The Place of the Bible in the Right to Die Debate

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 29 September 2004 0 Comments
Please login with your account to read this essay.


I am dismayed by poll results that show consistently that people who attend church regularly are more likely to support the war in Iraq and the people conducting it, than people who are not associated with a religious organization. How can this be? What message are they hearing? Where do they hear it or read it?


You touch a strange dilemma but everything I see agrees with your finding. It is also true that people who attend church regularly are more racially prejudiced, prejudiced against equality for women and prejudiced against homosexual persons. Since all of these things seem inconsistent with the Gospel that I understand, I find this reality embarrassing. But that does not mean that I do not seek to understand it.

Perhaps the clue lies in the fact that people in the South and non-urban parts of the Midwest and the West tend to be churchgoers more than people who live in the Northeast and on the West coast. These regions of our country also tend to be more conservative and perhaps this is reflected in their churches and their church going people.

I was raised in Charlotte, NC, in a very conservative Episcopal Church. That church was not only segregated, its leaders taught me that segregation was the will of God and quoted the Bible to prove it. That church taught me that women were second-class citizens who could not possibly be priests or bishops and its leaders quoted the Bible to prove that patriarchy was the will of God. That church taught me that homosexuality was either a mental illness that needed to be cured or a moral depravity that needed to be converted, and of course, its leaders quoted the Bible to prove that homophobia was blessed by God.

Religious figures have frequently taken very prejudiced stands. Early in his life, Jerry Falwell started a segregated academy and called Nelson Mandela a communist, who ought to be imprisoned. He championed Apartheid South Africa as a bulwark against communism in the continent of Africa.

Television evangelist Pat Robertson regularly attacks the feminist movement as family breakers and suggests a high correlation between feminists and lesbians. Some of his anti homosexual rhetoric surely feeds the prejudices that are abroad.

The South has always had a strong military tradition. Southern senators have historically used their seniority to locate military installations in the South. Military schools like Virginia Military Academy and the Citadel are admired Southern institutions. Every old line Southern democrat from Richard Russell to Huey Long to George Wallace to Lyndon Johnson to Strom Thurmond (he was once a democrat) combined racism with patriotism to build a political majority. Religion under girded both. Remember that even the KKK was a semi-religious organization who had official chaplains, that they always spelled 'khaplains' and whose major symbol was a burning cross.

Historically, Christianity has been a barrier breaking religion. In Christ, Paul once asserted, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, bond or free. Yet Christians throughout the ages have encouraged tribalism with its blessing of war, patriarchy with its denigration of women and slavery and segregation of the races. We have also participated in and blessed wars of religious intolerance despite the fact that Jesus enjoined us "to love our enemies and to bless those who persecute us."

Perhaps the old adage is correct. Christianity has not failed. It simply hasn't yet been tried.

-- John Shelby Spong




Leave a Reply