The inner machinations of the TEC madness – which the rest of the Anglican Communion needs to know (Part 2)

By Barbara Gauthier

Read Part 1 here

The Baucum-Johnston reconciliation: a bridge too far after all

It didn’t take long for the reconciliation between Truro rector Tory Baucum and Diocese of Virginia Bishop Shannon Johnston to begin unraveling. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at Coventry Cathedral’s Faith in Conflict Conference last month lauded the two as an example of successful reconciliation across seemingly irreconcilable doctrinal lines. Fr Baucum and Bishop Johnston explained how this unlikely friendship between an ACNA rector and a TEC bishop, who had been legal adversaries in a court of law, began through praying together and how their monthly prayer meetings developed into a Christian friendship of brotherly love despite their theological differences. By publicly showcasing this American reconciliation, Archbishop Welby undoubtedly hoped that it would prove to be a model for healing doctrinal conflict within both the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.

Soon after his presentation in Coventry, Baucum began taking some heat for having compromised his faith by declaring Bishop Johnston to be an orthodox but misguided brother in Christ. How could the rector of a parish that left the Diocese of Virginia because they considered its bishop apostate and then spent untold thousands of dollars in legal expenses suddenly say publicly that the bishop of Virginia was “an orthodox Christian”?

Part of the explanation lies in the fact that both Baucum and Bishop Johnston inherited the conflict from their predecessors. Martyn Minns, now a bishop with CANA, was the rector when Truro left. Bp. Peter Lee was the one who filed the lawsuit against Truro on behalf of the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church. When Bishop Minns left, Truro called another Englishman, Tory Baucum, as their new rector. Meanwhile, as the lawsuit was wending its way through the court system, the Diocese of Virginia elected Shannon Johnston as bishop co-adjutor and he then took over when Bishop Lee retired. Baucum and Bp Johnston found themselves locked in an adversarial relationship not of their own making. As the legal saga was coming to an end, they may have found that they had a common objective in negotiating a graceful conclusion to the hostilities. Truro needed some time to find facilities that would be adequate for its large congregation. The diocese needed to find a way to maintain a costly property the court had just awarded to them. The initial agreement was beneficial to both parties: Truro was given a six-month rent-free lease. It bought Truro time to make an orderly transition and the diocese would not have to pay for property maintenance. Then the lease was extended from June 2013 to June 2015. What had been a temporary arrangement began taking on a more permanent character as Baucum and Bp Johnston continued to meet together.

 

After the details of Baucum and Bp Johnston’s reconciliation were made public in Coventry, Truro’s vestry felt obliged on March 10 to issue a statement distancing themselves from implications that they were supporting this reconciliation because they had modified their beliefs and now understood the Bishop of Virginia — and by extension, the Episcopal Church — as merely “misguided” instead of apostate. By remaining at the table with the Bishop of Virginia and seeking common ground for Christian fellowship, Baucum had lent credibility to BpJohnson’s position and called into question Truro’s own decision to withdraw from TEC. The vestry stated very clearly that the ACNA parish was still “as Christ-centered and committed to biblical orthodoxy as the day it voted to leave the Episcopal Church on Sunday, December 17, 2006.” They added that Baucum’s growing friendship with Bp Johnston “is personal and in no way portends institutional reconciliation between Truro Anglican Church and the Episcopal Church.” By continuing to meet with the Bishop of Virginia, their rector’s actions were “consistent with our larger missional strategy to communicate truth in love to a world that is in deep confusion and pain.” They saw the Baucum-Johnston friendship not as a “reconciliation” but as a missional outreach to bring the light of the Gospel to a bishop who was walking in spiritual confusion. No compromise of faith here, they insisted, only the conviction of faith put into action.

Another part of the explanation for this unlikely friendship stems perhaps from Baucum’s unfamiliarity with notion of “pluriform truth” articulated by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. Pluriform truth is a product of post-modern thought, which posits that there is no objective Truth but many subjective truths, all of which are held as equally valid even if superficially contradictory. Proponents of pluriform truth point to Kipling’s poem of “The Blind Men and the Elephant” as an example of contradictory partial truths being part of an unseen larger whole. Thus, all religious and spiritual roads lead ultimately to the same incomprehensible divine essence. When PB Griswold began incorporating the concept of many subjective contextual truths in place of a single objective universal Truth, it marked a subtle doctrinal shift in the Episcopal Church towards a post-modern “working theology” that actively undercut TEC’s official theology as defined by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Drs. Robert Sanders and Philip Turner have chronicled this development in the Episcopal Church. Their essays are must reading for anyone who wants to understand “how the TEC mind operates and why it is truly a different religion clad in Christian terminology.”

During their prayer times together, Bp Johnston told Baucum that he believed the Nicene Creed to be true and Baucum took him at his word. What Truro’s new rector might not have fully grasped is the possibility that while Bp Johnston might hold the Creed as being true for himself personally, he could also allow others in the church to hold a very different view of the Creed and even reject it altogether to create their own personal truths. I have no doubt that Bp Johnston told Baucum the truth as far as he was concerned personally, but he may not have shared with him the whole truth. Part of TEC’s understanding of “inclusivity” is to include a wide diversity of doctrinal beliefs as legitimate expressions of personal faith, legitimizing many subjective personal truths in the place of a single objective Truth. What some in the Global South would term duplicity of mind is instead to be commended as the spiritual equivalent of being fully multilingual in a multicultural context. Thus a consecration service for a TEC bishop can include Native American shamans using smudge pots prayers to the four winds to clear the air of evil spirits before the ceremony begins, as was the case for Dan Edwards of Nevada, Mary Glasspool in Los Angeles and even PB Katharine Jefferts Schori at her investiture as TEC’s Presiding Bishop.

For the sake of institutional unity it is thus good to have a bishop who can speak many spiritual languages, such as “evangelical” or “progressive” or “charismatic” or “new age”, a bishop who is fluent in the many different ways of approaching the divine through the various contextual truths held by his clergy and parishioners. Otherwise, a bishop would not be able to minister effectively to the doctrinal diversity of his “inclusive” flock. Thus Bp. Shannon Johnston, who holds personally to the Nicene Creed, had no problem allowing Church of the Holy Cross to invite John Dominic Crossan to give a series of lectures as part of their Lenten study focus on “The Last Week of Jesus.” Crossan was a a member of the Jesus Seminar and is noted for categorically denying the physical resurrection of Christ. According to Crossan, Jesus’ body was eaten by dogs and even if Jesus’ body hadn’t been destroyed, there couldn’t have been a resurrection since there is no such thing as an afterlife. But, as Crossan added, “if you’ve spent your whole life with Christ, why should it matter?”

Jeff Walton reported on the substance of Crossan’s lectures that depicted “the historic person of Jesus was a non-violent revolutionary who was distinct only for the time and place in which he lived.” He was not divine, he never proclaimed himself as a messiah, he was merely a product of his cultural context, just as Rosa Parks or Mahatma Gandhi.” Crossan stated, “The most important thing for me is to ask the right questions.” In his estimation doctrine is of little importance, because “doctrine doesn’t capture God – the best we can do is get glimpses, and sometimes wrong glimpses.” While Crossan was in town for the lecture series, Bp Johnston also invited him to “engage in a dialog with clergy of the diocese” as part of the “clergy day” on March 11.

When Baucum got wind of the fact that Bp Johnston was allowing a known heretic to lecture his flock at Holy Cross and interact with his clergy, he wrote to the Truro congregation on March 14 that he felt betrayed. How could a bishop, who claims to believe personally in the doctrinal truth of Nicene Creed, invite into his diocese a heterodox scholar who utterly rejects this same Creed to “dialog” with his clergy? Baucum appears to have encountered for the first time TEC’s guiding principle of pluriform truth, which also presumes a willingness to engage various contradictory doctrinal beliefs in order to insure a fully inclusive diversity.

Baucum also learned that while he and Bp Johnston were praying together and agreeing to treat each other with all due respect and charity, Bp Johnston had knowingly ordained a lesbian at the altar of the “renewed” Falls Church, which rector John Yates and his congregation had recently vacated. Baucum had known that Bp Johnston supported same-sex unions and had given his clergy permission to bless such relationships. However, he had concluded that Bp Johnston was misguided in this regard and in need of gentle correction over time. But Baucum also felt that Bp Johnston’s “in-your-face” decision to promote immoral behavior by ordaining a lesbian to the priesthood at the altar where his friend Fr John Yates had presided “showed a disregard and lack of respect for the good and godly pastor and the people of the Falls Church.” Moreover, Baucum says, it was “a failure to treat others in a way that honors the imago dei in each of us,” something he and Bp Johnston had specifically committed themselves to as part of their reconciliation.

Based on this evidence and after talking it over with Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic bishop John Guernsey, Fr Tory Baucum informed his congregation that he was ending his work with Bp Shannon Johnston.

After speaking with Baucum, Bp. Guernsey issued a similar statement on the same day to the members of the ACNA Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, a statement which illustrates that the irreconcilable differences between the ACNA and TEC are indeed irreconcilable:

Bishop Johnston’s action is unconscionable. In spite of his assurances to Tory that he believes the Nicene Creed, he welcomed Crossan, who denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus and says that Jesus’ body was eaten by dogs, and he permitted him to speak unchallenged to clergy in his diocese….
We long for the Body of Christ to reflect the unity for which our Lord Jesus prayed (John 17:20-23), but there can be no reconciliation with The Episcopal Church apart from its repentance for false teaching and practice and its return to the truth of the historic Christian faith.

It would seem that despite the best intentions of both Fr Tory Baucum and Bp Shannon Johnston, Archbishop Welby’s model of reconciliation ultimately proved to be a bridge too far.

The very next day, Bp Johnston issued his own explanation of why he had authorized the Crossan lectures and ‘clergy day.” The bishop again repeated his personal commitment to the historic Christian faith and creeds by quoting from his January 25 address to the diocesan Council:

I am as creedal a Christian as you will ever find. The core of my faith is utterly and absolutely defined by the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. I do in fact believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation. But I also think that inevitably, people will have differing ways of understanding, interpreting, appropriating and applying these essential truths.

Bp Johnston said that when the rector of Holy Cross had approached him about the possibility of inviting the diocesan clergy to hear Dr. Crossan, he readily “agreed that this would be a fine opportunity for our clergy (and clergy from neighboring dioceses) to engage first-hand a scholar who is a world-renowned figure and who would be speaking about a topic of great import: the final week of Jesus’ life.” He shared his rationale for inviting Crossan to address his clergy: “It is my firm conviction that clergy should be current in their knowledge of various schools of thought that, agree or disagree, have broad dissemination and can be influential for a large number of people, both churchpersons and those without a community of faith.”

Despite disagreeing with many facets of Crossan’s teaching, Bp Johnston still voices the mantra of TEC’s progressive commitment to doctrinal diversity: “I will not be a censor of ideas, a roadblock to inquiry that is grounded in a search for ‘God with us.’ The Holy Spirit is still at work with and within the Church and, in my view, we cannot shut down that which pushes our limits. Many times in human history, we have seen how the Spirit has pushed the Church beyond itself.” The Holy Spirit is doing a new thing and woe be to anyone found standing in the way.

Finally, Matt Kennedy puts the whole Baucum-Johnston “reconciliation” incident in perspective. A veteran of TEC’s doctrinal wars, Kennedy sees no betrayal, no broken trust, no victim here. The only surprise, he says, is “that anyone at all is surprised that Shannon Johnston allowed one of his parishes to invite John Dominic Crossan into his diocese.” He adds: “The argument all along has been that Bp Johnston is creedally orthodox and Christologically faithful despite promoting same sex blessings. That is a farcical argument built on the supposition that one can deny and reject the words of Christ written through his apostles and still possess true faith in Christ.”  Bp Johnston is a false teacher because he has allowed a false Christ into his diocese and embraced a false Christian morality. A word to the wise should be sufficient.

Still waiting for Archbishop Welby’s response on the rapid disintegration of his reconciliation model’s first success story.

Read also:  Truro Anglican Church Vestry releases statement on marriage, nuptial theology, and missional strategy from Baby Blue

Bishop Shannon Johnston Hosts Crossan for Dialog With Clergy — Diocese of Virginia

Virginia Episcopalians Spotlight Jesus Seminar ‘s Dominic Crossan — Jeff Walton

Peacemaking for Now: to the Faithful of Truro Anglican Church — Fr. Tory Baucum

Statement to the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic – Bp. John Guernsey

On the Teachings of John Dominic Crossan and the Witness of the Creeds — Bp. Shannon Johnston

Learning the Right Lessons: No One Should Be Surprised by Shannon Johnston — Matt Kennedy

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