Reflections on my Interactions with Bishop Spong

Essay by Rev. Matthew Fox on 2 March 2017 10 Comments

I first learned of Bishop Spong’s prophetic work and his work with the Jesus seminar over 34 years ago while I was still a Dominican priest working in the Chicago area. To hear of an Episcopal bishop who was approaching the Scriptures with a critical sense of questioning and scholarship and who was supporting gay rights and women’s rights was, needless to say, a breath of fresh air. When Bishop Spong invited me out to Newark to lead a day retreat with his clergy I was pleased to be invited and I recall my opening line to him when I entered his car at the airport: “We heretics need to stick together,” I said. I don’t recall his demurring in any way. Following my day-long presentation (which included circle dancing and I was pleased to see a Bishop participating in such), Bishop Spong said to me: “Usually people leave at lunch time as they are allowed to do but this day was so exciting everyone stayed until the end.”

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Kevin, congratulations on stepping up and stepping in to this amazing format. 

My question after being acquainted with Jack Spong and his work, and also you and yours to a degree, is why, if the leaders of the Episcopal Church reject your work, do you continue in this organization?  Why not go somewhere where your efforts are encouraged and appreciated, somewhere where there is a greater openness to your messages? Unity, for instance, is such an organization, a spiritual organization made up of people who have listened to their intuition, rejected tradition for its own sake, yet would thrive on the scholarship which you two could bring to augment that on which it was founded. 

I guess my question is, where do you feel you can do the greatest service and why? 


Dear Judy,

I relish and receive the beauty embodied in the members and communities of Unity. I, myself, am someone whose spiritual journey continues to be shaped by Buddhism, Sufism, the Enneagram community, and especially the Diamond Approach. Throughout it all, my heart remains continually drawn to reexplore the ancient Jewish and Christian practices, texts, and spirituality that formed me as a youth.

Back in the 1970’s there was a vigorous dialogue, we might say, between the psychotherapists Roy Schafer and Hans Loewald, about the language of psychoanalysis. Schafer, as Stephen Mitchell observes, had given up on the classical Freudian terminology, finding it too “saturated with misleading and erroneous meanings.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Loewald saw things differently: “what psychoanalysis needs might not be a ‘new language’ but a less inhibited, less pedantic and narrow understanding and interpretation of its current language leading to elaborations and transformations of the meanings of concepts, theoretical formulations, or definitions that may or may not have been envisaged by Freud.”

I find within the Episcopal expression of the varied Christian tradition incredible experience, mystery, and wisdom; all too often it remains imprisoned in expression that is pedantic and narrow; even more, the entire enterprise is buttressed by fearful authorities. And yet --- this ancient language, expressive of the most profound experiences of our species, has the capacity to flourish again, because it can connect with the deepest aspirations of the human heart. In my writing and teaching and preaching I endeavor to be much less inhibited, exploring elaborations and transformations of such concepts of sin, grace, transfiguration, Christic nature, and so much more. I believe I can do the greatest service here, not because I’m trying to serve, but because I love this soulful work. I find that it matters to me and to so many others, seeking to be free from an arid and dying form of Christianity.

I am a student of the soul and her journey. My ultimate allegiance, if I may call it that, is to the truth of experience as we each experience it; drawing upon all the critical tools at my disposal (especially those of psychology and phenomenology) – truth not as proposition but as dynamic language embodying personal experience. The purpose of any authentic spiritual community is to nurture this exploration of truth.

~Kevin G. Thew Forrester