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An open letter to the Rev. Tory Baucum, Rector of Truro Anglican (updated January, 2014, with a p.s.)

An open letter to The Rev. Tory Baucum, Rector of Truro Anglican 

(Note to reader [added January 17, 2014] -- Seeing some rather heated blog traffic about The Rev. Baucum’s recent appointment by the Archbishop of Canterbury as one of Canterbury Cathedral's Six Preachers has reminded me to post a kind of "p.s./follow up" on this "Open Letter to Tory Baucum" blog post, a p.s. which I have included at the end of this letter. Please make a point to read it; it’s an important addition to what I say here.)

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.” (Galatians 5:7-8)

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 CanterburyJustin 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.

You also said, “John tells us that perfect love casts out fear. I think the corollary is also true, perfect fear casts out love.”

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; 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.

But apparently Bishop Guernsey threatened you with discipline, and you obeyed.

I get that: I am, after all, from a hierarchical church.

I also get why you felt you had to share, in your March 14 letter, your decision to go along with Bishop Guernsey’s advice and counsel.

But there are two things I don’t understand.

First, I don’t understand why you felt you had to buy into Bishop Guernsey’s whole guilt-by-association thing: you know, Bishop Guernsey’s argument that by permitting John Dominic Crossan, an unorthodox scholar, “to speak unchallenged to clergy in his diocese,” Bishop Johnston shook, to the core, the principles of “Nicene Christianity” and “the ‘imago dei’ in every person” upon which your peacemaking work was based. 


Is the concern that Crossan was “permitted to speak unchallenged” the issue?  If so, would the event have been acceptable if this was set up as a back-and-forth debate between Crossan and an orthodox clergy person or scholar, say, like Nicky Gumbel or the Reverend Dr. Graham Tomlin, both of whom applauded your work with Bishop Johnston?  

Or is what made Bishop Johnston’s actions “unconscionable” to Bishop Guernsey the fact that Bishop Johnston welcomed someone with viewpoints very much different than his own – that they were allowed to be spoken at all?

Besides, does Bishop Guernsey really want Crossan and others like him be “challenged”?   

"Challenges" only draw more attention to such writers, and sell more of their books; it's exactly what they want. In fact I’ll bet Crossan is penning a thank you note to Bishop Guernsey right now for providing nationwide, and five more days of, attention to a lecture that would have otherwise been a flash in a pan. 

And does Bishop Guernsey really want to go down the whole guilt-by-association road? The worst Bishop Johnston can be accused of is welcoming, for a few days, a heretical scholar who has no official association whatsoever with the Diocese of Virginia to give a couple talks. By contrast, Bishop Guernsey and the Anglican District of Virginia seem (or seemed) rather proud, by their own admission, to be affiliated with the church of Nigeria through the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, which was founded by Archbishop Akinola in 2005.

That would be the same Peter Akinola who officially “affirms our commitment to the total rejection of the evil of homosexuality which is a perversion of human dignity and encourages the National Assembly to ratify the Bill prohibiting the legality of homosexuality.”

You wanna talk “disregard and lack of respect for good and godly people;” you wanna talk “failure to treat others in a way that honors the imago dei in each of us”?

Bishop Guernsey’s former Archbishop calls homosexuality itself “an evil” and “a perversion” and thinks gays should be arrested.  

And then he calls inviting a scholar to give a lecture “unconscionable”?

Which brings me to the second thing I don’t understand:

Why, in your March 14 letter, did you take things a step further by concluding that the ordination to the priesthood of the Rev. Jo Belser, someone who is married legally in the District of Columbia, and whose marriage has been blessed by the Episcopal Church – an ordination which happened in December, 2012 – is all of a sudden a “problem,” “egregious,” a “violation of scriptural teaching,” schism-causing, something “showing a disregard and lack of respect” and a “failure to treat others in a way that honors the imago dei in each of us”?

News flash: The Episcopal Church welcomes gay and lesbian people into all aspects of church ministry.

Put another way: we no longer require our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ to be in the closet if they want to be included in every aspect of church ministry. 

I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt as to why you didn’t name her and instead referred to her as “a non-celibate lesbian.” I believe you were being gracious and didn’t want to make this personal.

But the inclusion of gays and lesbians (and, I might add, allowing women to become Bishops) is personal. It is incarnational.   

And here’s where it gets really interesting.

Jo, this real live person Jo, well, apparently she attended Crossan’s lecture, along with some of her parishioners.

And guess what? Despite what Bishop Guernsey seems to think – that if John Dominic Crossan’s views are “left unchallenged” all in attendance will fall under his unorthodox spell and start editing the Nicene Creed out of their collective minds – Rev. Belser wrote a wonderful blog piece, in which she calmly dispatched “Crossan’s thesis  in one sentence.

Then she goes on to write over 1,100 words about the prevailing view (i.e. the traditional, historical, orthodox view) of why Jesus went to Jerusalem and the nature of sacrifice, asking such questions as 

“How do we express to God how much we value what God has given to us, to Jesus for what Jesus has done for us?”

“What gifts do we give God, not in payment for what we have been given, but in gratitude and because we want a relationship with God?”

Sounds pretty orthodox to me; sounds pretty traditional to me; sounds downright Bible-believing and Jesus-loving to me.

Reverend Baucum: I’ve never met you in person, but from everything I’ve heard and read about you, you are a lovely, holy, sincere, devoted and faithful man and minister of the Gospel.

And having served as a priest in this diocese for almost twenty years now, I can say that Truro, the church you are leading, has been, is, and continues to be a gracious, giving, generous, passionate, fully-alive-in-Christ congregation. 

I love – I loved– the work you were doing with my Bishop. You were running a good race.

But you were cut off from this work.

And now perfect fear is in danger of casting out love.

It grieves me.

And so I can only end with your own gracious words, and plead with you to take them to heart: 

“I’m very concerned that we’re stewards of this opportunity so that we can help heal the church. You know, because the church is always going to have disagreements. It always has had disagreements, significant disagreements, but I don’t think we’ve handled this disagreement well at all, and we’ve make it much more destructive than it needed to be.”

Faithfully yours,

The Rev. John Ohmer

P.S. (added on January 17, 2014) -- Sometime after posting this piece, The Rev. Tory Baucum emailed me to say he would like to respond to my post, but privately rather than publicly. That led to the two of us getting together at a local restaurant on two different occasions for conversation. Let me say that while Rev.  Baucum believes me, and The Episcopal Church, to be in error on more than a few matters of theology and doctrine, I found him personally to be engaging, open-minded, and above all, gracious. He holds firmly to theological and doctrinal beliefs that I do not share, but unlike so many (on both the far-liberal left and the far-conservative right) I found, in our conversations at least, that the Rev. Baucum manages to express those differences in a way that does not demonize people or reduce them to simplistic caricatures. What a breath of fresh air. – the Rev. John Ohmer


  1. The greatest thing Jesus ever called us was friends. And he had a whole lot of unorthodox friends: prostitutes and tax collectors, fishermen and farm hands, women and children, outsiders and outlaws. He was often found at table with them, so much so he was called a glutton and a drunkard. A foretaste of the kingdom, there was and is always room for any and all of God's beloved at this table -- regardless what arguments we have with our brothers and sisters there. Jesus - never "unfriends" us... I guess "Bishop" Guernsey and Rev Baucam need to remember this... So I pray.
    Thanks, John, for your good words. I will pass them along. Joani Peacock

  2. Joani, he did eat with prostitutes, etc. but he didn't have them at Last Supper and He didn't tell his disciples "Go and be like them." When asked why He spent so much time with them, the reply was, "The sick are the ones who need a doctor." He was their friend, but he didn't want them to stay like that. He gave them hope that they were still valuable, but that didn't mean he accepted everything they did.

    Do I think Jesus was as worried about doctrine as some are? Probably not, since we humans are never going to get it completely right. Do I think he'd agree with the liberal "Believe whatever you want without consequences"? That heretics, doubters, and atheists should teach the church? Nope. He also commanded his disciples to be perfect; that if their eye or hand caused them to sin, cut it off and that those who lead believers astray were better off dead. If Guernsey stopped this because of unorthodox speaking/teaching, he was doing his job. Bishops are to protect the faith. If he did it just because a conservative and liberal were friends, I'd lean more the other way.

  3. "Chris H" -- would like to publish your comment, but for transparency's sake, full name please?

  4. Sorry, Chris Harwood

  5. Not to encourage bishop shopping, but I suspect Bishop Johnston would gladly bring the Rev. Baucum into the fold if asked. After a careful discernment process of course. Bishop Guernsey was only looking for a pretext to threaten Baucum. John Crossan is not a threat to the faith. If he is a threat to the faith of the ACNA faithful via Baucum's association with Bishop Johnston, oh my.


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