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March 6, 2013


The Bottom Line in the Truro Affair

Some recent correspondence has sharpened my thinking on this. Here’s the key issue as concisely as I can put it.

Either Shannon Johnston is a false teacher or he is not. Either the issue over which Truro split from Virginia is a gospel matter or it is not.

If it is the former then it is outrageous that Truro/Baucum should all promote Johnston in any way at all. If it is the latter then Truro/Baucum ought to repent of splitting over a secondary matter and return to TEC.


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31 comments

I wonder if this problem would ever have arisen if Truro had simply vacated their property in 2006. I’m not contesting the legal right to make the argument, but I’ve never been convinced - in Pittsburgh or elsewhere - that the property fight was worth it. And the Truro controversy seems to make that all too evident.

[1] Posted by Jeremy Bonner on 3-6-2013 at 02:53 PM · [top]

A wise man once said:

But either Shannon Johnston is a false teacher, preaching and promoting a sinful and harmful version of the Gospel; or he is not.

If he is, then there is no justification for the ecclesial comity Truro has agreed to with the Diocese of Virginia - and certainly not under the aegis of Mark 2. The right thing to do is to continue to call out Johnston and TEC as false teachers, to preach and teach against their false Gospel. Speak the truth in love, yes, but by all means speak the truth. Do not make friends of the lie, which is exactly what this proposed “covenant of mutual charity and respect” between Truro and the diocese does.

But if he’s not a false teacher, then neither was Peter Lee before him, and Truro’s leaving was nothing less than an act of schism. In that case, the only right thing to do is repent, and seek full reconciliation with the Diocese of Virginia.

The one course of action that makes no sense at all, is precisely the one the leadership of Truro has chosen: Splitting from a heretical church with which, it turns out, they’re happy to partner on mission and ministry, and handing over their home to them for the privilege of doing it.

[2] Posted by Greg Griffith on 3-6-2013 at 03:28 PM · [top]

David,

Congratulations on your appointment to Glenquarie.

But a question as you assume a position as rector in the Anglican Church of Australia, and if you are not already, become a priest/presbyter. For which, congratulations once again.

Are you in communion with false teachers?

If members of your new congregation travel down the Hume Highway, would they encounter false teaching in Anglican Churches?

Are you in communion with the CofE?

[3] Posted by obadiahslope on 3-6-2013 at 04:28 PM · [top]

I confess that, last year when the one-year rent-free lease and nice-nice talk came up, I thought y’all (Greg, etc.) might be overreacting.  The diocese can’t afford to take over Truro because it doesn’t have a congregation to support it, and Truro got a year to plan better.  This recent talk has convinced me I was wrong.  It now looks like the rector and significant numbers of people at Truro are having second thoughts and considering going back with their tails between their legs as if it was all just a little misunderstanding.

It’s not just a little misunderstanding.  It’s a Gospel issue, about our created nature and the reliability of the prophetic and apostolic witness.

What would be sweet would be if the VA Supreme Court appeal came back in The Falls Church Anglican’s favor.  Whichever way it goes, they have persevered and kept the faith.

[4] Posted by Katherine on 3-6-2013 at 04:42 PM · [top]

John, thanks for your congratulations - much appreciated. I haven’t posted the news here on Stand Firm yet.

In answer to your questions.

1. Yes. I am in functional Communion with false teachers. That is not the same as my endorsement of them.
2. Yes, both up and down the Hume Highway.
3. Yes

I fear that as you keep plugging away at this same point you miss a key distinction. Our critcism of Truro/Baucum is their continued open and enthusiastic endorsement of false teachers. We all recognise that we will be in certain relationships we can’t break. But that is nowhere near that same thing as publicly endorsing those who blatantly teach falsehood and then persecute those who stand up for the truth.

[5] Posted by David Ould on 3-6-2013 at 04:50 PM · [top]

Bonner, yours is a good point that I have mused over.

In my mind it is a stewardship question; weighing the costs/risks against potential benefits.

Some of the costs can be estimated, such as attorneys fees. Others require judgement. Falls Church and Truro did a good job at educating their congregation and the congregation overwhelmingly supported leaving, which meant that decision to fight for their buildings would not cause internal divisio.

However, a huge cost, often underappreciated, is the opportunity cost of taking such a course.  Falls Church and Truro devoted significant resources to a legal fight that, at one time, I assume they thought they would probally win. By necessity, that diverted them from acquiring or building alternative property—a much more difficult task for a large population than a small one. Its a sick feeling to go down that path and lose.  You think of all the money spent on the litigation, and all the time that could have been used to locate and construct new facilities. It typically takes a minimum of 5 years to plan, finance, construct and open a large church facility, particularly one that honors traditional archetecture.  I can think of only a very few ACNA parishes that have done so at this scale. 

The course of the Pittsburgh litigation is particularly sad and costly. Surely, they could have done better.

[6] Posted by Going Home on 3-6-2013 at 06:41 PM · [top]

There is no such thing as an orthodox Christian who is also an Episcopal bishop. The two are mutually exclusive.

[7] Posted by taz on 3-6-2013 at 06:45 PM · [top]

Among whom I presume you number Bishops Brewer,  Love, MacPherson, Martins and Stanton.

[8] Posted by Jeremy Bonner on 3-6-2013 at 07:00 PM · [top]

Yet again I see that Obadiah Slope brings up an off-topic, using the [oft-corrected] vague and slip-shod language that he has used in the past and which was pointed out in the past.

RE: “Are you in communion with false teachers? . . . Are you in communion with the CofE?”

“In communion” is not the same as “residing within the same organization” nor do any of us acknowledge that residing within an organization led by corrupt heretics is intrinsically immoral.

This is a second warning.  Cease bringing up your pet off-topic.

[9] Posted by Sarah on 3-6-2013 at 07:08 PM · [top]

RE: “There is no such thing as an orthodox Christian who is also an Episcopal bishop. The two are mutually exclusive.”

Hi Taz—not true.  None of us accept that.  There are several actual Christian Episcopal bishops.  Feel free to go tout your off-topic thesis on a thread where we’re discussing the existence or non-existence of orthodox bishops in TEC.  This thread is about the Truro affair.


Thanks.

[10] Posted by Sarah on 3-6-2013 at 07:10 PM · [top]

RE: “I’m not contesting the legal right to make the argument, but I’ve never been convinced - in Pittsburgh or elsewhere - that the property fight was worth it. And the Truro controversy seems to make that all too evident.”

How so, Jeremy? I myself see no connection at all, one to the other.

[11] Posted by Sarah on 3-6-2013 at 07:13 PM · [top]

My sense is that this is not about the Truro congregation going soft because of fear of losing the buildings, but rather the congregational leadership being influenced by their rector, Tory Baucum.  Like it or not, leadership has a tremendous influence over an organization, and Baucum has clearly been peddling the line that his version of “reconciliation” does not represent a surrender to the TEC/Anglican liberal position, but rather sort sort of enlightened path of “generous” and “relational” orthodoxy and triumph over “fear”.  I am sure that what the Truro leadership is hearing is “look we aren’t going back on what we believe” and “we’ve got the evangelical Archbishop of Canterbury on our side supporting us” and “yeah, there will always be fear-driven extremists criticizing us, but that’s a sign that we are being faithful” and “think how much better witnesses we will be to the outside world with this new approach.”

What they don’t seem to realize is the stark simplicity and reality of what David, Greg and others have set out as “the bottom line.”  Because when all the verbiage and nicey-nice talk is stripped away, that bottom line remains.

[12] Posted by jamesw on 3-6-2013 at 07:25 PM · [top]

Sarah,

I could be wrong, but I rather doubt that the question of working with +Shannon would have arisen if Truro were already in new premises. As to the wider point, I don’t really buy the “litigation as witness” argument, though I understand those who do. Most Americans - religious or otherwise - would expect a resort to the courts. What would have caught their attention would have been a mass withdrawal without legal action, despite the legal arguments in favor of the latter. I know we don’t agree on this, but you did ask. 

It’s been interesting to start off my personal involvement in some of the litigation by telling those who hire me that I think they’re wasting their money, not because of the quality of my presentation of the historical evidence, but because I’m not convinced that even winning will have quite the effect that they imagine (though I would clearly prefer for them to win than to lose).

[13] Posted by Jeremy Bonner on 3-7-2013 at 02:37 AM · [top]

I am going to take the risk of chiming in on a topic where one of the moderators has issued a warning to another poster.  The moderators may or may not agree that I should do this, and I am happy with whatever they decide. 

Obadiahslope at #2 puts the question to David Ould (a minister in the Diocese of Sydney): “Are you in communion with the CofE?”  The answer to this is, of course, yes.  The implication (as developed on earlier threads) is that David has no right to criticise Tory Baucum of Truro Church for engaging in joint ministry with +Johnston of TEC, on the basis that David’s own diocese of Sydney is compromised by being in communion with CofE.

This argument is flawed in a number of respects, and the comparison is a false one.  This has been pointed out several times elsewhere.

But I just wanted to note that there is a probably a different agenda involved in this question.  There has been a long-running tussle within Dio Sydney between (a) those who believe the 16th century reformation in England is a good and sufficient doctrinal basis for modern Anglican churches; and (b) those who think that the 16th century reformation did not go nearly far enough, and was deficient in a number of respects.  The latter group want Diocese of Sydney to disassociate entirely from the Anglican Communion, and hence questions like “Are you in communion with false teachers” are asked in many contexts, not just on this topic. 

In my view, the approach adopted by orthodox Anglicans at the Jerusalem Conference in 2008 was and is broadly correct - we aren’t leaving the Communion, but neither are we going to just accept the presence of false teachers in the Communion.  We are going to rebuke them and fight to purify what we have.

And therefore (finally getting back to topic) the reaction of orthodox Anglicans will be to subject people who associate with +Johnston to accountability.  And yes, we can ask those questions even whilst remaining “in communion” with Anglicans who may be sailing very close to the wind but have not as yet crossed certain boundaries.

[14] Posted by MichaelA on 3-7-2013 at 03:08 AM · [top]

David Ould writes at #5: “2. Yes, both up and down the Hume Highway.”

Brilliant response.

[15] Posted by MichaelA on 3-7-2013 at 03:12 AM · [top]

Jeremy Bonner, isn’t the real lesson that the question of working with +Shannon wouldn’t have arisen if Tory Baucum had not been called as rector by Truro church?

After all, there are many other churches who have engaged in property dispute with TEC and they have not worked in this way with +Johnston.  So logically, what is the obvious point of difference?

[16] Posted by MichaelA on 3-7-2013 at 03:14 AM · [top]

Michael,

Given the congregational dynamics now in place in ACNA (I remember ++Bob stressing at one of the first Pittsburgh ACNA conventions that parish property was reserved to the congregations who were free to affiliate and disaffiliate at will), I find it hard to imagine that any rector - especially one recently appointed - is able to take his congregants where they do not wish to go. 

I agree that Tory Baucum appears to be setting a tone, but I find it hard to imagine that’s he doing so in overt defiance of his vestry. Unless the membership of Truro has altered radically since 2006 (which I suppose is possible - seven years is a long time) it’s still the same congregation that voted to go out in the first place. The only reason for making such an accommodation must surely be the real prospect of leaving their property. It’s absurd to proclaim the need for radical differentiation and then to try and mitigate it in this fashion.

[17] Posted by Jeremy Bonner on 3-7-2013 at 03:46 AM · [top]

Jeremy,

When we…or perhaps i should say “I” speak of “bearing witness” through litigation, I do not mean “impressing onlookers” with our piety. In fact the NT rarely if ever uses that word or concept in that way. I mean unveiling the truth. So long as the battle is a purely defensive one, the rapacious nature of 815 is Made plain. Think of the Gerasene pigs. in our casei couldn’t be happier that we defended ourselves and that we thereby where given a platform both to speak publicly about the truth of the gospel and have our property confiscated and sold toMuslims. I can’t tell you the damage that did to TECs reputation even among secular people here in Binghamton and it most certainly unveiled the truth about the character of her present leaders.

[18] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 3-7-2013 at 05:14 AM · [top]

Fr. Matt,

I recognize your position (and it will no doubt be reflected in the responses from Good Shepherd in the parish study). You obviously are best placed to assess how residents of Binghampton view both you and the Diocese of Central New York today.

In the grand scheme of things, however, I suspect the non-Anglican world views the various Episcopal-Anglican property cases as just another denominational tussle over property, a recurring pattern in American religious history. Embracing the spirit of Luke 9:5 (and yes, I know I’m imparting to that text a meaning other than the obvious one) might well have convinced some non-Anglicans that realignment really was different in this case.

When one leaves after losing a court case, there’s a tendency for outsiders to assume not only that the losers were in the wrong - which is not the case here - but that they knew they were in the wrong from the beginning. Congregations like that of Neil Lebhar avoided this problem.

[19] Posted by Jeremy Bonner on 3-7-2013 at 05:55 AM · [top]

MicahelA,
I am unable to respond to you here. But if you want my response please PM me.

[20] Posted by obadiahslope on 3-7-2013 at 05:58 AM · [top]

Hi Jeremy,

“In the grand scheme of things, however, I suspect the non-Anglican world views the various Episcopal-Anglican property cases as just another denominational tussle over property, a recurring pattern in American religious history.”

I very much doubt that since in the non-Anglican world - at least in so far as we are speaking within Christendom -the gross heresy of the leaders of TEC is apparent and from all that I have read the rapacious legal strategy of heretics has been widely commented upon and condemned by Christian thinkers and leaders of a wide variety of backgrounds. I can’t think of any commentary I’ve read from a Christian author who is not a heretic who sees this thing in neutral terms or who understands it as merely a tussle over property.

[21] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 3-7-2013 at 06:25 AM · [top]

Jeremy,

RE: “When one leaves after losing a court case, there’s a tendency for outsiders to assume not only that the losers were in the wrong - which is not the case here - but that they knew they were in the wrong from the beginning. “

My experience, having led a congregation out of TEC and out of our building without a court battle, was that outsiders still assumed we were in the wrong.  From their perspective, what other possible motive could we have for leaving without a fight?  Additionally, the lack of a fight and the consequent lack of press coverage meant that there was a less of a platform from which the truth could be revealed.

There were good reasons behind the path that we chose, and if I could go back in time I wouldn’t necessarily change that decision, but the perception of the general public was not better served by the lack of litigation.

[22] Posted by Fr. Andrew Gross on 3-7-2013 at 07:38 AM · [top]

Fr. Andrew,

I naturally bow to your experience, but how “in the wrong” exactly? Surely, the simple statement that litigation would do more harm than good to your congregation, even though you considered you had a legitimate claim, would be evidence to the contrary?

I didn’t mean that by leaving quietly you would necessarily convince them of the correctness of the cultural and theological issues at stake; that is probably too much to ask, at least in the short-term.

[23] Posted by Jeremy Bonner on 3-7-2013 at 07:48 AM · [top]

RE: “I could be wrong, but I rather doubt that the question of working with +Shannon would have arisen if Truro were already in new premises.”

I don’t see that.  It appears that Baucum approached Johnston under some sort of bizarre notion that he was going to engage in some sort of “reconciliation” with a false teacher residing in the church as a real pastor and shepherd.  I can’t imagine his doing that simply to gain property.

RE: “As to the wider point, I don’t really buy the “litigation as witness” argument, though I understand those who do. Most Americans - religious or otherwise - would expect a resort to the courts. What would have caught their attention would have been a mass withdrawal without legal action, despite the legal arguments in favor of the latter. I know we don’t agree on this, but you did ask.”

Well, I didn’t ask.  I asked about how Baucum working with Johnston was connected to the property.  But I certainly don’t mind your saying it.  You’re right, we definitely disagree

RE: “. . . I’m not convinced that even winning will have quite the effect that they imagine (though I would clearly prefer for them to win than to lose).”

Well, I’m not certain what effect congregations believe that keeping their own property would have other than “we kept our own property—what a relief.”

The other main effect is that it’s one less Christian building that those who do not believe the Gospel can use to ape Christianity and lure in the unsuspecting and naive who are searching for the Gospel.

RE: “Given the congregational dynamics now in place in ACNA (I remember ++Bob stressing at one of the first Pittsburgh ACNA conventions that parish property was reserved to the congregations who were free to affiliate and disaffiliate at will), I find it hard to imagine that any rector - especially one recently appointed - is able to take his congregants where they do not wish to go.”

Oh, I agree that Anglicanism in the US—both in TEC and ACNA—is far more congregational than it was even 20 years ago.  But I don’t think that a congregation keeping its own property has anything to do with “congregationalism” nor do I think it causes it.  I think it’s absurd to imagine that congregationalism is caused by congregations owning their own property.  If that’s *all* the bishop has, then he’s in big trouble anyway.

I think the congregationalism has largely occurred as orthodox parishes have distanced and detached themselves in as many ways as possible from their bishops—for rather obvious reasons in TEC. It is interesting that I, for instance, have never even been in a service with mine, much less met him, or taken communion from him [which of course I cannot do]—and there are many others now out there like me all throughout TEC.

RE: “In the grand scheme of things, however, I suspect the non-Anglican world views the various Episcopal-Anglican property cases as just another denominational tussle over property, a recurring pattern in American religious history.”

As with Matt, I disagree.  As much as is possible, the publicity and the natural fairness of Americans with regards to private property rights have made TEC’s actions a stench pretty universally in the US.  Their actions have been repulsive, wide-spread, and well well well-publicized [blessedly].  I think most Christians who are informed of every denomination recognize that [of course there are plenty of people who don’t know about Benghazi or the sequester, but I leave those aside as people who aren’t going to be scandalized either way]. And even pagans know they’re nasty—and of course, it’s the responsibility of Christian Anglicans, whether in TEC or without, to explain issues should they be inquired upon, by pagans and Christians alike.  So I’m with Matt—attempting to keep a congregation’s property is a great opportunity for public witness, not merely on the attempted legal property theft but on the theological issues.

[24] Posted by Sarah on 3-7-2013 at 08:00 AM · [top]

Ah, I see that Andrew Gross has stated much of what I said only far more elegantly:

Additionally, the lack of a fight and the consequent lack of press coverage meant that there was a less of a platform from which the truth could be revealed . . . the perception of the general public was not better served by the lack of litigation.

[25] Posted by Sarah on 3-7-2013 at 08:02 AM · [top]

““In the grand scheme of things, however, I suspect the non-Anglican world views the various Episcopal-Anglican property cases as just another denominational tussle over property, a recurring pattern in American religious history.”

This is not the case in those parts of the non-Anglican world that are observable.  If you look at the reactions of leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, or many Protestant denominations, we can clearly see that they have responded positively to emerging orthodox Anglican structures such as Gafcon and ACNA, and have broken off or cooled relationships with the revisionist controlled “official” Anglican structures.  Compare statements made by the Russian Orthodox leadership about ACNA with the statements made about TEC.  When KJS gets an audience with the Pope like +Bob Duncan did, let me know. 

On a personal level, I have plenty of contact with Catholics who are quite aware of what is happening in the Anglican world and where the fault lines are.  And local Protestant pastors of my acquaintance are also aware of the distinction, and have been quite open with me on their concerns about TEC.  Given that the closest ACNA congregation is a tiny one 120 miles from here, the familiarity some local non-Anglicans have with the situation rather surprised me.  Of course, as the wars within TEC have raged, their congregations have each grown by several ex-TEC families.

Granted, the average American, if interviewed, would probably not know the theological distinctions between ACNA and TEC.  But then, the average American has never heard of the Anglican Communion, either.  I doubt the average Episcopalian can name their own diocese’s delegates to GC, and quite a few can’t name their bishop (and probably a few don’t know there is a bishop).

[26] Posted by tjmcmahon on 3-7-2013 at 08:32 AM · [top]

Jeremy,

Re:“Surely, the simple statement that litigation would do more harm than good to your congregation, even though you considered you had a legitimate claim, would be evidence to the contrary? “

Yes, we wrote such a statement and it was evidence to the contrary, but how does that message actually get disseminated and into the public consciousness; to the average guy on the street?  It was made much more difficult by the lack of a platform. 

We did our best to get the real story told, but at least two things made that challenging: 1) The media outlets saw the lack of conflict and yawned.  2) Our energy was consumed by the move (ex. figuring out how to pull off liturgical worship in a cafetorium) and we simply didn’t have the time/manpower to devote to communicating more effectively with those outside the congregation.

[27] Posted by Fr. Andrew Gross on 3-7-2013 at 08:39 AM · [top]

Jeremy,

As a witness to what happened to Fr. Andrew and his congregation, I can attest that they handled an extraordinarily brutal situation with grace, humility and dignity that has been seldom seen in the long battles with TEC.  I will leave it to Fr. Andrew to respond, or not, as he chooses, on the particulars, but will say that no one I know who is familiar with the details of what happened faults either Fr. Andrew or his congregation for their decision.  They serve as a beacon for Anglicans in the area, and have been instrumental in the formation of several ACNA congregations.

[28] Posted by tjmcmahon on 3-7-2013 at 08:52 AM · [top]

Fr. Andrew,
Apologies- while I was composing my 28, you did respond in your 27.

[29] Posted by tjmcmahon on 3-7-2013 at 08:54 AM · [top]

As to addressing those with much more means to fight, Shakespeare’s Henry had this to say to the Herald, who came to offer ransom to Henry if he would leave the field;

Herald, save thou thy labour;
Come thou no more for ransom, gentle herald:
They shall have none, I swear, but these my joints;
Which if they have as I will leave ‘em them,
Shall yield them little

Standing up in the legal system for what you truly believe to be your peoples property is no sin.  In fact, we want leaders who will defend our rights.  We don’t want leaders who just give in, and walk away.  The physical property is merely a symbol of our beliefs, customs, and canon, passed down to us, to be passed down to our children.  If our leaders will not fight for the outward and visible symbol of the love, hard work, money, and estate left by those before us, we can assume that they won’t fight for our less tangible, but more meaningful beliefs.

[30] Posted by Looking for Leaders on 3-7-2013 at 09:20 AM · [top]

TJ, you are unfailingly gracious.  Certainly no apologies needed.

[31] Posted by Fr. Andrew Gross on 3-7-2013 at 03:37 PM · [top]

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