The Baucum - Johnston Conversation. Baucum: Johnston is an Orthodox Brother
Anglican Mainstream has published what they report to be the public conversation between Tory Baucum and Shannon Johnston at the recent Faith in Conflict Conference that we’ve been writing a lot about lately. There’s so much here to respond to I think it’s worth taking the time to work through. Do forgive me for the longish post, I trust you’ll find it worthwhile.
Do please also note AM’s caveat at the start:
These do not claim to be verbatim notes – and should be checked against a recording. But they seek to give the flavour of the discussion that took place in Coventry Cathedral at the Faith in Conflict Conference on February 26 2013, chaired by Canon David Porter, Director of Reconciliation for the Archbishop of Canterbury and in the presence of the Archbishop and 200 plus participants.
Here we go.
William Marsh began by asking the two discussants to give some background.
Rev Tory Baucum explained that he became Rector of Truro Church in 2007. The church had already been engaged in a lawsuit over its property for eight months. There were accumulated grievances between Truro and the Diocese of Virginia and the national church (TEC). In the past Truro had helped introduce the charismatic renewal to TEC. It also had a strong missions involvement, for example with a 40 year long relationship with the Diocese of Kigezi in the Church of Uganda which helped shape its understanding of spirituality.
“The tipping point came in 2003 with the consecration of Gene Robinson as a bishop, a man in a sexual relationship with another man. The Primates Meeting (of 2003) said that such a consecration would tear the Anglican Communion at its deepest level. Anglicans especially from the Global South said it was a schismatic act, which I think it was. This led Truro Church to align itself with another part of the Anglican Communion. This was the setting in which I came into Truro.
Bishop Shannon Johnston: I was elected Bishop coadjutor, with the right of succession in January 2007 and consecrated in May 2007. I do not know what it was like to be a bishop without legal issues around. I became the diocesan bishop in 2009. Truro was one of the fifteen lawsuits in progress when I became bishop. I agree that the tipping point was the election and consecration of a gay man in a committed monogamous relationship. This became the tipping point for the churches that decided to withdraw from the diocese.
Virginia is the largest diocese in TEC on the mainland of the USA. It is an iconic diocese with the oldest Anglican churches – for example Jamestown in 1607. It has many of the oldest congregations. It has many iconic churches in an iconic diocese. It was involved in the same conflict that was taking part in different parts of the USA.
WM: What happens then?
TB: The battle was protracted. A lot of lifelong friendships have been broken. There have been battles over custody of the property. Personal life and ecclesial life has been affected.
SJ The relational side affected me more than the legal side. The relational side is where I put my focus.
And here, friends, you see how Johnston is going to play this whole thing - he’s so hurt by the whole thing, so saddened by how relationships, which he focusses on, have been broken. This, also, will now become the thrust - restored relationships. Let’s see how it plays out.
WM. So you are both in post and inherited litigation.
TB. We met two years ago in 2011. I had been wanting to meet Shannon. We had been in a lawsuit at war. I had asked a predecessor of mine at Truro, Bishop John Howe to reach out to Shannon. I went to Richmond to meet him.
The lawsuit was the occasion not the reason. I had been the rector for three years. I had seen a reluctance in the church to reach out to different communities in our area. There was fear. I could not just tell people to reach out to people and places they were afraid of without setting an example. I wanted to reach out to an adversary. We read that perfect love casts out fear, but equally perfect fear casts out love.
SJ. My interest was in the relationships – I love to listen. I was intrigued by the call that came out of the blue. I was delighted Tory could come to sit down in the office so we could sit down to talk. I was not sure what we would be talk about. I felt there was a leading of the Spirit in this. This caught me off guard. My sense would be to be defensive. I was surrounded by something that felt godly from the beginning.
Here we see something that ought to be very concerning - both sides confirm that it was Baucum who initiated this process. Baucum, the rector of a church which had left the diocese because of heresy (for what other reason is there for such a dramatic action?) was actually the one who reached out to Johnston to establish a relationship of Christian fellowship.
The meetings were initially tense. But we ended with prayer. And we asked why do we not meet each month.
WM Did people know you were meeting?
TB The meetings were private. We considered that space to be safe. Truro Vestry knew that I was meeting. We kept it closed to protect it.
Truro Church has not been afraid to take a stand if it is a real matter of truth and justice. Deep in the soul of the parish is the desire for peacemaking.
To give an example: the Chapel of Virginia Theological Seminary burnt down. The Vestry decided to give significant sum of money to rebuild the chapel in our former diocese.
After the second ruling came which we lost, we called a special prayer meeting. 500 members gathered to pray. A reporter who came said “I do not believe this. There is no anger but a sweet spirit.”
SJ My chief of staff, a practicing attorney was nervous about what the bishop might say. There were misgivings about a meeting behind closed doors and with no reports. There was a fear of the unknown. As the meetings went on they began to give it more space. He began to see some change in me in relation to my ministry as a bishop from the time I began to meet with Tory. I had more of a sense of confidence.
BM Did this enhance you?
SJ. I grew through this friendship.
TB This path changes you.
Well (and there’s simply no way to put this nicely) that is quite clear. This has changed Baucum. But it might be more accurate to say that it has taken him further along a road that he himself started walking on. There’s a clear sense of irony here, given his sermon that I commented on last year. For now let me just remind you of the text that was preached on there…
Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked…
now, back to the conversation…
WM What else developed? What else progressed?
TB. God was with us. There were always three present in our meetings. Trust had been destroyed in this process. The pathway to trust is transparency. We would not paper over our differences nor would we exaggerate them.
I would not exaggerate them to say there were two different religions. This has caused great disruption in a church which we loved. We were doing this for the sake of the communities we were called to pastor.
I hope you all see why this is so very troubling. Baucum insists that he and Johnston do not have 2 different religions. And so here is the very heart of the problem he has now brought upon Truro. If they are still following the same one Christian faith then it was simply scandalous for Truro to part company with the diocese over what would have to be regarded as a second-order issue. He’s basically declared that there was no reason to make such a massive move. As I’ve said before, it utterly undermines not simply his own parish’s decisions but in reality the entire raison d’etre of the ACNA.
SJ Our prayers grew in scope and depth. I began to think something was opening up. Our conversations were going to places we did not think they would go. We talked about ordinary and personal things, theology and personal things. Things opened up more and that set the stage for the next step. It has always been we take a step into the unknown – we do not know why. Trust has been the great virtue. Trusting God’s presence among us. What do we see new? That new thing we see calls us to take another step. We do not have much knowledge about where this is leading,
WM: What has been the impact on you of those who disagree with what you are doing?
TB It is painful and unfair. A lot of people who write about this have been wounded and betrayed. They ask “Please do not let Tory betray us”. I have had those experiences myself. I did not become the Rector of Truro to fight the Episcopal Church. I do not preach against TEC. I still love TEC. I consider Shannon a friend and a brother who has taken a wrong turn. This is not the same thing as not being a Christian.
He does worship the same resurrected Christ, he believes the same Nicene Faith. These are not nothing. Those conversations do not happen on the blog. By persevering over time – if this is godly and right God will vindicate it in time.
WM A brother who has taken a wrong turn. Is one mutually exclusive of the other?
TB Augustine in discussion with the Donatists refers to his interlocutor as a brother. One can be in serious error and be a brother. The patron of a divided church is St Francis de Sales. He did not convert the Protestants in Geneva back to the Catholic church. He decided to assault Geneva with love. He only cited the authorities they could both accept. This was relational orthodoxy. It does matter how we talk with one another. Even if someone is not in your view a brother, he is still made in the image of God. I do not feel lonely in terms of the great cloud of witnesses.
And here is the heart of Baucum’s betrayal (and that is what it is, despite his protestations). He declares that Johnston is to be regarded as orthodox. But there is more here. Let me outline just a few of many observations that could be made at this point:
- When Baucum says he does not preach against TEC there is something deficient and inappropriate given his position as Rector of a church that left TEC over heresy. While it ought not to define his ministry, he ought to be very aware of the issues that led to the departure and, of course, the duty of every minister is to not only speak positively of the gospel but also speak against error.
- Johnston’s serious error is so serious that it leads people straight to Hell - by affirming as godly that which the Scriptures say leads to damnation. With that in mind, part of his conversation with Johnston ought to have been to reiterate how terrible Johnston’s position was. Can you imagine a shepherd meeting up with the wolves and saying that it was acceptable since the wolves were only in serious error and had simply taken a wrong turn?
- Baucum’s appeal to Augustine is at best misguided. Yes, Augustine refers to the Donatists as “brothers” but consider how he does so (the citation here is from “Against the Donatists I.2”
For if the horse and mule, which have no understanding, resist with all the force of bites and kicks the efforts of the men who treat their wounds in order to cure them; and yet the men, though they are often exposed to danger from their teeth and heels, and sometimes meet with actual hurt, nevertheless do not desert them till they restore them to health through the pain and annoyance which the healing process gives—how much more should man refuse to desert his fellow-man, or brother to desert his brother, lest he should perish everlastingly…It’s quite clear that Augustine may use the term “brother” but he also states clearly that his idea of reconciliation with the Donatist “brothers” is that they repent lest they suffer everlasting damnation. I think it’s also clear that this is not the nature of Baucum’s conversation with Johnston.
- The appeal to De Sales is also misguided. The debates between the Reformers and Rome were full of citations from the Early Fathers but the point was that both sides wanted to make the argument that they were the true inheritors of those Fathers’ theologies. It wasn’t an attempt to affirm a common ground but a clear statement that the other had no genuine legitimacy. That was the preceding context for De Sales. He did not try to undermine that context or contradict what had been said before by Rome about the legitimacy of Reformed leaders or of Reformed doctrine. By contrast, Baucum’s words and actions serve to legitimize Bishop Johnston as a Faithful if mistaken Christian leader and disciple.
SJ I hold the same tension about agreeing and disagreeing. I am concerned about the way our position in TEC has been characterised. Agreement is overrated. What I am trying to do is stay in there and reclaim the best charism of Anglicanism – a ‘both-and’ quality. Looking back to the Elizabethan settlement. I am committed to being able to say that we do not paper over our differences.
WM How has your thinking about unity changed?
SJ I was a Music major and so I take an illustration from Music. Leonard Bernstein is a favourite conductor of mine. In 1962 he conducted a concert of Brahms second piano concerto. Bernstein said he disagreed with the pianist’s conception of the concerto. Bernstein decided still to conduct the performance because of the integrity of the pianist. They both disagreed with each other’s view of the score. We make the music the gospel makes even when we find there are points of disagreement.
But consider 2 things here. First, briefly, this is not an appeal to Scripture as an argument. There is, tellingly, no appeal to scripture by either man anywhere in this interview (at least according to these notes). There can’t be since what is taking place between them is biblically indefensible. Second, what actually occurs in Johnston’s illustration is that the conductor submits himself to the pianist’s position. They may have disagreed with each other but there was no actual compromise. It may have been “unity” but one side had to capitulate his position to the others. And, of course, this is exactly what Baucum has done - he has capitulated to Johnston’s claim that TEC and the bishop of Virginia remains orthodox. Johnston has given up nothing in this whole “discussion”.
WM: What is the price you have chosen to pay?
TB So many of our sisters and brothers around the world have truly suffered for the faith. My experience has been most intense. I have to say that it has not been worth it so far. But I am living in hope. I have a deep confidence that God has called us. I am looking to see what God is going is to do. I come from a place where Jazz is the music. In Jazz there is no such thing as a bad note but there are no bad resolutions.
SJ We have come to know each other. There is an incredible role of leadership in spirituality. Some of Elizabeth’s (Mrs Baucum) comments been very influential.
WM: What are the challenges to being leaders in this context.
SJ How could I have a relationship with a church that had pulled out of the diocese? They sense less than a steady hand on the wheel. I have received more affirmation than criticism. Agreement is overrated. It has been very rewarding, Many people have come out of the shadows. Though it was right that the diocese should retain the property, they felt that the way we had been going through this divide has not felt right. The way in which this was unfolding did not work for me. Something between Tory and myself enabled them to come to a better space.
Again, see how Johnston has won the argument here. “Agreement is overrated”. They are now both living into the tension of mutually contradictory positions being both affirmed. Please note, once more, Johnston has not had to move an inch, but Baucum has walked a long way down that Psalm 1:1 road.
Q You both seem to be kind and generous and nice people. How might it be possible to repeat the interaction you have had you have had among people who are not that nice?
What, like among the Stand Firm bloggers?
TB The quality of friendship is a common heart. Can this be replicated? What can be replicated is desire not to live in fear. They are a son and daughter of God. The other issues are not defining realities. If you start there and reach out there is no telling what might happen. There are some principles we can learn – things we are not doing.
I can’t believe I’m reading this. “The other issues are not defining realities”. Think that through. The fact that Johnston is saying that sin is godly, that the word of God is not true, is not a defining reality alongside the fact that he is a son of God. But while you’re trying hard not to choke on your drink, can I advise you actually put your cup firmly on the table because the next sentence is shocking.
In living into this conflict we are living into the mystery of Christ. It is not a problem to get around so that we can get on and do the real gospel thing.
And there it is. In black and white. “In living into this conflict…”.
Yes my friends, Baucum just read straight out of the Griswold playbook, from Schori’s deep scripts of profundity.
IN LIVING INTO THIS CONFLICT…
SJ How much of what we share is based on our individual temperaments? The substance is allowed for by our temperaments. The methodology can be adapted to any sort of temperament. Reconciliation is the gospel. It is a commitment to be who you are, if the other person can feel the authenticity.
Q. Can you see the change cascading down?
TB At Truro we have more seekers in the Alpha Course.
SJ Other voices have got involved other than the lawyers. I want to cleanse the wound. God is involved in this so I trust that God has all of this going on at the same time. I do believe that the Holy Spirit has all of this going on at the same time.
WM Do you not think Shannon should repent?
TB Yes. How does one repent? The kindness of God leads to repentance not the wrath of man. My tribe have been wrong about a lot of things. The Episcopal Church stood up for civil rights in Mississipi, not the Evangelical Protestants.
And here is the utter incongruity of the whole process. Yes, says Baucum, Shannon should repent. And yet he is happy to affirm him as a senior pastor in the church. Presumably since this is “not a defining reality”.
My history causes me to be humble. I want to hear how he has come to this place. This is not just about two individuals. We are pastors of a church. It is about how we disagree and make decisions about differences. This is different from two individuals who have a disagreement.
SJ The church is always going to have disagreements. We have not handled this disagreement well. We have made it more destructive than it needed to be.
Let’s be perfectly clear about this travesty. If one thing has made this whole saga more destructive than it needed to be it has been Baucum’s actions. Let me say it again, he has utterly undermined the raison d’etre of the ACNA. But more than that, he is now a danger to the church of God if he insists upon affirming a heretic and a wolf of the worst sort: a man that willingly and wilfully encourages people into activity that will result in their damnation and that is why we at Stand Firm will not leave this matter alone. It is, quite simply, the largest crisis that faces Anglicanism in North America at this current time and it will only get worse since the implications go far beyond ACNA.
Don’t ever forget, this is the example of reconciliation that Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is holding up as a model for the healing of the Communion. What it essentially means is that no push to discipline to TEC is likely to come from Lambeth Palace. It saddens me to write that and I still pray that it will not be the case but there it is. So many of you reading this left TEC because it was “living into” some pretty horrific tensions only now to discover that ACNA is also now “living into” them too and so that’s why we will continue to bring it to your attention. There is too much at stake.
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