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Monday 10 April 2017

John Spong: Christian Liberal Rationalist

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 13th September 2007

Bishop John Shelby Spong
Retired US Episcopalian Bishop of Newark John Spong is about to pay one of his periodical visits to our shores. For once, it's nice to be able to write about an inclusive Christian religious leader, instead of a malignancy festering within the body of that faith.

John Spong has a long and magnificent record of defending lesbian and gay rights inside and outside the US Episcopal Church, fighting antigay biblical interpretations, supporting lesbian and gay Episcopal ordination candidates for ministry, and speaking out against misogyny, homophobia, racism and anti-Semitism within the Christian tradition.

His fundamentalist opponents would sourly respond that Spong is a thoroughgoing liberal rationalist Anglican. He supports Darwinian evolutionary theory, and while he believes that there was a great moral teacher called Jesus of Nazareth, he's not inclined to believe in the supernaturalist dogma like the Immaculate Conception, virgin birth, miracles, resurrection and ascension. He disparages fundamentalist and conservative Catholic promotion of the demonisation of the human body, consensual sexuality, and comments that all human beings are made in the image of the deity.

Thus, women are to be treated as mature rational and ethical agents in the context of the abortion debate and reproductive choice, lesbians and gay men have every right to citizenship, recognition of our relationships and families, and Christians should be deeply ashamed of the role of the Judas myth in promoting two millennia of anti-Semitism.

Fundamentalists hate him for this. In this area of the world, the so-called Sydney "Anglican" Diocese and misnamed New Zealand "Anglican" "Mainstream" are his primary opponents, neither of which appear tovalue the rich heritage of theological diversity which has made Anglicanism such a vibrant and enduring Christian denomination. The moribund Christian Apologetics Society devoted one of its issues to attacking Spong, and most of it centres on the fact that his beliefs are essentially those of the liberal rationalist Jesus Seminar. More seriously, this saintly man has received death threats from some particularly deranged fundamentalist opponents.

As a post-Christian, I'd have to ask the inevitable question why Spong still accepts the questionable case for the actual existence of an historical Jesus of Nazareth. Still, that's a minor objection.

Bishop Spong is that rare and precious thing these days, a man of integrity and committed to optimally inclusive justice for all who are poor and oppressed. However, is Christianity's existential and corporate quagmire of two millennia of bloodshed, oppression and tyranny too far gone for him to rehabilitate?

Craig Young - 13th September 2007

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