The Bias Against Women in the Judeo-Christian Tradition

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 23 November 2005 0 Comments
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When the lights go out and doors are closing, where does
one find the courage to look for the way? I know this will
sound like a bizarre question but I just finished your
, and am sincerely impressed by
the apparent fact that you found a reason to continue despite
an unrelenting opposition. To what do you attribute this
courage, drive, resolve, or stubbornness?


Thank you for your letter and your reason for asking.

I am not engaged in a task that can be defined as
"winning" or "losing." My agenda is to raise consciousness.
That can be done in many ways and being defeated is one of

In my autobiography, to which you refer, I mention the
battle to raise consciousness in my church, nationally and
world-wide on the issue of acceptance, justice and
celebration of gay and lesbian people. What I describe in
that book were indeed the dark days of that struggle. The
darkest days of all came when the Anglican bishops of the
world gathered in 1998 at the Lambeth Conference under the
leadership of The Most Reverend and Right Honorable George
Carey who, in my mind, is the least competent man ever
appointed to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, and passed some
of the cruelest, most ill-informed and most overtly
prejudiced resolutions about homosexual people I have ever
read. One of those resolutions defined homophobia in such a
way as to exonerate these homophobic bishops from the charge
of homophobia!!

It is never easy to be defeated politically but I met the
press in Canterbury immediately after the voting on these
dreadful resolutions had been tallied and declared it a great
victory. Stunned by this remark, a reporter asked me to
amplify. I did so by reminding the gathered press conference
that in these negative resolutions the prejudice about
homosexuality had been placed at the center of the life of
the entire Anglican Communion. It was, therefore, on the
agenda of every national branch of this church the world
over. What they did not realize, I suggested, was that once
a prejudice begins to be publicly debated, it is always
revealed to be a dying prejudice. One does not debate a
prejudice until the definition undergirding that prejudice
has begun to be questioned.

As long as people are convinced that homosexuality is a
choice made by homosexual persons because they are mentally
ill and cannot help themselves or because they are morally
depraved and want to live in this sick and distorted manner,
then there is no debate. Only when this definition is
challenged does debate ensue. So the debate about
homosexuality in both church and state is a sure sign that
the old definition is not holding, that a new consciousness
is emerging. There has never been a time in human history
when a new consciousness did not finally trump the old
definition on which prejudice has been based. So there was
no doubt in my mind at the Lambeth Conference in 1998, and
there is no doubt now as to what the final outcome of this
debate will be. It is easy to lose a battle when you know
that the war is going to be won.

I grew up in a segregated church in Charlotte, N.C, and
lived to see an African American man named Michael Curry be
elected bishop in the Diocese of North Carolina by a majority
of the clergy and lay people of the Episcopal Church meeting
in a diocesan convention. I grew up in a church that treated
women as second-class citizens, even calling them "The
Auxiliary," and I lived to see 40% of our clergy become women
and to see my church elect fifteen women to be among its
bishops. I grew up in a church that castigated and oppressed
homosexual people and lived to see a gay priest, Gene
Robinson, who lived openly with his partner for 14 years, be
elected and confirmed as Bishop of New Hampshire.

To know that history will affirm the minority position you
hold today provides me with a great and empowering
perspective with which to bear pain and defeat. If the
purpose of Jesus was to give life more abundantly, I was
always sure that I was walking in his company. It is
reconciliation with God not unity among church members that
is the purpose of Jesus. An ultimate victory always awaits
those who serve the truth. Perhaps it also takes a bit of
courage, drive, resolve and even stubbornness

Thanks for asking,

— John Shelby Spong

New Book From Bishop Spong Available Now!

Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love
"The Sins of Scripture challenges Christians to look beyond the myths of their faith into the heart of the matter."




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