How Far Has the Vestry of Truro Moved?
One of the shocking observations that arises out of the whole Truro/Baucum/Johnston affair is the massive shift that has occurred in the position of the vestry since the difficult days of the initial conflict with the Diocese of Virginia.
At that time (2006) the vestry of Truro wrote a document entitled “The Sources of Division” which set out in some detail the nature of the division between the church and the diocese. It’s an instructive document, very helpful in pointing out how far from genuine Christian faith the diocese (and TEC in general) had moved from orthodox Christian faith. But what it also, sadly, does is expose how far the vestry and current rector of Truro have moved from that position originally held by Truro Anglican Church.
In its recent apologia “FAQ on the Settlement Between Truro Anglican Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia (EDV)” [pdf] Truro Anglican still refers to this original document. As we will see, their conclusions cannot however be reasonably drawn from it.
Here are some key statements from the 2006 document:
...the presenting issues of sexual ethics are symptomatic of much deeper differences over the authority of Holy Scripture, the content of the gospel message, and the meaning of Christian mission.
This is actually a citation from an earlier 2005 document that the vestry produced. But the meaning is clear. TEC and the Diocese of Virginia have a “deeply different” gospel message and understanding of Christian mission.
But now the vestry claim,
Bp Johnston confesses faith in the risen Christ, as outlined in the Nicene Creed
and yet we are forced to ask, what of the rest of it?
Consider this for a moment. When the then Bishop of Virginia, Peter Lee, retired in 2009 he gave an interview to the Washington Post where he said,
I want to raise the strengths and uniqueness of what it means to be an Anglican Christian—of holding Orthodox views…
Indeed, he has made numerous statements that, superficially, sound orthodox. This, for example, on the announcement of his retirement:
...the final months of our ministry together will not be a time of tidy endings. But they can be a time of reaffirmation of where we stand, on the rock, on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ.
In a March 2009 piece in the Diocesan newspaper on the hymn-writing of Samuel Stone he affirmed:
[Stone’s] focus is correct, then and now: the Church’s one foundation is indeed Jesus Christ her Lord. The Risen Christ is both the focus and the source of our unity and our mission, whatever differences might occur in different generations and cultures.
No doubt Bishop Lee also stood and affirmed the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds regularly in church services.
The point I’m making is this - despite all these apparent affirmations of orthodoxy the vestry and rector or Truro were not naïve enough to be fooled. They recognised it all for what it was - TEC-babble. Episcospeak. Nice-sounding words but vacuous. As so many of us have learned, it is one thing to hear these words from TEC leaders, it is another to be convinced that they believe them. The rector and vestry of Truro knew better. They had heard and read all these words from the mouth and pen of Lee but they were not duped. They recognised that behind the language lay a massive gulf and divide and so they reluctantly but necessarily divided themselves from them.
So what has changed? Frankly, very little. Bishop Johnston was an assistant bishop in the diocese at that time. He was part of the leadership about which the vestry wrote and there is no evidence that since that date he has changed his views - on the contrary, he has solidified the diocese’s practice of same-sex blessings. He remains a man who holds to what the 2006 vestry understood to be a deeply different gospel message in content and in expression in ministry and the current vestry and rector have provided no evidence to the contrary.
Which brings us back to the sorry fact that it is not Johnston that has changed. It is the vestry and rector of Truro. They are affirming as a brother and valid Christian minister a man who their predecessors less than 10 years ago understood to believe a different gospel. That they should think that a simple affirmation of the Nicene Creed and the ability to speak in a gentle tone overturns that assessment is possibly the most worrying aspect of this whole saga.
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