Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 23 December 2010 0 Comments
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In a lecture series last spring in Hendersonville, North Carolina, I noticed that you were wearing a cross, one of the symbols of Christianity. In light of your spiritual evolution, what does the symbol of the cross mean to you today?


Dear Romella,

Yours is a frequent question especially when people hear me try to deliver Christianity from the idea that "Jesus died for my sins." I am not moved by stories of salvation in which the cross becomes the symbol for human sacrifice and a blood offering that God requires, according to this point of view. I am not interested in a God who is the ultimate child abuser, who requires the death of the divine son to be able to forgive. I am not impressed with the masochistic Jesus who appears eager to mount the cross in order to endure the pain that only Mel Gibson seems to enjoy. I am not interested in the guilt message that emanates from this theology and becomes the coin of the realm of the traditional Christian life. The cross is identified with these ideas in many people's minds. I find these ideas repelling.

I see the cross very differently. It represents to me the depth of the love of God that is known by one's ability to give life away. The cross is a symbol of a life so whole, so free and so complete that this life has escaped the human drive to survive, which makes human life inevitably self–centered. The portrait drawn in the gospels of Jesus on the cross is one in which the victim becomes the life giver even as he dies. In his dying, he is portrayed as giving forgiveness, hope, consolation and assurance to those who are still the living. I wear the cross because its meaning to me, and therefore its message, is that nothing any of us has ever done or ever been can finally separate us from the love of God. Even when we kill God's love, God continues to love us. It is thus for me a powerful and a transformative symbol and I want to define it in this new way, which I assert was its original meaning. I cannot do this unless I wear it and so I do, and beyond that. I treasure its meaning.

Thanks for asking.

~John Shelby Spong




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