Uganda, Homophobia and the Incompetence of Certain Christian Leaders

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 21 January 2010 0 Comments
Please login with your account to read this essay.


Mark Dickinson from Ottawa, Ontario, writes:

I have just finished reading Eternal Life: A New Vision. Thank you for writing this wonderful book, and thank you for sharing your vision of life eternal fulfilled. I embrace your vision with enthusiasm and I share in your celebration of our spiritual life.

In the early chapters of the book, you spend some time describing your journey, as a child and as a youth, within the boundaries and constraints and limitations of a conservative Protestant tradition. I can identify with many of your memories, and I can recall (20 years ago or so) sharing many of the "fundamentalist" beliefs and ideologies with young Sunday School students that I taught for 10 years within a Lutheran church outside of Ottawa. The stories of Genesis and Exodus and the narratives of the gospels rolled easily into the empty, hungry minds of the children and, in the spirit of most stories (and especially folklore), left these children excited and intrigued. But now, looking both backwards to where I started and from what I see today, communication or rather education of our young people becomes a little more complex and challenging.

If many (or rather, most) adults have difficulty jettisoning the literal interpretations of the Bible, how do we pursue the important task of presenting allegorical, symbolic stories abut the history of God's journey with humanity in a format and language that our young children can absorb and understand? Consider the following analogy: If we don't learn how to ride a bike before we can balance ourselves on two legs (and hopefully walk a few meters), should we not then continue to educate our very young with the images and stories that capture their imaginations and speak to their intellect (at that age)? Possibly, the problem with our Christian education process is that we never leave "the uncomplicated pictures" that we experience in the early grades of learning and that rather than maturing and growing in our divine-human journey, we remain closed in an understanding that we should have outgrown a long time ago. In other words, is the problem equally as much how we teach, (i.e. training adults not to remain in a child's thinking) as what we teach?


Dear Mark,

I think you are correct. I might expand your thinking to include not just that we remain in childlike thinking, but we literalize the stories so that if the child rejects them, the child is made to feel that he or she has done something wrong or that either God or his and her parents will be disappointed. We do not do that with secular myths and stories. We do not teach our children that there really was a Little Red Riding Hood or a Humpty Dumpy who fell off a wall. The stories capture genuine human experiences. In Little Red Riding Hood the story is about young girls entering puberty being urged to stay on the "straight and narrow" path lest they be caught by a wolf and eaten up. The story of Humpty Dumpty points to and illustrates the fact that in life there are some things that once done are irrevocable.

Religion, because it seeks to provide human security, always seems to have a need for certainty and to literalize a supposedly inerrant source, serves that purpose.

Another factor is that so many adults have never moved beyond their childhood religious fantasies, so that they do not know how to cope with hard human realities; hence they seek comfort in the simplicity of yesterday in the protective arms of a heavenly parent.

As a church pastor, I believe the first step in assisting growth into maturity is to open the adults to new possibilities and hope that this knowledge will trickle down to the children. I do not believe in trickle-down economics; that usually is limited to the possibility that the wealth of John D. Rockefeller will trickle down to Nelson Rockefeller and not much further. I do, however, believe in the possibility that good ideas and even good theology will trickle down to a new generation. There is ample evidence that bad ideas and bad theology have done so.

Thanks for writing.

John Shelby Spong



Leave a Reply