Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ah, the Recriminations of a Liberal Scorned

The current ECUSA rector occupying The Falls Church (pending the outcome of the ACNA congregation's  appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court), the Rev. John Ohmer, writes "An open letter to The Rev. Tory Baucum, Rector of Truro Anglican". He begins by quoting, of all things, from Paul's Epistle to the Galatians (5:7-8):
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.”
More about this strange selection later. Below is a partial text, with my fisks inserted as appropriate.
Dear Rev. Baucum, I’m writing in response to your "Peacemaking for Now" letter of March 14, 2013.
For some time, you’ve been reaching out in personal friendship with the Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston, Bishop of Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.  
In praise and recognition of this good work, you received, and posted on your own blog, many encouraging words from – in your own words – “some of the most orthodox leaders in Anglicanism,” including Nicky Gumbel and now-Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. 
You said that the reason you started this work of conversation and reconciliation were things you were seeing in your congregation, namely,  
“a reluctance to reach out to different groups in our community, and there would be theological rationalizations for some of this,”
 but then you said,
 “as I dug beneath it, what I realized was there was fear. And I saw fear in different places, and then I realized you know, I couldn’t just tell people to reach out to people and places they were afraid of. I had to lead by example.” 
Your insight -- that fear causes us to turn away from relationships with people who are different from us – is spot on. 
The writer sets up his false thesis by a wordplay on the meaning of "fear": avoidance of the heterodox ("people who are different from us") is caused only by fear -- but fear of what? Fear of just the differences, or a healthy instinct to avoid straying from the path of the Gospel? Then he misuses Tory Baucum's words to complete the set-up:
You also said, “John tells us that perfect love casts out fear. I think the corollary is also true, perfect fear casts out love.”
We will see shortly what the writer wants to do with Fr. Baucum's loosely devised corollary. The meaning of "perfect love" in the context of 1 John is very clear -- it is the perfect love of our creator, God. But what is the meaning of "perfect fear" -- especially if, as I say, the word "fear" is being used in the sense of a healthy instinct to avoid the heretical? For it was Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, who warned them that by listening to the Judaizers, and adopting their false premises, they were straying from the path he had shown to them. And notice how the writer quickly inverts the meaning of Paul's text:
But you overcame that fear, and you did, in fact, lead by example. You inspired, and gave hope to many of us around the world, including even Canon Andrew White in Baghdad, Iraq: now there’s someone who knows conflict, and how to stand up to those who would silence the voice of love. 
You were doing good, godly work.  
You were running a good race.  
But then in your letter of March 14, you said you’re ending this work with Bishop Shannon.  
As Paul asked, “Who cut in on you, who hindered you from obeying the truth?” 
Wait a minute, wait a minute. To whom did Paul direct that question?

Answer: The Galatians.

And just who were the Galatians?

Answer: They were Gentile converts in Asia Minor whom Paul had won to the Gospel of Christ.

What "truth" was Paul talking about their having been hindered from obeying?

Answer: The truth of the Gospel: that Jesus Christ died to save their sins, and that His death was a full, complete and perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

Paul was not castigating the Galatians for being fearful of heretics, but just the opposite: for fraternizing with heretics and for buying their false gospel, namely, that they could become just like the Jews, and hence saved for God, by practicing circumcision. If the Galatians could save themselves by practicing circumcision, Paul pointed out, Christ's sacrifice for them was completely unnecessary.

But our writer is undeterred by his misuse of Paul's words. For he has an ulterior motive in writing this "open letter" to Fr. Baucum: he really wants to strike at Bishop Guernsey, for having the audacity to shepherd his flock. After quoting Paul's question to the Galatians, he answers it as follows:
Wait; we know the answer to that: it was Bishop John Guernsey, that’s who.  
Bishop Guernsey, alarmed over the fact that Bishop Johnston welcomed a non-orthodox biblical scholar to speak in the Diocese of Virginia, came to a “determination that this relationship with Bishop Johnston can no longer continue.”  
This persuasion is not from him who calls you
And he quotes Galatians again! This is not exegesis, but eisegesis -- of the most infernal kind.

Translation of what the writer is actually saying: "The 'determination' made by Bishop Guernsey to cut off your dealings with Bishop Johnston was not a call from God."

Then, if not a godly admonition from one's own bishop, what in the world was it? Back to our writer:
But apparently Bishop Guernsey threatened you with discipline, and you obeyed.  
I get that: I am, after all, from a hierarchical church. 
This is too rich! One who is subject to arbitrary persecution from Title IV review committees in the world of +Katharine Jefferts Schori readily imagines how Bishop Guernsey "apparently" threatened Fr. Baucum with discipline.  There is just one problem, however: there is no evidence whatsoever of any such threat. What Bishop Guernsey actually wrote was this (bold emphasis added):
"I have talked with Tory Baucum about this. He is grieved over this situation and agrees with my determination that this relationship with Bishop Johnston can no longer continue."
So having compared the Truro congregation and Father Baucum to the Galatians, and Bishop Johnston and his Virginia Episcopalians (unwittingly) to the Judaizers, what is left of our writer's thesis? He has shot himself in the foot, but is completely unaware of how he managed to do so.

The rest of his letter is a long, tortured ad hominem argument which manages to defend John Dominic Crossan by comparing him (favorably) to former Archbishop Peter Akinola, and by pointing out that the non-celibate lesbian whom Bishop Johnston ordained in the writer's own church can author a Christian sermon when she is of a mind to. (He does not cite us, however, to any sermon of hers on the subject of Mt 19:3-6, which would be instructive.)

And then, in a final irony, he returns to Paul's Epistle to the Galatians. Which raises just one question:

If the Galatians are the Truro congregation, then who is Paul, calling them back to the faith they originally received?

Somehow I don't see it being Bishop Johnston. Try again, Fr. Ohmer.


  1. Bishop Dicus, Suffragan of the Diocese of West Texas back when there were still a few places that had hitching posts in front of the saloon, lectured us one night at Camp Capers Summer Encampment on the Guadalupe River...out northwest of San Antonio, about 70 miles (this is in 1959, 129 7th graders pleasantly fed and imprisoned for 2 weeks).
    He told us to always beware of a person who is preaching, and in that preaching uses one or even two contiguous verses from the KJU Bible.
    He pointed out that the Nazarene...the one who would die to purify our souls...spoke in relatively lengthy parables. The parables were sometimes arcane and opaque. But delving into the history, contemplating the situation, learning the outcome, one would learn that it had to do, almost always, with character, compliance, and the Ist and IInd Great Commandments. And faith.

    The maddening minutia and pogo stick logic and 52-card pick-up games that are used to construct the arguments of these people is maddening to such a point that I fear naming the extent of the fury it builds within the soul of an old Texan.

    Our esteemed guide through these foggy forests that now surround our Faith has erred by using the term "....shot himself in the foot".
    I shan't be surprised if by Wednesday morning there will be an Order of Excommunication from Her Highness, Queen of the Real Piscopal Lodge of Unitarian Acceptance naming our Vicar as one who endorses gun violence against people with whom he disagrees.

    This time El Gringo Viejo only had to read Our Vicar's entry twice to understand it well. Perhaps it is that the maneuvers of the "relevant and accepting" part of the Church have become so predictably devious that they are more and more easily explained.

    The amount of cherry picking of the letters of Saint Paul...and in all their attempts to buttress their arguments with a bit, a snip, a shred of scripture is a sad expression of their shallowness.

    Eating cactus (nopalitos) with scramble egg for the non-Holy Days of Lent...and (with enough of my home-made green and/or red salsa) LIKING IT!! We actually gained a little weight....weird.

    El Gringo Viejo

  2. I am not familiar with Fr. Ohmer, but I would be willing to bet that he honed his skills at eisegesis through preaching it from the pulpit.

    This fisk should be read from that same pulpit for the good of his flock.

  3. The aspect of this blog dealing with the issue of fear is very pertinent to what's happened with a liberal clerical majority in the Episcopal Church (TEC)in existence for several decades. I believe that if scientific research were done on relevant factors influencing particular attitudes of conservative/orthodox and liberal TEC members, it might disclose the following: a majority of conservative/orthodox TEC members reflect attitudes that indicate general nonacceptance of the views of liberal TEC clergy, however, only a minority of conservative/orthodox members reflect attitudes that indicate a fear of liberal TEC clergy, whereas a majority of liberal members of TEC reflect attitudes that indicate general nonacceptance of the views of conservative/orthodox TEC clergy as well as actual fear of conservative/orthodox clergy. Such fear might well relate in particular cases to behaviors associated with "charismatics" (e.g., glossolalia), "fundamentalists" (e.g.,emotionalistic preaching/ "literalist" biblical interpretation), or "extreme ritualistic/Roman Catholic" practices. Before the ascendance of the present liberal clerical majority in TEC, a majority of conservative/orthodox members of TEC appeared to reject the views of liberal TEC clergy but not reflect fear of such clergy, however, with the ascendance of a liberal clerical majority in TEC, a majority of liberal members of TEC may now actually reflect fear of conservative/orthodox TEC clergy.

  4. "A" plus, as usual for the two contributors. The first for a scalpel like analysis and a perfect recommendation..."for the good of his flock".

    The second was a bit more methodical, but increased the reader's interest as we went. That work represents the most thorough, laced-up, put-in-a-box explanation about the psychology (pardon the word)of the "Great Divide" between the "relevant" clergy and laity, and the dumboes who thought that Christianity was something like a a Religion or something.
    And I think it was done in the fewest possible words. I am jealous of such wit and wisdom as demonstrated by the both of you.

    Time to wait for the call from Central Texas to listen to the tales from the lives of granddaughters. Thank you all three for "being there". It is a comfort.

    El Gringo Viejo

  5. I doubt that Bp. Guernsey "threatened" Fr. Baucum...rather, took him on a corrective "trip to the woodshed".