Why Should People Pay Any Attention to the Christian Church on Sexual Matters?

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 29 August 2007 0 Comments
Please login with your account to read this essay.


I attended your recent lectures in Austin and realize I forgot to ask you a question that has been increasingly on my mind: How does the concept of "worship" figure into your vision of a new Christianity? For a long time I have felt that God doesn't need my worship or praise, and to think that God does need my worship and adoration seems silly. (I think that "worship" and "adoration" are different from feeling a sense of gratitude and connection to God.)

My church has been having some serious discussions regarding worship changes and I've heard some folks say that worship shouldn't be about us — it's simply about praising God. Well, I think that worship is very much about me and about the other worshipers as well — it's about drawing us closer to God, about the community called the church, about inspiring us to care for others, etc. Creeds that I can't say, prayers of confession that beat people up, hymns focused on atonement messages, and an emphasis on liturgy and ritual over spirituality only impede my relationship to God. Am I just spoiled and self-centered to want a more meaningful and more relevant worship experience?


Yours is a perennial question. I cannot imagine a God who "needs" worship, or a God who has some innate need to be flattered by the human praise that is so often the content of worship. Listen to the words of such hymns as "How Great Thou Art" and "Almighty, Invisible God Only Wise."

Worship is always a human activity that meets a human need. Whenever one engages in worship, it is not for the purpose of working on God but on the human being who is worshiping. Worship is designed to enhance our humanity: to increase our capacity to live, our ability to love and our courage to be all that God created us to be. If worship makes us "religious" or "righteous" or turns us into being intolerant "true believers," then it has become nothing more than an act of idolatry.

Worship in most of our churches today is a mixed blessing. It is frequently the result not of careful study and critical planning, but of rote and tradition. Much of it is designed to keep us childlike and immature and to make a virtue out of chronic dependency. One of the reasons churches exhort its people to be "born again" is that this will postpone forever the necessity of their growing up.

Worship at its heart is the practice of becoming aware of the presence of God so that we become more deeply and fully human. I judge every worship experience in which I participate by that definition.

John Shelby Spong




Leave a Reply