The Origins of the Bible, Part XXI: Jonah and the Prophetic Lesson Against Prejudice

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 12 February 2009 0 Comments
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Dante said the hottest place in hell is reserved for those who should speak up, but remain silent. Do you believe religious leaders are speaking out about the killing of innocents in this war, for example? Are you satisfied that we are speaking out sufficiently?


Dear Marvin,

Your question is perceptive and difficult to judge adequately. It seems to me that religious leaders always reflect cultural values and personal agendas that compromise truth.

During World War II, the Pope, Pius XII, did not speak out against the Holocaust in Germany in which millions of Jewish lives were lost.

In 1945, the religious leaders of America did not (with a few notable exceptions) speak out against the use of the atomic bombs on the civilian populations of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In the Anglican Communion, we watch in dismay as the Archbishop of Canterbury places ecclesiastical unity above the confrontation with the debilitating evil and ignorance of homophobia.

Recently in the same week in this nation we saw the resignation of the Governor of New York, Elliot Spitzer, for sexual misbehavior on one side and on the other we watched the President of the United States vetoing a bill that condemned torture. I found it appalling that the attention of both the press and religious leaders was almost exclusively on the private sexual scandal and not with the public moral issue of torture.

I'm not sure I want to invoke Dante's hell to judge this lack, but I do think we need to challenge religious leaders in terms of their values and their commitment to enhancing humanity. Raising the levels of human consciousness by asking questions like yours becomes an important element in that enterprise.

~John Shelby Spong



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