Seven Minutes With Bill O'Reilly

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 11 May 2005 0 Comments
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I am wondering how you reacted to the dramatic presentation on TV of the woman who convinced Brian Nichols to turn himself in by reading paragraphs of "The Purpose Driven Life" to him. Was it simply coincidence that made him choose her? Not to try to rape or kill her? Is there any chance for his leading a changed life in prison if he's not executed?

I was given a copy of this book by a friend who happens to believe that the Bible is the "inerrant word of God." We meet for lunch now and then and have great discussions, friendly even though on opposite sides. Needless to say, I believe that the Bible contains human beings' search for meaning. There are too many discrepancies in it to believe otherwise. (I have taught Bible study for 35 years.)


The media loves miracle stories whether they be death bed conversions of well known killers or visions of the Virgin that seem to appear in strange places like under a bridge in Chicago. Miracle stories help us to overcome our deepest fears that we might actually be alone in this vast world.

First, I am glad that the woman of whom you speak did not get harmed and I am pleased that whatever she did worked. The book, "The Purpose Driven Life" has clearly meant a lot to her and you use anything that might help when you are struggling to survive. When one argues, however, that God sent this man Brian Nichols to this woman in order to effect his conversion, I wonder why God did not do it sooner before he claimed his other victims. I wonder why the police force never looked on the other floors of the garage and so never found his car. When people state that God directed this affair, you cannot help wondering why it took God so long to apprehend the killer.

People who want to assert that God is responsible for their understanding of miracles never stop to ask the hard questions. If God intervened to save this woman, why did not God not intervene to send back Hurricane Andrew, to stop the Holocaust, to control the AIDS epidemic in Africa, to protect the people on the fatal planes or in the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, or to stop the Tsunami wave before it killed over 350,000 people.

I know neither person in this drama so all I can do is speculate. Had the "demon" driving this man, Brian Nichols, to kill been satisfied so that he was ready to surrender? Did something in this woman connect with a long hidden or repressed memory in him? Would you trust his conversion sufficiently to find him innocent by virtue of "temporary insanity" and free him to return to society certain that the power that "led him to God" was sufficient so that people no longer needed to fear him living in freedom?

Millions of people have found meaning in "The Purpose Driven Life." I am not one of them. But I am glad that this book was helpful in saving woman's life.

--John Shelby Spong

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Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love
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