March 26, 2017

February 25, 2013

What Do Shannon Johnston and Joseph Smith Have in Common?

What do Mormon founded Joseph Smith and Bishop Shannon Johnston of the Diocese of Virginia have in Common? Both think the special voices they hear in their heads or the visions they see in the woods are more reliable and truthful than God’s word written. Subjective unverifiable ecstatic experience is the endless spring of “spiritual authority” to which cult leaders and false prophets everywhere and always return

In my pastoral address at this year’s Annual Council, I addressed the ongoing discussions about same-sex relationships and the Church. Of course, this issue has been debated across the Episcopal Church for more than 30 years now, but my remarks did break some new ground for the Diocese of Virginia. It was not particularly news that I reiterated my support for same-sex couples; after all, I had made that clear on several occasions during the nomination and election process when I became bishop coadjutor back in 2007. I am convinced–both theologically and experientially–that committed, monogamous same-sex relationships can be faithful in and to the Christian life. What was news in that pastoral address was the announcement that I would “begin working immediately with those congregations that want to establish the parameters for the generous pastoral response’ that the 2009 General Convention called for with respect to same-gender couples in Episcopal churches.” I continued by saying that “it is my hope that the 2012 General Convention will authorize the formal blessing of same-gender unions for those clergy in places that want to celebrate them. Until then, we might not be able to do all that we would want to do but, in my judgment, it is right to do something and it is time to do what we can.”

This announcement pleasantly surprised some people and at the same time disappointed (even angered) others. Both reactions sprang from the fact that previously I had been moving rather cautiously in these matters. It is my strong sense that we must be quite sensitive to the possibility of even further division within the Church at large and the Diocese at home. Why the change? It isn’t because the realities on the ground have changed that much and it most certainly isn’t because I am less concerned about divisiveness (quite the contrary). I write now to tell you what I can about the most unusual and powerful experience that necessitated (I choose that word carefully and pointedly) my announcement.

I am actually somewhat reluctant to write about this because what happened occurred in private prayer and therefore cannot be fully (or even satisfactorily) articulated. It was only two days before the Annual Council last January. I was keeping my usual routine of prayer, which is largely “quiet” internally–a time of listening to God’s presence. As I prayed for guidance, an absolutely overwhelming sense–sudden and out-of the-blue–said “MOVE … NOW.” That’s all. But at that point I had total clarity as to what this moment was all about. I am not a black-or-white type of person (I actually prefer the shades of grey) and so such certainty is very rare for me. Moreover, I’ve never had this kind of revelation in prayer before and I am quite skeptical about reports of this kind of experience. As I write, this all feels like a gross understatement but I don’t have any more words to describe what happened. In the end, I knew I had to go back to the drawing board for my pastoral address, the result of which I’ve quoted above.

Throughout my spiritual life, I have learned that a primary way in which the Holy Spirit works with me is through the unlikely. This has been true ever since my call to the priesthood when I was in the ninth grade. It has been that way all through my life as a priest, and the rule was surely proven again when I was nominated and elected a bishop for Virginia. Because of this life of experience with “the unlikely” I have come to trust such
times. That MOVE–NOW experience in prayer more than qualifies as one of the strongest I’ve known.

And so “move” I have done. With the Standing Committee’s advice and concurrence, I met on April 28 with a group of 24 clergy who had self-identified as being ready to proceed with the recognition of same-sex relationships in their congregations. At that meeting, I made it clear that we are not talking about “marriage,” which by definition in the Book of Common Prayer is between a man and a woman. Consequently, the Prayer Book’s marriage service may not be used or mimicked by simply editing it. Until the General Convention specifically provides otherwise, there will be no officially authorized liturgy for general use. Liturgies would be locally produced and approved on a case-by-case basis. Also, I set three criteria to be met to my satisfaction before I would give permission for this local option: (1) A statement of where the congregation is with this issue. What preparation has been done? What program of teaching was followed? (2) Has this been discussed with the vestry or vestry committee? What is their position? (3) A substantial exposition of the theology of recognizing same-sex relationships.

This must include exegesis of the relevant passages from Scripture, not neglecting those which are cited as speaking negatively about same-sex couples. If any of this seems to be over the top, I reply by saying a change of this magnitude requires extraordinary considerations. Three such applications have been received and I am now reviewing them. I plan to hold additional meetings for those who wish to consider this process. I will also hold meetings for those clergy whose discernment has led them to conclude that blessing same-sex relationships cannot be part of their ministry, strongly assuring them that their position and witness will
continue to be wholly respected. I am neither so naive nor so prideful as to overlook the fact that others have also prayed and received answers different from my own. This is precisely why we need one another during
these challenging times.

I ask you to pray faithfully. As I have been so affectingly reminded, prayer is powerful. Pray for your own ongoing discernment and pray for the life, witness and ministry of our diocese. May God bless us all as we seek to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So he hears a voice in his head saying “Move Now” and he: 1. knows the voice is God’s voice. 2. Knows that this means God wants him to bless same sex unions. 3. Uses the “voice” experience to lend spiritual credibility to his decisions that cannot be defended biblically. After-all who can question Bishop Johnston’s experience?

This is how you subvert biblically illiterate people.

Persuade them that you’re a “prophet”.

Give them words from God.

This is why the Apostle John warns: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”(1 John 4:1)...but if people do not know scripture well enough or trust it’s veracity they cannot and will not “test the spirits.” They’ll be swept up and carried along by even the vaguest appearance of wisdom and spirituality.

You would think that orthodox Christian leaders would know better. But Bishop Shannon Johnston is one of the men with whom Justin Welby believes orthodox Anglican leaders ought to “reconcile” and join in “common mission”,  proclaiming the “gospel” together.

But that’s impossible. This man is not a Christian brother. He’s not a Christian leader. He does not serve Jesus. He doesn’t proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed in the New Testament. He is a bishop by virtue of institutional title alone…but he is no true bishop.

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The “bishop” of VA might be missing another, equally valid, interpretation for the instruction to “move.”  wink

[1] Posted by frmcn+ on 2-25-2013 at 05:50 PM · [top]

What I’m about to say has nothing to do with theology, however I also don’t believe that the revisionists base any of their “findings” theologically, rather, as Matt says, through “direct divine inspiration and intervention” from God, or through some sort of social justice type of justification. 

I also want to say that I don’t sanction a “majority rule” mentality when it comes to the Word of God.  Revisionists have long abused that lever in the Ep. church.  My point is that according to Gallup, the American population is about 3.5% gay.  That’s it. That’s all. After measuring the 50 states plus D.C, Washington D.C. is by far the highest, with a little over 10% gay population.  The state with the lowest gay population is North Dakota with 1.7%.  These %‘s are not purported to be 100% accurate, but Gallup feels strongly about the data’s integrity.

It is noted by Gallup, that when asked, the average American estimates that 25% of the population is gay.  Those that give the highest estimates of the gay population are those with lower incomes, the less educated, women, and young people.

I find this study fascinating. 

The last 20 years, these aging hippies and ne’er do wells have torn up more parishes, run off more people, made more asses of themselves, and generally acted a fool, to make sure that 3.5% of the population gets to have the church sanction gay marriage.  Unbelievable.  We all got to watch it in excruciating slow motion.

Below are some direct snippets I took from the lengthy Gallup study, which you can reference at    It truly is well worth 10 minutes.

>>U.S. Adults Estimate That 25% of Americans Are Gay or Lesbian.  Those with lower incomes, the less educated, women, and young people give the highest estimates.

>>Overall, the results from this analysis of LGBT identity by state may run counter to some stereotypes that portray the LGBT community as heavily grouped in certain states of the union. With the exception of the District of Columbia, the range in percentage LGBT is 3.4 percentage points, from 1.7% in North Dakota to 5.1% in Hawaii.

>>All states are within a couple of percentage points of the overall LGBT national average of 3.5%.

[2] Posted by Looking for Leaders on 2-25-2013 at 05:50 PM · [top]

I agree #2. AND when you have the support of a powerful a multi-billion dollar entertainment/media industry your 3.5 percent is magnified tremendously.  You not only seem exceptionally larger but you have the a strong medium for indoctrination.

[3] Posted by frmcn+ on 2-25-2013 at 06:01 PM · [top]

I witness to the powerful words “Move Now.” They obviously refer to a change in vocation.

[4] Posted by Pb on 2-25-2013 at 06:13 PM · [top]

1. Not even bishops should share spiritual experiences with persons other than their spiritual director. Certainly not in public.

2. A strong “MOVE–NOW experience” is not likely of divine origin. That, plus the fact that it’s a revelation so strongly contrary to Holy Scripture, reveals its true source.

3. And to think we just had the lesson about the devil tempting Jesus.

[5] Posted by Ralph on 2-25-2013 at 06:30 PM · [top]

#2—Hmm, I just had that conversation in the car with my wife yesterday as we drove past another church of my denomination after going to church at our own church (I had then taken her shopping in a nearby town and we were on the way home).

Her:  “Wow, look at that, the parking lot is totally empty on a Sunday morning.”

Me:  “Well they are very liberal, and supposedly they only have about 25 members now.  They think our church is a bunch of fundamentalists, and they won’t even acknowledge us at presbytery meetings, even though we are located just a couple of miles away from each other.”

Her:  “Why do they have so few people?”

Me:  “Well, I understand they went whole hog on the gay rights thing and most folks got tired of it and stopped coming to church.  But they also hadn’t figured out that there aren’t that many gay people out there, and most of them have no desire to go to church.”

[6] Posted by Jim the Puritan on 2-25-2013 at 06:31 PM · [top]

I love the - it’s definitely not marriage, until it definitely is. There’s a principled stand.

[7] Posted by driver8 on 2-25-2013 at 07:10 PM · [top]

Hmmm, I wonder what Revd Baucum and Truro Church think about this?

And Holy Trinity Brompton, now that Tory+ has introduced +Johnston to its rector…

[8] Posted by MichaelA on 2-25-2013 at 07:22 PM · [top]

Yeah, when the message you hear doesn’t match up with the Bible, you’re probably hearing Someone Else (2 Cor. 11:14). But then revisionists have never been people to let Scripture and tradition get in the way of a fun innovation.

[9] Posted by Ecclesiastes 1:18 on 2-25-2013 at 07:43 PM · [top]

On this same subject, here’s the first result of Bishop Andy Doyle’s equally heretical decision in Texas:

From looking at the number of apparently fashionable people who attended this service at St. David’s Church in Austin, it is easy to get the idea that orthodox Christians are losing the culture wars—even in Texas!  And that is what this all seems to be about: submitting to the culture.

[10] Posted by ToAllTheWorld on 2-25-2013 at 08:07 PM · [top]

The Rev. Charles Sumner used to kneel at that altar and lead people in a prayer to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.

[11] Posted by Words Matter on 2-25-2013 at 08:47 PM · [top]

First the Age of Reason made the Bible impossible to have a divine origin, then Kant split concepts in the phenomenal and the noumenal, then Schleiermacher made the locus of faith to be the emotions. More recently, the “New Age” people have popularized the “spiritual” and made such experiences the source of enlightenment.  So, Bp Johnston is but a product of his times and Western intellectual history.  It is not all that surprising.

Once one has shut out the voice of God in Scripture, any other voice will do as “divine guidance.”

PS to Looking for Leaders - scientific research has put the percentage of same-sex attracted persons at no more than 2.5%.

[12] Posted by AnglicanXn on 2-25-2013 at 09:29 PM · [top]

#10, it seems like a culture war I would be happy to lose!  TEC won’t have any problem packing out churches for ceremonies like this - it would have been the same if the ceremony had been held in a public hall. 

Even on a purely earthly and practical level, this won’t be much help to the church - unless they took a collection at a wedding! 

The winning strategy of the orthodox is to plant and maintain churches in the traditional way - enough people in a congregation to support a stipendiary priest and his family.

[13] Posted by MichaelA on 2-26-2013 at 02:00 AM · [top]

Michael A (#13), the reason I mentioned losing the culture wars in connection with Virginia and Texas is that these are two Episcopal dioceses are so large and wealthy (in comparison to most other TEC dioceses) that at times they almost act as if they ARE the Episcopal Church.  If these two dioceses can cave so quickly on same sex blessings, then it is no wonder smaller dioceses like Mississippi have caved too.  David Virtue reported last November that 69 domestic TEC dioceses had already adopted same sex blessings, and that was before Mississippi and several others made their announcements. 

Of course, TEC will implode on account of all this; because, once the novelty wears off, there aren’t that many same sex couples who feel a need for religious validation.  However, many gay couples are insistent on getting legal validation of their relationships (so called “marriage equality”), and the adoption of same sex blessings by “mainline” churches gives them leverage toward that end. 

When bills to legalize same sex marriages are proposed in Virginia (in a few years) and in Texas (probably the federal government will legalize them nationwide before Texas caves in), the mainline churches’ position on the issue and the numbers of same sex blessings that have been conducted by churches will all be part of the argument in favor.

That is why the culture wars concern me so much.  Because when it gets to that point, it won’t be long before western civilization falls harder than Rome in the fifth century.  In fact, all the factors—social decay, unrestrained immigration by those who refuse to be assimilated, growth of the welfare state, and rampant inflation of the money supply—are already coming together.  Of course, Christians have a better destiny to which we can look forward, but it is still saddening to see a society and a nation self-destruct.

[14] Posted by ToAllTheWorld on 2-26-2013 at 03:29 AM · [top]

This comparison doesn’t hold up.  After all, the followers of Joseph Smith invited Fr. Matt Kennedy to speak to them.

TEC?  Not so much.

[15] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 2-26-2013 at 07:14 AM · [top]

Shannon Johnson is a first class heritic and the voices he claims to hear certainly aren’t from God.  God would never declare a thing to be good that is directly opposed to His Word.  Johnson is a lost soul who will have to face a Holy, True, All-powerful one day and answer for his leading so many people away from God with his false teachings.  May God have mercy on his soul.

[16] Posted by jaydee on 2-26-2013 at 05:07 PM · [top]

sorry - Holy, True, All-powerful God is what I meant to say.

[17] Posted by jaydee on 2-26-2013 at 05:08 PM · [top]

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