By Douglas LeBlanc
Theologian John Dominic Crossan’s visit to Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross in Dunn Loring, Virginia, has harmed the friendship between the Rev. Tory Baucum of Truro Anglican Church and the Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston, Bishop of Virginia.
The friendship between the two began in 2011, following years of conflict between the congregation and the diocese. The congregation Baucum leads left the Diocese of Virginia in 2006 and was part of a years-long dispute over Truro’s historic property in Fairfax, a western suburb of Washington.
Bishop Johnston spoke warmly of the surprising friendship during his pastoral address to the Diocese of Virginia’s annual council in January.
“Tory called my office and asked whether or not I would be open to a meeting between the two of us — no agenda, just to have some ‘face time,’” Johnston said. “In a remarkable convergence of experience, we both had a strong feeling that we were being called together, and that simply talking and listening to each other was somehow very important for reasons we couldn’t define.”
At the invitation of the Most Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, both men discussed their friendship as part of a reconciliation conference at Coventry Cathedral.
The Rt. Rev. John A. Guernsey of the Anglican Church in North America’s Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic announced March 14 that he and Baucum agreed that the friendship must now end.
“Bishop Johnston’s action is unconscionable,” Guernsey wrote. “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.
“I have talked with Tory Baucum about this,” Bishop Guernsey added. “He is grieved over this situation and agrees with my determination that this relationship with Bishop Johnston can no longer continue.”
In a statement released March 15, Bishop Johnston disputed the notion that he endorsed Crossan’s theology by welcoming him to the diocese.
“I quite disagree with many facets of Dr. Crossan’s theology — for example, his view of the Resurrection of Jesus, which I believe to have been bodily, personal and unique to the Lord, accomplished in a moment of historical time,” Johnston wrote. “This is a central tenet of the Christian faith and is without qualification the proclamation of the Episcopal Church and of this bishop. Indeed, any teaching that is contrary to the Creeds is contrary to the witness of our Church and, specifically, is at odds with my own faith and teaching.
“Nonetheless, 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.”
In a letter to his parishioners [PDF], Baucum wrote that he agreed to sever the friendship for two reasons.
“First was the ordination of a non-celibate lesbian in the former home of the Falls Church Anglican parish this past December,” Baucum wrote. “This was a problem of both menu and venue, of what and where it was done. This kind of ordination, which violates scriptural teaching, caused the Anglican schism in the first place. I believe that holding the service at the Falls Church shortly after they lost their building showed a disregard and lack of respect for the good and godly pastor and the people of the Falls Church. This was a failure to treat others in a way that honors the imago dei in each of us. It was extremely painful to learn of this action and my full sympathy is with John Yates+ and his congregation.
“Even more egregious was a series of talks given by John Dominic Crossan at a church in the Diocese of Virginia. I believe that Crossan’s work is a contradiction of Nicene faith and events like this undermine Nicene Christianity. Avoiding this kind of aggravating damage is foundational to our efforts at peacemaking. Crossan has appeared in debates with Christian scholars like N.T. Wright to fully and completely debate his theories, which have largely been found in extreme want of support in fact and scholarly analysis. But he appears to have come as a Christian teacher. He is not.”