The Origins of the New Testament, Part XI: Resurrection as Paul Understood It

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 31 December 2009 0 Comments
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Jann G. Gilley from Charlotte, North Carolina, asks:

You said in a recent lecture at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte that you believe you love people into being loveable. What about sociopaths?


Dear Jann,

Indeed, sociopaths do not appear at first glance to fit into this way of viewing life. The first thing we need to determine is whether sociopaths are genetically produced or environmentally produced abnormalities. If it is a genetically or neurochemical precondition, then all that remains possible to us is to contain them within society and minimize the pain they inflict on others. Unfortunately, the process usually means that we do not discover their pathology until someone has been hurt by their behavior.

If sociopathology is an environmentally produced reality brought about by human abuse, either physically or psychologically, then we seek to counter it in a retraining process. The one thing we do not do is to tolerate destructive behavior. That requires what some psychiatrists call tough love. No person has a license to abuse anyone else regardless of the causes of his or her abusive behavior. So society must hold everyone accountable. That means treating by incarceration if necessary. That means institutional care for long terms, including lifetime, if no assurance can be given that responsible action has replaced systemically destructive action.
The goal of all life is wholeness. Some people are so wounded that wholeness is not realistic, then lesser goals of safety and as much freedom as possible become that on which our sights are set.

Human wounding can be severe. Some human "givens" make wounding all but inevitable. Our goals as Christians do not change. The Christ we serve stated his purpose and ours to be that of giving life abundantly to all. It is the exigencies of life that define what the limits of abundant life are in every individual situation.

Some of the criminal behavior that creates headlines is clearly the work of sociopaths and psychopaths. No matter how heinous the crime, from Adolf Hitler to the Manson family, I do not favor execution. However, I do favor putting these people into a situation where they can never harm another person. Some people do sacrifice their right to live in a free society forever.

Thank you for your question.

John Shelby Spong



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