The Bible and Homosexuality - The Church's Dance in the 21st Century - Part 1

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 31 March 2004 0 Comments
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How can the clergy educate its members into contemporary theology and attract back the church alumni without alienating the aging conservatives that finance the local church?


Your question interests me on several levels. One is that you assume that the clergy want to educate their congregations into contemporary theology and a second is that you assume the conservatives are aging.

There is no doubt that there has been an exodus from institutional religion in the last fifty years of the twentieth century that has been both real and dramatic. As these people departed, those who remained grew older and more conservative. Some evangelical and fundamentalist churches actually thrived. The main line churches with their moderate to liberal stances were the ones that lost out.

My experience is that the clergy have also moved sharply to the conservative side of the ledger as part of a survival mentality. On the Roman Catholic side, each new papal appointment to the offices of bishop, archbishop and cardinal was significantly more conservative than its predecessor. The transition in Roman Catholicism from John XXIII and John Paul II has been a dramatic march into yesterday. It is not different on the Protestant side, where most of the growth and all of the popular televangelists are fundamentalists or neo-fundamentalists.

I do not believe that the emerging new Christianity will be particularly popular, at least at first. Hysterical people will move more and more into security-providing, certainty-giving churches while disillusioned people will abandon all institutional religious forms in the immediate future. But the day will come when the emptiness in the hearts of both men and women will become inescapable and intolerable and the cry for something more will begin to be heard. That something more must have integrity and be in touch with reality. Since I believe God is real, I am convinced that this renewal of the religious life is also inevitable.

-- John Shelby Spong




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