breach with Rome that came about in the Reformation, and they see this as a very positive forward step in that direction.
FIC: The Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent address in Rome implies that the ordination of women is a 'second order' issue that needn't stand in the way of Church unity. How would you comment?
Bishop Iker: This has long been a misunderstanding from the revisionist side as to how seriously we regard this break with apostolic order. Essentially the ordination of women as priests and bishops is schismatic. It continues to be the major cause of division among those who consider themselves to be orthodox Anglicans. As long as the ordination of women continues, we will be in a state of impaired or broken communion. It is a barrier to unity.
FIC: The Diocese of Fort Worth has pledged itself to work with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) while remaining part of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. What are the benefits of this dual allegiance?
Bishop Iker: The Anglican Church in North America has entered into a process of recognition by the official structures of the Anglican Communion, and this will take some time. While that process unfolds, we remain a member diocese of the Province of the Southern Cone, so that our place in the wider Communion is assured.
FIC: Some argue that internal differences in the new Anglican Province over, for example, the ordination of women, means that ACNA will fragment. Others are unwilling to enter into a relationship with evangelical Christians. How would you counsel them?
Bishop Iker: While it must be admitted that ACNA is divided over the ordination issue, our aim is to maintain the highest possible level of communion with one another. We can certainly agree with evangelicals on a number of things, and our relationship with them is an opportunity to witness to the catholic understanding of the sacraments, particularly Holy Orders. We do not compromise our positions by striving to make common cause with others for the sake of the mission of the Church.
FIC: The Diocese of Fort is perhaps uniquely Anglo-Catholic. How might this translate into missionary opportunity?
Bishop Iker: The challenge for Anglo-Catholics is to be ever more mission-minded, especially when it comes to starting new churches. We need to rekindle a zeal for souls like that characterized by so many of the early leaders of the Oxford Movement. We have to focus anew on the importance of making new converts to the catholic faith.
FIC: Do you envisage more parishes from beyond the geographical confines of the Fort Worth area joining the Diocese, and is it possible for the Diocese to play a unitive role with regards to the various jurisdictions of the Continuing Churches?
Bishop Iker: Yes, we continue to have congregations express a desire to become parishes in union with the Bishop and Convention of the Diocese of Fort Worth, and they enrich and strengthen our mission. Some of these have been part of various jurisdictions of the Continuum, and they are seeking a wider unity among traditional Anglicans. In the future, there must be fewer acronyms and less "alphabet soup" to describe us.
FIC: How has litigation affected your Diocese? Do recent decisions made in San Joaquin have a bearing on the lawsuit in Texas?
Bishop Iker: The litigation has been a big distraction to ministry and mission, and it is always a source of some anxiety about the future. Our challenge is to focus more on doing what God calls us to do and less on developments in the courts. There is a large degree of spiritual warfare in all of this, and it is clear that Satan delights in seeing Christians battling it out with one another in lawsuits. Our prayer is that in the end God will be glorified and His purposes served. The San Joaquin case is still being reviewed, but California law is different from Texas law. Suffice it to say, we do not think California courts set precedents for Texas courts.
FIC: You have expressed great confidence in the Diocesan legal team, but if the Diocese of Fort Worth lost its suit, would you re-found the Diocese?
Bishop Iker: Yes, we are confident that we are pursuing the right legal strategy and that in the end we will prevail. I try not to put much effort into "what if?" scenarios, but it is clear that this diocese will not just fold up our tents and disappear in any worst case scenario that you can imagine.
FIC: Do you have a message for Anglo-Catholics within and without The Episcopal Church?
Bishop Iker: Press on! Remain faithful! We have always been marginalized and criticized. However still today the Vincentian Canon very succinctly summarizes our position. We believe and practice what catholic Christians have always believed and practiced—always, everywhere and by all.