Essay by Rev. Gretta Vosper on 12 October 2017 12 Comments

We’ve been anticipating the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation for some time. Now that the month is upon us, it seems more like a private birthday party than something worthy of global attention. In truth, I suppose it is. With the global number of Reform Tradition Protestants diminishing, the celebration of the dramatic and cataclysmic leave-taking that was our birth seems of little interest to any but those enchanted by the history of such things and the few others taking advantage of the liturgical and party possibilities offered up by the date.

Please login with your account to read this essay.


What are your views about so many Christians being in favor of gun ownership? Doesn’t that completely contradict the Jesus of peace we read about in the Bible?


Thanks for your question Lesley. This is a timely question for me as I was in Las Vegas during the recent shootings. Being so close to an event like that made this issue feel even more urgent than it already did to me.

What made the Las Vegas shooting so interesting to me is that it involved a large group of mostly white conservative casualties. It made a large demographic of people suspend their NRA sponsored talking points and deal with the reality of the situation in their own hearts and minds. And I should note here that I enjoy a good skeet shoot as much as the next guy, but that is not the issue at hand here.

I think it’s an absolute perversion of the U.S. 2nd amendment to allow nearly anyone who can fog a mirror to have a cache of assault rifles. In my mind, there is no way America’s founding fathers intended that. And even if they did, they may not have imagined what the world would come to hundreds of years later. People say “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and I say fine “let’s not put the guns that kill people in the hands of those people that kill people…” There are many sensible steps we can take to find a more sustainable footing here.

The bottom line is that many Christians are not all that interested in Yeshua of Nazareth. Rather they follow a Jesus who has been morphed into a pawn of radical right-wing political agendas. I don’t think there is any way a disciple of Jesus, or someone who was brimming with love, compassion, and forgiveness in their hearts, would feel a need to accumulate military grade weapons and thousands of rounds of ammo. Disparate militias have no place in 21st century American politics, especially in a nation with over 325,000,000 people.

No hunter alive needs to take more than one shot per second to put dinner on the table. And even though full automatic weapons are now illegal in many cases, it is quite easy to master or manipulate a semi-automatic weapon to inflict mass destruction.

We need more stable progressive voices countering the NRA arguments within Christian circles. And as a side note, this was a key reason why I started the Progressive Christianity and Politics group on Facebook a couple years ago. It is now over 2000 members strong and we are propagating progressive principles out to compassionate and thoughtful people all across the world. If you or anyone else reading this would like to join, please feel free to register at

~Eric Alexander


Bishop John Shelby Spong Revisited

The Bible, Corporal Punishment and Human Guilt - Part 2

SpongThe physical abuse of children under the guise of "proper discipline" has been practiced in western history so frequently as to be thought of as normative. It has had the approval of those recognized sources of cultural value - tradition, Bible, Church, School and family. It found expression in popular novels written by such noteworthy authors as Charles Dickens and Mark Twain in the 19th century and by no less a person than the 20th century's ultra-conservative political pundit, William F. Buckley. When some of these novels were turned into motion pictures, the corporal punishment scenes were quite graphic.

In the schools of western history, which were normally church-related parochial or church-influenced public schools, corporal punishment was regularly employed until quite recently, certainly within my lifetime. Almost always this discipline was administered with parental approval. In boarding schools of the 19th and early 20th centuries this disciplinary activity sometimes had about it a quality of a ritualistic act and even came to be thought of as a kind of "liturgical observance." That is, the act of discipline was carried out at a time-certain. It was scheduled on a particular day for all offenders during a specified period of time for which the school staff prepared the instruments to be used, such as a bunch of bound switches or a freshly prepared cane. It was followed through in a prescribed, unchanging and traditional manner.

The intended victim or victims would have to wait in fearful anticipation until the proper moment when the price of their misbehavior was exacted. The disciplinary act clearly defined boundaries and made all aware of where authority resided.

In my own experience, as a public school boy growing up in the Southern Bible Belt, corporal punishment was employed, but much less ritualistically. It was administered on the spot whenever it was deemed essential to control the classroom and as a response to a particular act of misbehavior. Yet it also followed a set form that we all recognized. It was not used frequently. I recall that in my seventh grade class, which was the last time I knew it to take place, only two of my classmates were subjected to this discipline during the entire year. The fact, however, that I can still recall both instances some sixty years later, indicates that each of these occasions made an indelible, albeit not a positive impression, upon my young mind. Most of us who were not the actual recipients of the punishment were in fact intimidated by it.

The offending student, in both cases, a boy 12-13 years old, would be asked to accompany the teacher who had ruler in hand, to the room adjacent to the principal's office, which was reserved solely for this purpose. That room also happened to be next door to our classroom, so even though we could not observe the act of discipline, we could not fail to hear it. The students remaining in the classroom sat in silence during the period of time it took the teacher and the pupil to reach the required location and to assume the proper positions for discipline. Then the noise of the ruler landing on its target resounded. No cries were ever heard because proving that "he could take it" preserved the pupil's last shred of dignity. Finally the blows would cease and in a few minutes the chastened student would return to the class, followed by the teacher, still gripping her ruler. The student would take his seat saying something about it "not hurting at all," a brave attempt to reestablish his place in the social fabric of the class. The teacher would then use this episode as a teaching moment by warning the other students that a similar fate awaited each of them if their behavior made it necessary. It seemed to me that it took the disciplined child a day or so to absorb the humiliation before he began to ease back into the life of his school community. The ever-present threat that the ruler would be employed again, however, instilled apprehension, fear and developed something of a herd instinct among us all. Instead of enhancing life, it seemed only to bruise a fragile ego. It certainly taught by example that physical force was a proper way to deal with those who are smaller and weaker. It surely issued in a more controllable classroom, but it was never, in my opinion, a pathway into maturity.

It is interesting to note who, besides children, have been subjected to corporal punishment in the history of our Judeo-Christian world. There were basically four types of adults on whom corporal punishment was deemed to be appropriate discipline, at least during some part of our history. The one thing each of these four groups of people had in common was that they were thought to be deserving of the status of a child.

The first category was adult prisoners. Those who had violated the rules of the society in such a way as to be judged a threat that must be removed, jailed and punished. I suppose the reasoning process was simple. If physical punishment made school children more pliable and obedient, to say nothing of being easier to control, then why should the same tactic not be used on those adults who consistently disrupted the well being of society's life? So the right to use corporal punishment was written into the penal codes of most Western, and by implication, Christian nations.

The public whipping post was a regular feature in the criminal justice system in nations like Great Britain and the United States until the 20th century. The last state to make it illegal in America was Delaware. It is still employed to this day in Singapore and in several Muslim nations like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The familiar jail diet of "bread and water" was just another form of corporal punishment; that is, the punishment of the body.

By extension from the penal codes physical discipline was used in situations where control was deemed essential to survival. It was a standard practice, for example, on the ships of the colonial powers in the 18th and 19th centuries when the whole world was shrunk to the dimensions of an individual boat, with the captain exercising the decision making responsibility for discipline, indeed sometimes for life and death, with no further appeal. Physical discipline was also employed on the Lewis and Clark expedition across the Continental United States on their journey to the Pacific Ocean, opening the West. The diaries from that journey describe what they thought were its salutary effects.

The second class of adults to be treated in this physically abusive manner during our history was the slave population. Christians must never forget that the institution of slavery was accepted as normal, even in the New Testament. Paul directs a runaway slave named Onesimus to return to his master Philemon, not with the request for his freedom, but with the request that he be treated kindly. In the Epistle to the Colossians (3:22), slaves are ordered to "obey in everything those who are your earthly masters" and masters are urged to "treat your slave justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a master in Heaven (4:1)." With no rights accruing to the slaves, who were defined as sub-human and therefore childlike, it followed that disobedience was to be punished in slaves in the same manner that it was deemed to be appropriate in children. It is worth noting that even the popes have historically been slaveholders.

No one denies that slaves were lashed in the United States for everything from disobedience to running away. The master had the right to do to his property whatever he wished. When slavery ended following the Civil War, these tactics of intimidation continued to be employed against powerless blacks in the South by quasi-religious organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. It is not as large a step as people now think to move from the corporal punishment of a slave or former slave with the bare back absorbing the lash while the victim was tied to a tree, to the ultimate act of corporal punishment called lynching, where the victim was hanged from the tree. Violence is always violence. The degree of violence is the only difference. What the inmate or prisoner and the slave had in common was that neither had power and no vestige of adulthood accrued to their status so they could be treated like children who had no rights. If it was the proper thing to do to powerless children, it must be appropriate for powerless adults. That was the reasoning. Violence is never contained. It always seeks new victims. Corporal punishment was and is legalized violence.

Corporal punishment has been used on two other types of adults in our history: women and people in religious orders. To their story we will turn next week.

~ John Shelby Spong
Originally published June 23, 2004