The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXX: The Epistle to The Hebrews

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 22 July 2010 0 Comments
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sleahead.kerry1, via the Internet, writes:

My husband was raised in Christian Science, but was an avowed atheist all his adult life, often denigrating the faith of others. In June of 2008, a friend gave us a copy of A New Christianity for a New World. After reading this and Why Christianity Must Change or Die, my husband announced, "If Bishop Spong can write this and still be a believer, I guess I am too." I was widowed that August (2008). I shall be forever grateful to you, Bishop Spong, and your message to those of us who have been in exile.


Dear sleahead.kerry1,

I write to your e-mail identification because your letter was unsigned, but I thank you for it. I send you my sympathy in regard to the death of your husband in August of 2008. Having lost my first wife in August of 1988, I have a deep awareness of what you have been through in the last two years. Be assured that the pain does lift, and when it does the memories will grow deeper and will provide consolation.

I am pleased that your husband found help in my writings. That makes my own struggle worth the effort. There is, I am completely convinced, a reality that we call God, but none of can finally capture that reality in our words, whether they be the words of scripture, creeds, doctrines or dogmas. The great pain of organized religion is that many people see religion not as the description of a journey into an ultimate mystery, but as a formula designed to keep human anxiety in check. That use of religion continues to repel me.

Last week, for example, I received a complimentary copy of a right-wing, Midwestern Episcopal publication. I no longer subscribe to this dreadful magazine, as I did when I was an active bishop, because I no longer have to be aware of or even engage its negative and uninformed mentality. Looking over this "complimentary" issue made me deeply glad that I no longer see it on a regular basis. It carried an article by two African Anglican bishops who complained that the American Church paid no attention to the well-being of the Anglican Communion by ordaining Mary Glasspool, an open lesbian priest who has lived with her partner for many years, to be a bishop in Los Angeles. I wanted to inform these two prelates that we in America also did not pay attention to our racist members when we, a number of years ago, chose great people like John Walker and John Burgess, both African-Americans, to be our bishops in Washington, D.C. and in Massachusetts respectively. We in America also did not pay attention to our sexist members when we chose Barbara Harris to be or first female bishop in Massachusetts; Mary Adelia McLeod to be our first female diocesan bishop in Vermont and Katharine Jefferts-Schori to be our first female Presiding Bishop and Primate. If we were not willing to be bound by racism or sexism in those days, I wonder why these African bishops think we will be or should be bound today by their rampant homophobia.

This publication also told of an American bishop who declined to participate in Mary Glasspool's ordination so that she "could keep her relationship with some African bishops intact." It is hard for me to see such an abdication of leadership, which compromises principle in order to reduce conflict with those who wish to demonize homosexual people, as a quality deserving of anything but disgust. Yet this bishop was actually offering this behavior as virtuous. She was clearly worshiping at the altar of institutional unity on which the humanity of many has been sacrificed to gain institutional well-being as if that were a noble reason. That is the mindset of our current Archbishop of Canterbury, whose abdication of effective leadership has been breathtaking and incredibly disappointing.

Finally, this publication quoted a lay leader, who is a career foreign policy expert, to say that the Bible in both the Old and the New Testaments condemns homosexuality as evil. This tired argument reveals little more than a profound ignorance of both the Bible and homosexuality. This man should either know better or seek to keep his biblical illiteracy to himself.

These are just examples of the religious attitudes that have caused people like your husband to think he is an atheist. If this is Christianity, I don't know why any thinking person would be attracted to it.

If I lit a candle in the religious darkness that enveloped your husband, I am profoundly grateful and I thank you for writing.

– John Shelby Spong




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