Alabama's Roy Moore and the Ten Commandments - Part I

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 1 October 2003 0 Comments
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You speak a lot about idolatry among Christians. What do you mean by this?


Idolatry means ascribing to anything less than God the qualities that pertain only to God. Infallibility, inerrancy, eternal truth are but a few of these God qualities. In the history of the Church, various bodies of Christians have claimed infallibility for the ex-cathedra utterances of their spiritual leader, inerrancy for the words of scriptures that human beings wrote and absolute truth for human formulations of doctrines and dogmas.

Recognizing the weakness of such idolatrous claims for human persons, human creations and human formularies, they developed an even stranger claim that the Holy Spirit somehow directed the leader in his (not her) infallible utterances since God would not allow the divine Church to live in falsehood or that the Holy Spirit guided the authors of the Scriptures so that the words were inerrant or that the Holy Spirit assisted the Church in its doctrinal formulations so that these creeds might reflect perfectly God's ultimate truth.

Each of those claims borders on the ridiculous. The evil that has been done by the papal claims, the biblical claims and the doctrinal claims can be documented all too easily. One has only to look at crusades, the Inquisition and the biblical defense of such outdated evils as the divine right of kings, the condemnations of Galileo and Darwin and the affirmations of slavery, segregation, second-class status for women and homophobia with proof texts from scripture. People also justify wars of aggression by claiming an ultimate justice for a badly compromised national vested interest.

There is an ultimate truth of God I do believe. However, no person, no institution and no nation can claim to possess it without becoming idolatrous. Idolatry is therefore a fact, a dark fact, in Christian history.

-- John Shelby Spong





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