Pope Benedict XVI and Captain Robert Fitzroy of The Beagle

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 21 February 2008 0 Comments
Please login with your account to read this essay.


I am a Christian, a person of faith, but one who
ascribes to the spirituality of it all, not the religiosity. I
have found a church in the Presbyterian tradition in which I can
worship, one that is very active in social justice. Recent
conversations with my atheist brother have posed a problem for
me. He has decided to write an article about the "mistakes in
the Bible" and draw the conclusion from these that there is no
God. Because, he believes, if God is omnipotent and is the
author of the Bible, why would God give information to the
writers that was not true? This is such a basic assumption that
I found myself at a loss to delve into a theological discussion
that would assist him in his quest. Can you suggest any of your
writings that might be helpful for him? He is open to reading


First, I celebrate the fact that you have found a
church that meets you where you live. They are precious when you
discover them. They come in all denominations and are usually
looked upon with suspicion by those who occupy the denominational
headquarters. They play a vital role, however, in keeping the
various denominations located in a real world. I, therefore,
applaud those churches and the courageous clergy who lead them.
It has been my privilege to visit many of these churches across
America and to feel the power of their witness. Were I to live
in a city where my own church was busy trying to artificially
resuscitate the patterns of the 1st, 4th or 13th century
Christianity that informs so many congregations, I would not
hesitate to seek out one of those churches and make it my worship

In regard to your brother, I feel great sympathy for
him because the Christianity against which he is reacting is the
same Christianity against which I react. Of course there are
mistakes in the Bible. Anyone can point them out. There are
also places where God is said to act in a way that most people
today would regard as immoral. The Bible is in many places a
tribal story, about a tribal deity who is in the service of a
very national tribal agenda. I do not believe that God hates
Egyptians as the book of Exodus portrays, that God hates the
Ammonites as the book of Joshua suggests or that God desires
genocide against the people of Amalek as the first book of Samuel
suggests. I do not believe that slavery is ever moral, or that
women were ever designed to be second-class citizens or the
property of men as various parts of the Bible, including the New
Testament, suggest. I do not believe that women should keep
quiet in church, should never have authority over men or should
be submissive to their husbands as Paul suggests. I do not
believe that homosexuals are evil or that homosexuality is God's
punishment on those who do not worship God properly as various
passages of the Bible are now interpreted to say.

Of course, God is not the author of the Bible. It
was written by a variety of human beings over about 1000 years of
human history trying to interpret their God experience in their
time. While I would not say that God grows, it is very clear in
the Bible that the human understanding of God grows dramatically.
One might compare God's attitude towards the Egyptians at the
time of the Exodus with Jesus' words "Love your enemies," or the
tribal claims for the Jews as God's favored people with the words
of Malachi who says that God's love is universal, "from the
rising of the sun to its setting" and that "In every nation,
incense shall be offered to my name."

I wrote my book Rescuing the Bible from
just for people like your brother. I applaud
his honesty in rejecting what he was taught in his childhood as
not believable. I would encourage him to recognize that
Christianity is far more than that terrible image that so many
Protestant fundamentalists and conservative Roman Catholics have
turned it into being. Thank him for his willingness to be open
to something more.

John Shelby Spong




Leave a Reply