The Bible, Corporal Punishment and Human Guilt - Part 6

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 21 July 2004 0 Comments
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In the context of American society today, what is it that encourages all the strange cult religions and extreme bigoted churches to thrive? In the light of the election and confirmation of an openly gay man, Eugene Robinson, to be the Episcopal/Anglican bishop of New Hampshire, how do senior church people justify their strident antipathy to this bishop's consecration when the whole meaning of Christianity is in the love of God revealed in the life of Jesus?


I am afraid that people abroad do not get an accurate picture of America's religious life, or perhaps they take it more seriously than most Americans do. Perhaps the close affinity between fundamentalist religion and the present Bush administration also presents a distorted view.

There certainly are some cult religions in America, most of which border on the psychotic. There are also some bigoted churches that thrive. I grew up in an evangelical Episcopal/Anglican church that taught me that segregation was the will of God, that women were by nature inferior to men, that homosexual people were mentally sick or morally depraved and that it was a Christian virtue to hate other religions especially the Jews. If I doubted any of these conclusions, the leaders of my church would quote the Bible to prove that their prejudices were being true to "The Word of God." I have spent my lifetime banishing that version of Christianity from my conscious mind, and because of its psychologically warping power, from my unconscious mind.

I regret that we still have public religious voices in America like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robinson, Fred Phelps and Franklin Graham, who continue to spew ignorance, hatred, bigotry and homophobia into the airways of my country through radio and television. However, I treasure the freedom of speech so deeply that I will defend their right to be uninformed bigots in public rather than take away from anyone this incredible freedom.

I do think religious ignorance ought to be exposed. These people are not the only voices speaking for Christ in America. I remind you that Eugene Robinson was elected bishop by clergy and people of the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire. His election was confirmed at the National Episcopal Convention by margins that any politician would consider landslide proportions. The bishops, the priests and the lay people of that convention voting separately, supported his confirmation. That is another picture of a church in action. I am very proud to be part of that church today.

The people who scream about this are the minority in our church. That is why they are so irrationally angry. Their bigotry has been defeated. They lost. Now they threaten to "split the church." I find that amusing. In any other arena it would be called blackmail. They are saying, "Because you did not decide my way, I will try to hurt you!" I will always seek to love those who might disagree with me but I will never let their negativity determine what truth is. Ultimately, people must adjust to reality or die.

I find it interesting that the Bush administration courts the religious right vigorously, but none of their spokespersons has been invited to address the Republican Convention in New York this summer. If the people of America thought that they might be governed by that mentality there would be a severe reaction. To have John Ashcroft serve as Attorney General is sufficiently frightening. The Republicans discovered this truth in 1992 when Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan made speeches of such incredible negativity that they were credited with bringing the first Bush administration down to defeat. I also note that the recent Republican effort in the Senate to force a vote on the gay marriage amendment to the constitution turned out to be a colossal failure. They knew they would not get the necessary two-thirds majority required, but the fact is they did not even get a simple majority. This country will not be carried into religious bigotry. I found it significant that the day before the vote, Lynne Cheney, the wife of the Vice- President spoke out against this proposed Constitutional Amendment. I do not believe for a single moment that this act was not orchestrated by the administration. They know how to count votes. Religion is important in the United States but basic decency and tolerance are more important. So before you form a judgment on the state of Christianity in the United States look at the whole picture. It might be a healthier situation than you have yet imagined.

-- John Shelby Spong




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