Bishop Spong is ticked off, and all is right with the world

SpongFor most of Monday it appeared that only conservative Episcopalians felt angry or disappointed in the Windsor Report. Their expectations were fed by inaccurate Times (London) reports of the Episcopal Church being expelled or, as recently as this weekend, of a “star chamber” judging whether entire provinces should be expelled.

It’s appropriate, then, that the Times now brings this scorching commentary by John Shelby Spong, the retired bishop of Newark and a pioneer of ordaining openly gay clergy.

Spong blasts the report as “both an effort at damage control and an inadequate understanding of its subject matter.” Conservative Anglicans would agree, but for entirely different reasons. Spong sees the report as a concession to “those with a limited understanding of modern life” who “imagine that a debate about homosexuality could be settled by quoting the Bible.” Conservatives consider the report a concession to any province that moves ahead of the broader Anglican Communion, so long as it later apologizes for doing so.

Spong reaches his crescendo in this paragraph:

Would Anglicans in the Western world be asked to subscribe to a pre-modern mentality that opposes evolution or demands that the Virgin Birth be interpreted as literal biology? Would we destroy the tradition of the great Anglican scholars of the past and try to place modern minds once again into the pre-modern straitjacket of the 39 Articles? Will we reinstitute a version of the Anglican Inquisition so that we will no longer produce a William Temple or a John Robinson? These ideas are too ludicrous to contemplate.

Well, sort of. Considering the tepid recommendations of the Windsor Report, any talk of “reinstituting” an Anglican Inquisition that never existed truly is too ludicrous to contemplate.

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  • Joan

    Why does Spong think he can even begin to speak for Anglican Episcopalians like ME!! Why does the Episcopal Church ALLOW him to speak when he openly DENIES what the Nicene Creed, the Articles of Faith, and–to say the least!–the Bible plainly and unashamedly proclaim: the Virgin Birth, the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, sin.

    I am REALLY getting tired of him!

  • Tim

    “Bishop” Spong has long been too ludicrous to contemplate.


  • Jeffersonian

    Spong’s a fruitcake that can, like all fruitcakes, be dragged out and put on display for special occasions secure in the knowledge that no reasonable person will internalize a single morsel of the loathsome confection.

  • Ken

    It’s really sort of sad when a man who decimated an entire diocese can say – with a straight face – that his agenda is necessary or the Christian Church will die. This from the head acolyte of a dying sect which might have, on this day, begun devolving into a homosexualist cult.

    From what I read, serious theologians don’t bother responding to Spong, who is actually a cultural critic. His limitations are obvious and a perfect example of the diminishing effects of the modernist mind.

  • Darrell Grizzle

    I’m a gay Episcopalian, but I have to say that Spong doesn’t speak for me either. His “rational” view of Christianity leaves me cold. His arrogance toward those who disagree with him bothers me also — as does his tendency to almost-hysterical hyperbole. In his world there is no room for those of us who believe in the virgin birth of Jesus or other mysteries of our faith.

  • Kathy Shaidle

    Imagine: quoting the Bible to settle a religious dispute! Whatever next?

  • Bob Smietana

    Spong makes a great show of being an enlightened, 21st Century Christian.

    Yet his public statements seem to border on old fashioned colonialism, especially where the poor, ingnorant unenlightened Christians of Africa are concerned.

    He’s been very clear on his contempt for African bishops, accusing them of being puppets of Western missionaries and of having a “literal, magical, fundamentalist religious system.” Apparently now Australians are part of this same unenlightened group.

  • Jeff the Baptist

    “Why does the Episcopal Church ALLOW him to speak when he openly DENIES what the Nicene Creed…”

    The Nicene creed is out of favor a lot of places. The “proceeding” language it uses doesn’t quite conform to the modern conception of the trinity.

  • Beth

    May I make a laughably picayune and off-topic usage critique which results from my being both the daughter of an English teacher and the spouse of someone who was a professional musician for a couple decades? I know how widely used the expression is, but Spong cannot in fact “reach” a crescendo. A crescendo is a process of increasing in volume, not a particularly loud moment.

    Yours in Eats Shoots and Leavesdom


  • Douglas LeBlanc

    D’oh! Thanks for your good-natured correction, Beth, and I’ll watch my future style on “crescendo.” I was reaching too readily into my bag of journalist’s cliches.

  • Michael

    Bishop Spong should be commended for his courage and intellectual honesty. He has taken a hard look at his own faith and recognized that it (at least in its orthodox, historical form) cannot be reconciled with modern, scientific knowledge. Christian missionaries travel throughout the world and challenge non-Christians to question their native beliefs, but few Christians ever dare to so examine their own religion. When finally exposed to dissent, their reactions are less than Christ-like, as the above posts demonstrate. (“Fruitcake”? “Homosexualist cult”? Give me a break!)

    Bishop Spong could have embraced Atheism, but instead chose to retain an emphasis on Jesus as a philosopher. Ridicule Spong if you like, but he is not the first to take such an approach. Thomas Jefferson was a Deist who created his own version of the Gospels, cutting and pasting from the New Testament to isolate the moral ideas of Jesus from the supernatural nonsense. In a letter discussing the book, Jefferson described himself as “a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.” (Letter to Charles Thompson, 1816.)

  • Sam Iam

    Spong is the Fred Phelps of the left.

  • Chris Jones


    Spong is of course entitled to believe and to preach whatever he chooses; but the word “Christian” has an objective meaning. It refers to the beliefs and practices of the first followers of Jesus of Nazareth, which they recorded in the New Testament and handed down, through many generations of believers, to the Christians of today. Spong’s beliefs are entirely different, and to describe his beliefs as “Christian” is hardly intellectually honest.

    At minimum, to be a Christian is to believe that Jesus was and is the Christ. “Christ” is not a surname, it is the title of the Anointed One promised by God to the Jews through the prophets of the Old Testament. To confess Jesus to be the Christ makes no sense unless you are willing to say: that there is a God; that He spoke through the prophets of the Old Testament; that He indeed promised a Messiah to the Jews; that Jesus was in fact that Messiah; and that Jesus’ own understanding of the mission of the Messiah (that is, to give His life for the salvation of the world) was the true one.

    I very much doubt whether Spong would be willing to confess those beliefs. If he is not, he has no business passing himself off as a Christian.

  • Will Linden

    In a real-time conference back in the glory days of GEnie, Spong spoke to us of his “fundamentalist” upbringing. He does not seem to consider the possibility that he is still dominated by it, in that he spends his time running away from it as far as possible.

    As was said by the prophet Thurber, “You may as well fall flat on your face as lean too far over backward.”

  • tmatt

    Spong is a canary in the coalmine in one sense.

    If Anglicans are Protestants, he is no big deal.

    If Anglicans are Catholics, he is a heretic and a threat to Communion, with a large C. He is everyone’s bishop.

    Has anyone ever seen this question asked in a news story? It is as if the Anglican Compromise is not a matter of history.

  • Ken

    Isn’t the Anglican Compromise a little complicated for the average news story? I don’t mean to be snarky, but how many reporters could write about it, and would there be an audience large enough to care enough to think it through?

  • tmatt


    Average news story?

    I said that I have never seen it in a story — period. At least, not that I remember. So we are not talking about 600-word AP stories alone. We are talking about massive take-outs in the best newspapers and magazines in the marketplace.

    Then again, perhaps we are more likely to see it in a 600-word Richard Ostling piece for AP than in a 6000-word piece in, let’s say, the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

  • C. Wingate

    Come on, tmatt, haven’t you ever seen “We are the very model of today’s Episcopalian”? The answer to your “protestant or Catholic” quandary is right in the song!