Political issues causing rift within church, leaders say

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    Divisions in the Episcopal Church regarding the inclusion of female leadership and gay and lesbian clergy are beginning to hit home in Fort Worth.The new presiding bishop-elect of the United States, Katharine Jefferts Schori, aside from being female, is a strong supporter of gay and lesbian ordination and the blessing of same-sex couples in active relationships.

    Jack Iker, bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth , is seeking alternative leadership after Schori’s election in June.

    The Diocese of Fort Worth is one of three conservative dioceses in the United States that do not license female priests. With 56 congregations and 19,000 communicants in the 24-county diocese, the issue is growing in urgency.

    “We would really like to just go to church and worship,” Suzanne Gill, director of communications for the Diocese of Fort Worth , said, “but we have come to the point where we cannot ignore the politics.”

    Along with churches in the Fort Worth Diocese, Gill said that students at TCU will be taught traditional, sound theology.

    “Historic faith will continue to be taught and exemplified at TCU,” Gill said.

    TCU’s Episcopal Student Association, Canterbury House, led by Father Jonathan Ogujiofor, will begin meeting at TCU Thursday nights.

    “Canterbury House is alive and well on campus,” Ogujiofor said.

    “I want Episcopal students to come and enjoy fellowship and make friends,” he said. “I don’t want them to have to deal with the conflict.”

    The Rev. Angela Kaufman, the minister to the university, said that the ultimate hope is to find a way to compromise, rather than divide the church.

    “As a woman in church leadership,” Kaufman said, “I don’t think that gender, race, class or background should prohibit people from using their God-given gifts.”

    Schori will be inducted as the new presiding bishop at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Nov. 4. Gill said the Fort Worth Diocese and its supporters hope that the conflict will be resolved before this date so that further and permanent action will not have to be taken.

    “Because we are not able to accept the leadership of Schori,” Gill said, “we are seeking another relationship with an archbishop to give our bishop someone he has a similar faith and practice with.”

    Gill said that Iker is concerned that the increasing shift toward liberal leadership is causing a compromise in the doctrinal beliefs of the church.

    “Scripture prohibits homosexual activity. America has accepted this standard and it has begun creeping into the church,” Gill said.

    Doug Newsom, director of graduate studies in the Schieffer School of Journalism and member of the Trinity Episcopal Church, said these divisions are not new.

    “The conflict between the U.S. church and the Anglican Communion is deep rooted in our history,” Newsom said.

    Conservative churches in the Anglican Communion objected to decisions made by the American church in 2003, after the confirmation of the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, of New Hampshire.

    Individual parishes in Southeast Asia and Africa sought alternative jurisdiction in response to Robinson’s ordination.

    Gill said that Anglican churches in other parts of the world are concerned about the American branch’s actions.

    “It appears that the American church does not care about the opinions of the world church,” Gill said. “They are not taking responsibility for their actions and the effects it has on others.”

    Iker has requested new leadership for the Diocese of Fort Worth and is awaiting response from the Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury. Iker is asking that the archbishop assign someone else to a position of leadership over the Diocese of Fort Worth.