The Birth of Jesus, Part XIII. Introducing the Lucan Story

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 9 May 2013 0 Comments
Please login with your account to read this essay.


I wish to comment on the situation in Europe (being a resident of Sweden) described in your recent column.

In Russia there is a re-emergence of religious power walking hand in hand with the political power. Heresy laws are being introduced. This is a state where religion was considered "for the masses" not too long ago. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Hungary (have they forgotten WWII?) In Poland the Catholic Church is gaining political power. So you could say that with increasing uncertainty the religions are regaining their position as "reducers of angst" (angest in Swedish). This is not a positive thing to those of us who see the gospels as literary documents.

I am personally lending our local pastors copies of your books and this is triggering some healthy debate. My goal is to have them carry the theological debate to the pew sitters in our area. With an average of perhaps ten persons in church on a Sunday, they have to do something. I have noticed that I can have a very deep theological discussion with a pastor and they openly admit that they too have problems in believing in the literal scriptures. However, the moment they stand before the congregation, they are back in Sunday School theology mode. It is as if they are programmed to state the standard point of view. For me this creates a huge credibility gap. I fully believe that if they dared to take their own doubts to the altar and be honest about them, pew sitters would feel much more at home.


Dear Frederick,

I am aware of some of the things about which you write but I am not convinced that they represent new trends so much as an attempt to reclaim the past, which some people almost inevitably do, especially in times of rapid change or a shift in consciousness.

I see no evidence that Russia is about to become an Orthodox religion state. I do see Eastern Orthodoxy evolving, if ever so slowly, into a new and relevant self-understanding. My experience in Hungary is that major shame embraces the anti-Semitism of the past. I see no evidence that the Catholic Church is regaining political power in Poland. The Catholic Church was the ally of Lech Walesa, but the people strongly resisted any attempt on the part of that Church to regain political dominance. Europe is moving in an increasingly secular direction. A Christianity that can engage secularism rather than trying to convert secularism to yesterday’s religious forms is the direction I think Europe will go.

I am glad you are engaged with the pastors in your community on a new way to look at Christianity. I am not surprised that when they return to their small and, I presume elderly, congregations, they revert to the patterns of the past. Until questioning people darken the Church’s doors, there are few churchgoers who are capable of hearing a new message. For Christianity to be revived in Europe, I think we must take it out of the churches; wrest it from domination by the various hierarchies and present it in a new form to those who have departed from the churches.

Of all the nations I’ve visited, I think Sweden has the best chance to do this because of great leaders in the past and the present. I think of such heroic bishops in the past as K. G. Hammar, Claes-Bertal Ytterburg, and modern leaders like Hans Ulvrebrand and Marianne Blom.

~John Shelby Spong




Leave a Reply