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An aging maverick, Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong has no regrets

John Shelby Spong sits at his desk at his New Jersey home on Sept. 12, 2013. The liberal churchman writes longhand with a fountain pen on yellow legal pads. RNS photo by David Gibson

MORRIS PLAINS, N.J. (RNS) At 82, retired and enjoying life, Bishop John Shelby Spong doesn’t have to be the liberal enfant terrible whose pronouncements for gay rights and against traditional dogmas once scandalized Christendom.

John Shelby Spong sits at his desk at his New Jersey home on Sept. 12, 2013. The liberal churchman writes longhand with a fountain pen on yellow legal pads. RNS photo by David Gibson

John Shelby Spong sits at his desk at his New Jersey home on Sept. 12, 2013. The liberal churchman writes longhand with a fountain pen on yellow legal pads. RNS photo by David Gibson

Indeed, many of the views that once turned the former Episcopal bishop of Newark into a lightning rod are now regarded as so matter-of-fact that they barely occasion much notice: ordaining gay clergy and blessing same-sex marriages, for example, or having a female presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman elected to lead a national church in the Anglican Communion.

“I can remember when getting a woman as a rector was the hardest thing you ever did,” Spong said with a gratified smile as he relaxed on a sofa in the suburban New Jersey home he shares with his wife, Christine. (“I was told to put a collar on. I haven’t worn one in a long time.”)

On a range of issues, Spong can point to advancements that he helped push during a long and remarkable career – 20 years as a priest in North Carolina and Virginia and 24 years as a bishop in Newark. During that time, he became an unabashed provocateur in the fierce debates over sexuality that split many churches, including his own, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Through it all, Spong never retreated an inch. By the time he retired in 2000, his own diocese had 35 openly gay and lesbian clergy, and he also helped promote a new generation of church leaders who can carry his progressive torch: 11 clerics from his tenure are now bishops, more than from any other diocese, he says.

At the same time, Spong also became a best-selling author who routinely, and infamously, questioned long-held doctrines and literal interpretations of the Bible. The Virgin Birth, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the historical accuracy of Jesus’ sayings in the Gospels – all these and much more were targets of Spong’s pointed pen during his heyday.

“It was really a very exciting time,” he said of the fight for rights for gays and women. “That battle was very controversial. But that battle is so over today. That battle is won.”

Yet while he finds the victory deeply satisfying, he says he doesn’t take personal pride in this tectonic shift.

John Shelby Spong speaks in a church in England. RNS photo by David Gibson

John Shelby Spong speaks in a church in England. RNS photo courtesy John Shelby Spong

“I was simply interpreting a rising consciousness,” he said. “Whether it was race or women or homosexual people, the issue was always the same: fighting against anything that dehumanizes a child of God on the basis of an external characteristic.”

Now, he said, “I feel mellow,” his soft drawl burnishing the tone of reflection. “And I don’t think I’ve changed, particularly. I’m just not controversial in my church anymore.”

But those who love Spong – and the many who love to hate him – need not worry: He is hardly going gently into that good night. He seems as vital and youthful as ever, tall and lanky with a shock of reddish hair that still falls insistently across his forehead. He does four miles every morning on the treadmill, and he and his wife travel about 60 percent of the year, mainly at the invitation of audiences who want to hear more from Spong.

And he has a new book out – his 24th. This latest one is a take on the Gospel of John called “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic.” As the subtitle suggests, Spong reads the Gospel through a Jewish lens, as he has done in many of his works.

Yet this book is also an unusual one for Spong. Not only is John considered the least historically reliable of the four Gospels, but it is also the one most focused on the divinity of Jesus at what many would say is the expense of his humanity, which has been Spong’s chief interest.

John Shelby Spong's book "The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic". Photo courtesy HarperOne

John Shelby Spong’s book “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic.” Photo courtesy HarperOne

Spong doesn’t think any of the Gospels are literal retellings of the life of Christ. “All of them were written 40 to 70 years after the Crucifixion, in a language that Jesus did not speak, and not by eyewitnesses,” he said. “I see them more as Jewish interpretive portraits painted by Jewish artists try to capture the essence of this man’s life.”

Those are, of course, the kinds of statements that set many Christians — even many fellow Episcopalians — on edge, to say the least. “A lot of people hear me attacking their certainty. I don’t have any interest in doing that. I’m interested in penetrating the meaning of certainty. We have to get beyond the symbols. And John’s Gospel does that for me.”

Still, he concedes, “I wouldn’t have touched John’s Gospel even 10 years ago.”

But age has a way of shifting one’s focus. In 2010, Spong published a book on life after death (“Eternal Life: A New Vision”) that he had abandoned 25 years earlier because “I clearly wasn’t ready to write it.” Even in his late 70s, describing the afterlife was a struggle.

“I had no vocabulary for it,” he said. “I don’t think much about my physical body going off into the long, green fairways of heaven to play golf.”

In a sense, following the path of a mystic — like the author of the Gospel of John — only became possible as Spong, the rational-minded Bible scholar, aged. And that process in turn seems to have highlighted Spong’s roots as a pastor and teacher — a spiritual writer as much as a controversialist.

“The older I get the more deeply I believe but the fewer beliefs I have,” he said, citing an adage once relayed to him by an older bishop. “And I think that’s probably where I am. I have a sort of mystical awareness (of God) that’s indescribable, but I can’t avoid it. When I’m asked to define God I’m almost wordless.”

Not that he’s toothless, by any stretch. He still relishes the memory of past battles with the likes of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.  “I really like him, strangely enough. Once you get him off camera he’s a very decent man. Much of that’s his persona. He’s a tough nut on the air, hard to get a word in edgewise. I think he’s got a personal integrity. I’ve really enjoyed him.”

HBO’s Bill Maher, who comes from the other side of the spectrum from O’Reilly, also had Spong on his cable show many times. “He’s violently anti-religious in his pronouncements and yet he introduced me once as his favorite theologian in America,” Spong said.

Despite the labels that have stuck to him — maverick, reformer, revolutionary and, of course, heretic — Spong thinks of himself “as an old-fashioned religion man.”

“It always surprises my critics. Plenty of people out there think of me as the Antichrist or the devil incarnate because I do not affirm the literal patterns of the Bible. But the fact is I can no more abandon the literal patterns than I could fly to the moon. I just go beyond them.”

He’s currently writing about the Gospel of Matthew, though he isn’t sure whether it will be a book or just part of the weekly column he writes. “I’m 82. I can’t be sure I’ll be alive in the two or three years it’ll take me to finish it.”

However it turns out, Spong will be happy if people take something positive away from it.

“It’s been kind of nice to get past the controversial stuff,” he said, “and have people begin to appreciate me.”

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • Mr. Spong might think that much of what he stands for as a spokesman for the Episcopal Church is now taken for granted. He might take a good look at membership and attendance figures for his church and the worldwide split in the Anglican Communion and then ask himself whether he has got it right. The evidence suggests otherwise.
    When you are cocksure of yourself, however, it doesn’t much matter whether you preach to empty pews.

  • When you describe the Gospel of John as the least historically reliable Gospel, what do you mean? That the Gospel is less accurate, less trustworthy than the Synoptics? Or do you mean that it is the Gospel that reveals the least about Jesus historically?

    And when did the author of the Gospel of John become a mystic, except in Spong’s imaginings? Writing about matters that might be construed by others as mystical does not mean the author is a mystic? The reporter doesn’t have to be charmed into regurgitating the news subject’s thoughts or concepts. I wrote enough pieces in more than three decades of daily journalism and teaching journalism to college students to expect more precision and more real reporting than appears in this piece.

    Finally, why, as a reporter, didn’t you challenge Spong on anything? Using O’Reilly and Maher as foils hardly amounts to challenges. For instance, he’s outside the mainstream of considerable and well-respected New Testament scholarship in the paragraph in which you mention retellings and dating. To say his views might set some teeth on edge does not begin to show why.

  • Bill Norton: The issue of the historical reliability of the Gospel of John (in relation to that of the synoptics) is an interesting issue which I hope to treat in a follow up story. John has long been considered “less reliable” because it is supposedly the last written. But there has been an interesting counter trend in biblical scholarship in recent years to see it as more useful historically. Pope Benedict XVI noted that in his recent Jesus trilogy (very much worth reading, by the way) and Spong himself sees some aspects of John as historically accurate — like his account of the crucifixion and Jesus’ relationship to John the Baptist, which is different from the other Gospels.

    But again, Spong doesn’t treat the Gospels as eyewitness sort of accounts, so it’s all a bit moot for him.

    As for the style of the piece, as you know from your years in journalism it was a profile that was looking at how Bishop Spong sees himself and his legacy at this point in his life. I have covered him for many years and included challenges and counter-narratives to many many of his books over that time — as have many journalists and others. To cover all of that ground again would require a book more than an article — which I’m sure you know.

    Critics of Spong’s work are legion and readily accessible to anyone with a library card or an Internet connection. My goal was to present Spong’s take on his life at this point in his life, and make it clear that his theological and scriptural arguments are his views and are very much contested.

    As you know, every reader wants you to write the story that they wanted to read. But that’s not our job as journalists. Rather it is to present the facts of a situation and to try to illuminate them as best as possible.

  • Most of the ¨pew fillers¨ of the Anglican Global South (GAFCON) and ACNA are bigots and/or worse (greedsters on the hoof)…sure, fill those churches, make em cry for salvation (because it is clear you/they really need help but will unlikely find it unless righteous pride = failure = humility). Don’t preach to us from filled up churches that are jammed full of drunken louts, childwitchburning participants, sex slave managers and vertically corrupt politicos who suck life out of humanity.

  • These are the words of a true believer and passionate seeker of Jesus Christ!? Since you say “most pew fillers,” can you–the All Seeing One–give us some more specific numbers & percentages, since you know all these people’s hearts, and are THE arbiter of who’s a worthy seeker after Christ and his truth for ther lives?

    We’re deliciously curious as to exactly how many are “childwitchburning participants,” and how many are “sex slave managers?” (We can pretty well estimate the “vertically corrupt politicians”–both in the secular political realm–as well as the ecclesiastical one.)

  • You did not report that Spong’s diocese lost most of its members during his tenure. More than any other person John Spong has helped destroy what was once a vital growing expression of Christianity. His arrogance in rejecting traditional Christian teaching is unbelievable. The Episcopal Church is a shadow of its former self, having lost millions of members, has spent millions in needless law suites to gain control of empty buildings because the people have chosen to leave the Episcopal Church instead of compromising their beliefs in the authority of the Holy Scriptures and helped destroy the unity of the Anglican Communion. Spong has also helped to destroy what was once a real possibility of Eastern Orthodox Anglican reconciliation. Spong’s speculation on the authority of the Gospels, is just that, pure speculation in an effort to reshape the message of the Bible to fit his own personal beliefs. It is truly tragic that one man can do such harm.

  • “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”

    Matthew 24:10-11

  • Bill and Father John,

    You are observant in noting the lapses in this puff piece, which represents David Gibson’s wish list for his own Roman Catholic Church. It is not too late for him to swim the Thames!

  • I am happy to see this intro to Spong’s most recent book and the review of his career. It is good to see because I will never see anything like it in The Christian Century, which views the Jesus Seminar and anyone associated with it as beyond remarks.

  • “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” — Luke 6:26

    Tag! Yor’re it!

  • Ah…there’s that christian love on display. Gene Robinson has more integrity and humility in his pinky than you will ever have.

  • Oh give it a rest you fossil. Christianity was a useful myth in the past but we have evolved past the need for fairy tales. I admired Spong not as a theologian or theist but for his admirable work for social justice. Even though I have no need for his mysticism, it certainly is preferable to fundamentalism. The only real growth in religion is in the developing world but that’s just a function of time and modernization. In another 100 years, religion will have peaked their and begin the same decline you see in the West.

  • I will always have a special place in my heart for Bishop Spong. As a shy and closeted teen growing up in south georgia in the 1980s and early 90s. my best friend was active in the small but vibrant episcopal church that was something of an oddity in the south. In a small college town, the episcopal church was an oasis and moderation amongst the oppressive fire & brimstone evangelical and fundamentalist churches that dominated the culture. I started attending the youth group for our parish and my life was changed in so many wonderful ways. I made a new set of intelligent, loving and supportive friends and was baptised and confirmed. I came out as gay with the support of the parish and Spong was a hero to most of our parish members. I particularly loved his strident support for gay rights at a time when the subject was still extremely controversial in the larger episcopal church and certainly in the small southern town I grew up in.

    Even though I became an atheist in college, I still went to several of Bishop’s Spong’s book readings and lectures. He always made an effort to come to Athens, GA where UGA was located and he was a very inspiring speaker. The best thing about Spong was that he was fearless in his advocacy and unlike alot of christian liberals at the time, he was scared of the fundamentalists or even the moderates. He gave as good as he got and that mattered alot to a young gay guy living through the New Right backlash and wondering if an entire generation of gay men would survive to continue the fight for equality.

  • No journalist, indeed no human being is unbiased. We all think and speak through a foggy lens that is made up of what we want to believe, what others have influenced us to believe, and what we think others want to hear. Of course, we are also all in some denial regarding the inevitable bias of our opinions. So I take what I read with lots of grains of salt. But some voices are more in line with Truth and ultimate authority than other voices. No voice for me is more authoritative than that of Jesus Christ and because God is omnipotent, He had no difficulty making sure that the writers of scripture put down exactly what He wanted them to say (through the power of the Holy Spirit within them). Unbelievers like Spong will not even believe in the Spirit nor in the omnipotence of God. So he gets to play God with his biased opinions. A legend in his own mind (and in that of many others who have been deceived by his speculations).

  • I’m an atheist and I think Robinson and Spong should be locked in a room with Akinola so the rest of us don’t have to listen to another rant about religion.
    Time to get rid of those tax breaks-there’s a radical, prophetic stance Spong could take but probably won’t.

  • Episcopalians, like the rest of Mainline Protestants, lost members because they’re not having the same number of children they used to and they’re not keeping the kids they do have in church like they did in the forties and fifties and sixties.
    The grandchildren of those who built 815 2nd Avenue have figured out better ways to spend Sunday morning and their hard-earned money; it doesn’t have to go to some freak in silk robes preaching about things no human being can possibly know-and that goes for both sides of the current religious side-show, “progressive” and traditionalist alike.
    The mainline churches are answers to questions nobody wants to ask anymore.

  • You are an example of what the Episcopal church’s core constituency is now: ex-Fundies who are either gay/too educated to stay with the Baptists and ex-catholics divorced/gay/too educated/inter-married to feel much real attachment to being Catholic. So long as these two groups feel a need for religious ceremonial/identities, the Episcopal church will probably manage to limp along at over a million members, at least on paper.
    You won’t have much continuity across generations, but there will be a small but steady stream, enough for you to pretend that you’re still relevant.

  • Good God, George! You really want to go there?!?

    Lets see….

    C of E: Founded by a guy who couldn’t keep it in his breeches–angry that he couldn’t divorce his wife (despite EVERYTHING Jesus said on the matter). The Book of Common Prayer: had to be approved by woman who never married (LIz I). The King James Bible: sponsored and approved by the most flamboyantly gay monarch England has ever had (and that’s saying something).

  • Stop the name calling! Heaven forbid that a church fill its pews with sinners (ie people who you disagree with).

  • If that joke of a cleric had any integrity and humility he would have left ordained ministry all together after he came out. All he has done was be a media darling for the LGBT community and not even being a shepherd to his diocese in New Hampshire,so don’t you DARE talk to me about integrity and humility. What a joke!!

  • “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” .- 2 Timothy 4:3-4

    It’s not a game. He needs to repent before he has to make an account for all the damage he has done to a once great witness for the Lord.

  • Abp Rowan Williams wrote of Spong: “I cannot in any way see Bishop Spong’s theses as representing a defensible or even an interesting Christian future….[his] theses represent a level of confusion and misinterpretation that I find astonishing.”

  • RM, it’s a bit of a reach to consider Spong a prophet of any sort–other than his his life’s “work” being prophetic of the virtual dissolution of the Episcopal Church.

  • etseq, no we haven’t evolved beyond the need for fairy tails, and the exhuberant Democrat Party is proof of that. Here’s why: It has preached the new dogma of “equality” and “justice” and has 45 years of its own legislative history to prove it an utter failure in its attempts. Heck, its attempts were not sincere in the first place, only a means to acquire and maintain power over people. The secular religion of liberal politics is bankrupt of meaning, never had anything solid going for it in the beginning.
    But this is where “the elite” are casting all their bets. At everyone else’s expense.

  • “So he gets to play God…” In what world does that even make sense? To an outsider, it looks like you’re a delusional bat with talking points you pull out randomly to show contempt. Logic be damned.

  • Bishop Spong was a great influence in my life, almost a hero though I hate using the word. As a closeted teen who never intended to come out, from a Methodist church that was mostly modern, but still traditional, his books were my first exposure to criticism of Christian dogma. I was so happy I got to meet him when I got my university’s student union to invite him to speak a decade ago. I know he didn’t intend it, but he got the ball rolling in my journey to being out and proud, both as gay and eventually as an atheist. I’m an atheist because I take his non-literalist views of the Bible, but choose not to believe in anything supernatural at all, while he chooses otherwise. Jesus as portrayed had some good things to say, but so do modern ethicists. No supernatural belief is necessary.

  • Mr Lamers, if you think popularity of one’s views or their causing strife are a marker of whether or not one has “got it right,” I suggest that you take a good look at the figure of Jesus – and, even more damning, at his followers. Then let’s have a talk about “got it right.”

  • Mr Norton, you are a journalist,as I take it, and not a biblical scholar. After you’ve taken a course in Johannine theology (perhaps also one on the Synoptics) come back here and revisit those questions you raise about the Fourth Gospel. Really, all you need to is read the Wiki article about Ray Brown’s work on the Fourth Gospel and you’ll see where Bishop Spong is coming from.

  • Fr Morris, obviously you’re no biblical scholar. Not surprising among the clergy, I”m sorry to say.

    As to the Episcopal church’s having “lost millions of members,” the Episcopal church has never had a membership much greater than 2 million. So what the devil are you talking about?

    And as to being “a shadow of its former self,” I see nothing to lament in the passing of a body once described as The Republican Party at Prayer.

    Your romantic nonsense does not become your cloth.

  • Paul, many of the writers here will say that your becoming an atheist just proves the validity of their criticisms of Spong. But I would suggest that, very likely, Bishop Spong doesn’t believe in the same god(s) you don’t believe in. I certainly do not; the difference being that I’m a faithful Anglican Christian and am at the Lord’s Table every Sunday and Holy Day. But I’m very, very clear about the institutional church’s failure in its stewardship of the Gospel. Spong is also, and declines to defend the indefensible simply to save an institution that has deservedly decayed. I do not believe because of any biblical text or dogmatic construction: my interior experience of what I call the Good News of the Love of God (I use that language for convenience’ sake–it doesn’t give a rat’s patootie what you call it) is why I live close to the sacraments, which are the church’s testimonials to the Holy at work in our lives. As to the “supernatural,” I don’t regard what I believe in as “supernatural” at all, but consider it merely the non-empirical part of my humanity. But I’d never in a million years say that you should believe in something simply because of my experience of it. All the best, dude.

  • you’re a good man, and have much more to teach “religious” people about what St Paul calls the Ministry of Reconciliation than most bible-blatherers will ever understand, I fear. Thanks for your posting.

  • Mr. Berry, I don’t suggest that popularity determines what is right, but I do suggest that when one is part of a movement that virtually empties the churches, then there’s clearly something not right.

    Also “not getting it right” is the tendency of elites in ascribing all manner of evil to people even where it doesn’t exist. And then they ally themselves with a political party with a history of the very evils they protest and of 45 years of absolute failure in addressing the evils they claim are paramount.

  • By whom is (or was) the Episcopal Church described as the “Republican Party at Prayer’? Not that it really matters. The opposing party has never had anything more on its mind than the acquisition and preservation of power to be used as it sees fit, never mind the restraints of the Constitution–or, for that matter, the sentiments of the majority, as we’re now seeing relative to healthcare.

  • Paul, you are right–well, to a point. Remember, you have chosen atheism just as believers have chosen. I regret your having experienced the difficulties you should not have had to bear. On the other hand, I see no point in your being proud that you are gay any more than there’s a point for straights being proud of their orientation. I think we ought to reserve pride for accomplishments. Our fundamental makeup is not of our choosing and, therefore, deserving of no recognition.

    Perhaps you are “searching.” We all should be and it seems that you are.. There’s something to be said for the persuit of truth.

  • Whatever that means. What it certainly means is that there’s been no continued discussion of the subject. Wonder why.

  • The first chapter of his book “A New Christianity…” is the best argument for atheism that I’ve every read. The rest of the book is a ridiculous argument for milk-toast progressivise baby boomer politics wrapped in religious clothing. No thanks.

  • “He’s [Maher] violently anti-religious in his pronouncements and yet he introduced me once as his favorite theologian in America,” Spong said.

    Of course Spong is his favorite theologian! Few people have done so much to destroy and undermine the faith of so many Christians as Mr. Spong has. This is very sad and not in any way a cause for celebration. Thankfully people like Spong are on their way out and those that bother to stay in church tend to be more faithful and interested in learning their faith instead of destroying it and acquiescing to the Prince of this World.

  • I think I’ve landed pretty solidly on my own truth as I see it, pretty much. But I think you’re being misleading by saying it’s a genuine choice. I was indoctrinated throughout childhood with the myths, and then dropped them as an adult because they make no sense. I know why I do what I do, I treat people decently, I fight for equality for all. If you do take out the supernatural stuff, that’s 90% what Jesus was all about anyway. I don’t need his magic blessing to be in god’s presence, if i turn out to be wrong. Because if that really is the magic answer, I’ll join up with the talking snake. Literally, haha. So I’m cool with it.

    I’m sure you weren’t trying to be antagonistic, but when I say proud, I mean unabashedly unashamed, and antagonistic toward those who do shame. I can defend myself as an adult, but there are still children whose psyches are being destroyed as I type by fundamentalist parents who are only trying to follow biblical principles (though many are just hateful bigots anyway). It’s still an accomplishment to be out in this country, and a crime in much of the world because of religions (not just Christianity). I look forward to the day that it isn’t an accomplishment for everyone, not just those lucky to live in the urban US/Canada/Western Europe.

  • I understand those criticisms from the right, and I actually like them. Just like I love reading about the new Pope. He’s driving the conservatives absolutely crazy with his rebranding focus on things that matter, like the poor, rather than belief. I’m kind of anti-authoritarian so I don’t need his blessing, but to hear him actually say that atheists could get into heaven makes me less antagonistic toward him.

    There are times I miss the fellowship of church and that kind of experience (singing, etc), thought about going to a unitarian church sometimes but I’d feel like a hypocrite since I really don’t believe in anything outside humanity. I think it’s exact vagueness with which you describe god that I stopped believing (I heard Spong say something similar about “God = love” sort of thing. It’s all well and good, and believers like you are awesome. Just need to speak up louder to drown out the thumpers haha.

  • When believers turn from belief, we don’t turn into baby-eating Prince worshipers. Your firebrand is all about tribalism and keeping belief pure, but it’s not working. I think toning down the rhetoric is a reason that the religious still number so highly in the US. If all people had to choose from were Southern Baptists or atheism, atheism’s ranks would swell.

  • ‘“He’s violently anti-religious in his pronouncements and yet he introduced me once as his favorite theologian in America,” Spong said.’

    Sigh. It’s for such situations that the term ‘useful idiot’ was invented.

  • For a moment, you had me worried, as I attend an vibrant, thriving Episcopal church, and our rector is one John W. Morris. Clearly, you are not him,. In this, I am very much relieved, for you seem to me to suffer from the very arrogance you attempts to attribute to Bishop Spong.

  • Actually progressive Christian churches continue to enjoy a rise in attendance because we welcome everyone, trying to follow in Christ’s footsteps of ‘Loving thy neighbor” rather than just pay lip service to Christ’s ideals.

  • Absolutely untrue. The Diocese of Newark has grown exponentially due to beliefs that are broad and accepting. Bishop Spong is an exemplary scholar and comes to terms with the Gospels in ways that are easy to interpret. Discovering the basis of the Hebrew Bible to describe the lives of the gospel writers, makes all more believeable. Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, and would have followed the laws of that time, as would the other Hebrew gospellers.

  • He was kinda quoting Jesus. Suggest you read him a little more, and let old heretics retire in peace.

  • I find it interesting that the commenters who argue most strongly from a personal experience perspective ended up as atheists. This seems a fitting, logical conclusion to following Spong’s teaching. Why? Because Spong does not follow a literal, let alone an inerrant (as originally written) interpretation of the bible. If Spong does not follow an inerrant interpretation, what does he follow? Whatever he decides is true, whatever he decides to disregard and whatever he decides he wants to twist. Ie. Spong places himself as a higher authority then scripture. It is therefore not logical for Spong to believe in God unless he views himself as God. Which maybe is why he is at a loss for words when asked to describe God. In any case, he is intellectually dishonest in this regard. The two afore mentioned atheists are at least intellectually honest in this regard. Highly deluded for sure, but at least intellectually honest.

  • Honestly, what I’m reading here is judgement and hatred from BOTH sides of the religious/non-religious debate. Die hard traditionalists unwilling to recognize that others who don’t share the beliefs or believe them in the exact same way are treated as bad, immoral people, and non-believers treating believers as delusional, backward hicks or cling to “fairy tales”. How we can ever have an inclusive, loving society or move ahead as a people with these attitudes?

  • I got into reading Bishop Spong when I got into my 40’s and after a very spiritually damaging experience with a Pentecostal church. they were telling me things like I had to pray in a special language or in front of a group of other people for it to be valid. This flew in the face, to me, of the words of Jesus that I had read. Also, putting limitations on God! And their whole defination of speaking tongues: what I read about that in Scripture was that the Holy Spirit feel upon the Apostles and when they started preaching everyone understood them in their own language,not that they started mumbling incoherently until some “gifted” person interpreted it for the others. And the real kicker was when my pastor stated his belief that God rejected Cain’s sacrifice in favor of Abel’s because “God requires blood” Wow.
    Throw in the anti-gay stance, the subjugation of women, and the disregard for animals, plus the awful way they judged my husband, and I went away from that church almost an atheist myself. Then I started to read progressive Christian writings like Spong, and he really spoke to my huge concerns that I had. I came to understand that the Bible was written, not by God, but by men, men who could only express their experience from the culture of their time. I know now not to take literally every word in the Bible, and really, how can you when it contradicts itself over and over. I believe Jesus was a human, but one so vastly advanced in his consciousness that he understood Science of Mind i.e. faith creates circumstance, and that love led to peace and harmony i.e. Heaven. The opposite created misery and chaos i.e. Sin and Hell. Jesus was also, to me, the very first Social Justice advocate; feeding the hungry, housing the poor, caring for the infirm, embracing and loving all regardless of who they were or how big a ‘sinner’ they are. And I now believe that his Resurrection was not a physical one but a spiritual one which to me is far more meaningful. And he preached that it wasn’t just him, we were ALL children of God who were capable of the very same special power that he possessed. I now focus more on Jesus’s life example than that of his bloody, horrific death. And I identify with Spong’s expression of God as not a being, but the Ground of All being from which all creation comes and what connects all things. Spong connected with me, brought me back to Christ. So I don’t think condemning him is warranted.

  • And this is what I wish anti-Christian people would also see and recognize : that the judgmental and hate filled anti-gay and anti women sentiments they see coming from so-called Christian spokesmen like Pat Robertson and like minded churches(I won’t even get into the extremely anti-Christian Fred Phelps and his awful, evil followers) is an 180 opposite of what Jesus spoke and represented, and stop being against HIM because of what these hateful people say and do in his name. Jesus represents love, inclusion, service to others, social justice, and I just don’t understand why that would be anything that any normal, progressive, compassionate person would rail against.

  • What I meant to say was I’m seeing die traditionalists here treating non believers or people who believe in a different way from them as bad, immoral people.

  • To make an omelette, one must break eggs, but it is also possible break eggs without making an omelette. So let no prophet be accepted in his own place. Not being accepted does not make one a prophet.

  • Duane wrote: “It [the Democratic Party] has preached the new dogma of “equality” and “justice…” I’m having a problem here. The entire Bible preaches those two concepts, from the act of equalizing money during Purim (from Esther), to Paul’s words (Galatians) that there is neither Jew nor gentile (godless, uncivilized), slave nor free, male nor female, but all are equal in Christ.

    While religion at its current level in politics calls itself Christian, I see no concern for the most vulnerable, the outcasts, the foreigners, and the “sinners” – the people with whom Jesus spoke and ate – only contempt.

    It’s Christianity upside-down…for I was a hungry child and you told me it was my fault, I was in prison and you said I deserved to be there, I was raped and you said “Tough – you must carry that child regardless of the psychological, physical and financial burdens – and you won’t get a dime from me to feed, clothe or educate it.”

    Remember, when you have done these things to even the least among you, you have done it to Jesus.

  • Biblical inerrancy was a doctrine that came into fruition in the 1800s as a response to modernization. The bible was NEVER intended to be taken as inerrant. If it was, it failed miserably.

  • Roxy thanks for sharing your experience and like you I have came from a fundamentalist pentecostal experience that drove me away from church and on a quest for the truth. Bishop Spong’s writings were helpful as were Rob Bell. I do agree with Spong regarding Jesus being a ground of being…he gives us the courage to be, per Tillich.

  • Concerning: “For instance, he’s outside the mainstream of considerable and well-respected New Testament scholarship.”, Yes, yes quite true; concerning the ‘respected’ ‘scholarship’ of the entrenched establishment church hierarchy.
    Spong has noted in the past that there is not Catholic or Protestant, or Episcopal ‘scholarship’. There is either good or bad scholarship.
    You and I can call him a maverick, but with different connotations. What may give critics pause it his ‘mainstream connections’ all his life shown here for example:

    I have met the man and his wife several times at lectures. This is a man beyond reproach, with a deep humility. He is the most astute person i have ever met. It is my nature to go a long way before i assume trust in anyone or anything too. Sometimes it takes a good long look at someone to see through ones entrenched biases. Winning or losing is not a critical thing to a humble person. It is finding truth, where it is, where ever it comes from.

  • if there is no virgin birth and no ressurection there is no christianity . why be a priest of a Lie?

  • Amen Fr. Morris. Thank you for speaking truth…for which Mr. Spong obviously has no evident use. Thanks again.

  • Amen George. You hit it on the head. Appeasement is sought by those who refuse to seek truth, or even want to seek it. The Godless have found their newest savior.

  • I affirm Duane Lamers comments. In my opinion Spong is just a heretic. More words spoken about would just be a waste of time. He left a waste land behind his 82 years. It’s really just sad.

  • Mr. Lamers and others of his ilk.
    The empty pews are not the result of Spong’s theology. The emptying of the pews preceded his work by several years. The pews became empty because more and more Christians recognized that the stories that the Bible tells are just that. Stories. But felt that one had to accept them as “fact” in order to continue to be a Christian.
    One just doesn’t have to accept them as such. They are great stories that tell important facts.
    Bishop Song only made us aware of there storyness and that we could love them more as stories than as :”facts.”

  • I have found more Jesus followers in the Unitarian church’s than I ever did in any other church. We don’t want dogma or Creed that was written 300 years after Jesus’s death. I wonder at those who study history at all can believe the stories of Bible. So sad.

  • It’s better to tell the truth and preach to empty pews than it is to be a parrot in the pulpit speaking to thousands.

  • I think that living as a gay person in our culture requires a goodly amount of courage/resolve. He should be proud.

  • Why was Bishop Spong allowed to retire as an Episcopal Bishop? He disbelieves in the creeds of Christianity and actively preaches against them. He should have been fired for failing to do the job for which he was hired; preaching the Gospel. If he was intellectually honest he should have resigned and formed a religion of his own or become a Unitarian.

  • “For hGod so loved ithe world,9 jthat he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not kperish but have eternal life. 17 For lGod did not send his Son into the world mto condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 nWhoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not obelieved in the name of the only Son of God. 19 pAnd this is the judgment: qthe light has come into the world, and rpeople loved the darkness rather than the light because stheir works were evil. 20 tFor everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, ulest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever vdoes what is true wcomes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”