Re-Imaging God in a Post-Tsunami World

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 19 January 2005 0 Comments
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Once upon a time, I read something Jesus was supposed to have said, "When you give a feast... invite the outcasts." What is so hard about this that it has taken "Christians" so long to "get it"? I am Roman Catholic (although some conservative RCs would question my definition) and I pray the Holy Rosary perhaps more than the average Catholic. Yet, the more I pray it, the more, I am convinced that the Roman Catholic Church needs serious reform.

I wish that you (John Spong) and Andrew Greeley could be co-popes.


Thank you for your confidence, though I'm quite sure the Roman Catholic Church is not ready for co-popes. They tried that once in the 14th century and the results were disastrous. Neither Andrew Greeley nor I are candidates for the position anyway - nor do I believe the Church likely to look in either of our directions when the new 'Holy Father' is chosen!

I believe that it is not just the Roman Catholic Church but the whole Christian Church that is in need of serious reform. Our faith tradition is badly compromised by both our ancient tribal mentalities and by the historical accommodations that tribal mentalities made centuries ago. In the Scriptures, Christians were taught to think of themselves always in minority images. We were to be the 'saving remnant;' the 'salt of the earth' that flavored the soup; the 'leaven in the lump' of dough that gave its yeast to the bread, the 'light of a single candle' that shined in the midst of an overwhelming darkness. Then, following Constantine's Edict of Milan in 313 CE, we became the dominant religion of the western world. That was when Christians began to feel that it was our duty to create uniformity within the church and then to impose that uniform Christianity on those outside.

We took biblical texts like the one you mentioned (it is found in Luke 22: 24-27) and made the outcasts unwelcome. Sometimes, the outcasts were lepers; sometimes they were the mentally sick; sometimes they were members of different races; sometimes they were women; sometimes they were homosexuals. We have never done well welcoming outcasts or even strangers.

On another occasion, according to the gospels, Jesus also asked, "Who is greater, the one who serves at the banquet or the guests" (Luke 22: 24-27)? The answer was obviously the guests who sat at the table but Jesus identified himself as the one who serves. In the sacramental meal of the Church, however, we have made the one who prepares and serves the meal the power office of the church. The servant is the priest serving the invited guests at the Eucharist, but the Church has called the priest the 'Revered One,' for that is what 'Reverend' means, and has made the ability to celebrate the Eucharist the heart of clergy authority.

The Church dresses its bishops in the symbols of Royal Power, crown/miter on their heads. Their official seat is called a throne, their home is called a palace - a royal ring, a royal staff (called a crosier) and a medallion of power around his neck (called a pectoral cross). Then we wonder why no one takes our claim seriously to be in the ministry of servanthood.

Yes, we do need a reformation. Without it, the future is bleak.

-- John Shelby Spong




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