Log in | Sign up | Contact us | Cancel my account | Get help

Essay Archives View as a list

10 April 2014: The Reverend Fred Phelps, 1929 – 2014

“I believe that all homosexuals should be castrated with rusty barbed wire.” Those words came at me from a television screen a number of years ago. The spokesman was identified as an ordained Christian minister, who headed a Baptist Church in the mid-west. I then learned that this church’s website was “godhatesfags.com.” It was in …

Read More…

Q & A:

I am a curmudgeon and have become an atheist after 73 years as an Anglican. Of course, the first ten years were a wash. In those days I believed in Jesus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas. From ten on, however, I began to doubt the veracity of the Bible and its legends. It started to drive me crazy. I wandered to other churches and none gave me any solace. None of the stories made sense. The ark and Adam and Eve just didn’t make sense. My father was a student of religion and took me to every church he could think of. He introduced me to opera with his transvestite brother who was a good Anglican. As an adult I taught Sunday school, telling lies to children. I lied to myself. I read a lot of books and my faith eroded away to nothing. I still go to church every Sunday for some unknown reason, maybe just habit. My vicar just doesn’t get it. My bishop pretty much doesn’t like me because I am a pain in the neck at council.

 

Read the Answer...

3 April 2014: Part XVIII Matthew – Matthew’s Flashback to John the Baptist

We suggested last week that Mark, the author of the first gospel to be written, introduced his story of Jesus with a narrative appropriate to the Jewish New Year celebration, a festival called Rosh Hashanah. In that narrative, Mark developed one Rosh Hashanah symbol after another. Jewish New Year was the celebration in which these …

Read More…

Q & A:

I have been listening to you for some time and enjoy you greatly. I just found a message of yours at a church in Florida that I haven’t heard so I thought I would give it a listen. And, once again, you start by saying how it’s wrong to think “God hated Egyptians.” I don’t have issues with your views, as I said, I listen often. But this one thing you harp on irritates me. If any people (not to mention a people “God loves”) were held against their will and suffering then why is it wrong for God to care? If it were blacks as it was and God smote America for the torture and captivity of Africans, would we say, “Oh, those poor slave owners?” Of course not.

Exodus isn’t about a people God loves versus a random people God hates. It’s about oppression, slavery and God’s justice, which in this case is mercy for an oppressed people. Why do you perpetually misrepresent this passage? Again, I’m not against you. In fact, I enjoy you very much. But if Exodus means anything at all, it’s not that God hates Egyptians and so, we can assume, God hates Egyptians now or any other people. The story isn’t about God hating anyone. But if I were held captive, I would want to know that God has seen the oppression of his people. I get the concept of “a tribal God” believe me, I get it. But this “poor Egyptian” point you make totally misses the point.

Read the Answer...

27 March 2014: Part XVII Matthew – The Story of Jesus from Shavuot to Rosh Hashanah

After a three-week hiatus to consider some pressing theological questions and political issues we return this week to our story of Matthew’s gospel. It was indeed a good place to break away momentarily from Matthew’s text because in the Sermon on the Mount he had reached his first climax and would begin now to introduce …

Read More…

Q & A:

First of all, I want to thank you for all you do. A few years ago, I was introduced to you through the writings of Phillip Gulley. The first of your books that I read was Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Virgin Birth and The Place of Women in a Male Dominated Church. I remember thinking maybe I shouldn't be reading this! I had never read anything before that made me question what I’d been taught my whole life in church and I was very uncomfortable with it. I felt like I was made privy to some secret information that I had no business knowing.

Thankfully I did finish the book and went on to read your autobiography Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love and Equality. Shortly after that, I came to hear you speak at Lake Junaluska, the Methodist Center in Western North Carolina, with my daughter, a friend of mine and her daughter. I remember that weekend so well - it was a true turning point of my beliefs and my Christian life. I felt like my eyes had been opened and I had heard the truth. I knew that I would never be the same. I have traveled to hear you speak since then to Bloomington, Indiana; Atlanta, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee (on my birthday), where we were able to talk to your wife during the lunch break. What a delightful woman.

I’m a very active member of the United Methodist Church and have tried since that time to share my newfound knowledge with my congregation, but without much success. The recently publicized punishment of a long time UMC pastor in Pennsylvania for officiating at the marriage of his gay son has bothered me very much and just today, I resigned from my church as choir director. This was a very hard decision for me because I’ve been a very active member of this church for the past 28 years, but I can no longer be part of an organization that willingly minimizes the value of another human being’s life by refusing them the right to marry.

Having said all that, here are my questions: Where were all of these New Testament books of the Bible kept in the years following Jesus’ life? How was their existence communicated? You talk about different authors knowing about other wirings. How would they have known? I’m imagining a world where communication with other cities was minimal and travel was slow. I don’t remember reading anything that you’ve written about this but, if you have, please refer me to the essay or book.

Thank you again Bishop Spong. You are such an inspiration to me.

 

 

Read the Answer...

20 March 2014: Thoughts While Listening to America’s Health Care Debate

We had one of our closest personal friends to dinner recently. He is a stock analyst, a very successful and wealthy man with a passion for understanding the economy. In the course of the evening’s conversation, he listed among the threats to America’s economic prosperity the costs that will be associated with the “Patient Protection …

Read More…

Q & A:

I am a Lay Eucharistic Minister in the Episcopal Church. When I read one of the lessons from scripture, I am instructed to say at the end of the reading: "This is the Word of the Lord." My preference actually would be to say: "Here ends the Reading" or “Here ends the Lesson." Any thoughts you have on this subject would be most appreciated.

 

Read the Answer...

13 March 2014: Is the Jesus Story a Myth? Did a Man Named Jesus Ever Live?

Recently in my parish church, St. Peter’s in Morristown, New Jersey, I completed a seven week-lecture series on Matthew’s version of Jesus’ birth. In those lectures I pointed to the elements that demonstrate conclusively to me that Matthew did not intend for this story to be read literally. This was not biology, biography or history. …

Read More…

Q & A:

“How do you stay healthy and do you think your study is related to your health?”

Read the Answer...

6 March 2014: Part XVI Matthew – Did Jesus Teach Us to Pray the Lord’s Prayer?

If it is true, as I have suggested, that Jesus never preached the Sermon on the Mount then we immediately have to face other startling implications. That conclusion would raise questions about the authenticity of “The Lord’s Prayer,” which is first introduced into the developing Christian tradition in Matthew as part of the Sermon on …

Read More…

Q & A:

I've recently been reading Why Christianity Must Change or Die and listening to some interviews with you online. I wonder if you would be willing to help me with a rather burning question. Let me first give you a little contextual information if I may.

I'm from South Carolina, a small town called Landrum, which is very close to where you came of age, so I know that you are familiar with the religious background that is prevalent in the area. I've even heard you speak on it. I grew up in a Southern Baptist family, attending church three times a week throughout my childhood and youth. I moved to New York about nine years ago and have since been pursuing a career as an artist. I love the tradition that I came from and celebrate it in my work and life, but I have some serious troubles with parts of it and they have recently become amplified, hence my search into your work and the work of others.

I became a born-again Christian pretty early, at age nine I think, and at first I have to admit that I just thought it was a good thing to do. As I learned more about what all of this meant, I had trouble with the idea that my religion was the only right one and that a lot of other people who did not agree with my religion were, therefore, going to burn in hell. I decided to trust my parents on this one. After all, they did pretty well by me in most other regards. Hell was a very strong part of the doctrine of my church-you know fire and brimstone as preached about in the Bible belt. I have always struggled with the idea that any one religion could be the only correct one and that we, as Christians, might be lucky enough to be in the right and the all others were simply wrong.

In my studies and my thinking over the years, I have come to think that a broader view of the world is necessary and have even logically arrived at some places that have nothing at all to do with good and evil. It seemed to me that God must be bigger than the understanding that was hammered into me as a child. So I was torn between what I thought, what made sense to me and what I was taught. I have largely avoided serious religious thinking for most of the past decade, but because of the death of a friend of mine back in November it has come back to the fore. Whatever got the ball rolling, I found myself obsessing about it. There was actually one event that really set it off though.

I was driving with my fiancée, now my wife, down to the Carolinas to visit for Christmas. I was describing to her that I didn’t think that I believed in the Christian tradition that I was once taught. I was thinking of myself as one who leaves the faith, but with no animosity. I explained to her that I thought my anxieties were the result of seeking to leave a culture of hysteria. Still, I was struggling with the idea of hell. She asked me what I thought hell was, how I would describe it (she doesn’t believe in hell by the way). I went into a full-on panic attack for the first time. It was accompanied by a disembodied sensation and difficulty in concentrating. I was just trying to re-center myself when we stopped for dinner and it lasted for hours.

For many months after this, I was obsessed with the topic. I’ve done a good bit of reading on it as I try to wrap my head around it. I’ve calmed down now, but the questions still nag. I’ve read some beautiful understanding Christianity and other systems of belief. Somehow I’m still very worried about hell. It’s as if it’s planted there.

I’ve heard you say that hell is an invention of the Christian Church, which continues to perpetuate it. I would very much like to believe that hell is not a reality, but a tool designed to control. I can’t really identify at what point in the early development of Christianity that hell was inserted into the dogma. I know that it wasn’t part of the Old Testament thinking (at least in an eternal suffering kind of way). What I’m asking is how can I be confident that hell is an invention of human beings and not of God? I know that concepts of hell abounded before Christianity so I guess I’m not asking who invented it as much as who inserted it into the dogma and when?

Read the Answer...

27 February 2014: Part XV- Matthew: Understanding the Sermon on the Mount: Conclusion

Jesus never preached the Sermon on the Mount! That needs to be said again and again until it is embraced as a fact. The Sermon on the Mount was composed by the author of Matthew’s gospel in order to fill out his interpretive portrait of Jesus, not only as the messiah, but also as the …

Read More…

Q & A:

I consider myself to be a supportive follower of Progressive Christianity (PC), whose own spiritual beliefs closely parallel what is being espoused by leaders such as you in the movement to interpret the Bible in a way that is rational, scientific, contemporary, and not given to so much blind-sighted literalism. My exposure to PC includes having read all of your Question and Answer weeklies since you started them some years ago, frequently reading the contents of the Progressive Christianity.org web site and having started to read some of your welcomed books.

You have made reference to many church congregations today not being exposed by their seminary-educated pastors to current and recent (the past 100 years or more) biblical knowledge that is based on scholarly agreement or consensus. I have heard and read of you mentioning a child-like, Sunday school level of understanding of the Bible on the part of many adult churchgoers who often do not see underneath or beyond the literal word. To borrow a now somewhat dated set of words, I assert that you are “right on.”

I had a brother-in-law who was an ELCA seminary graduate and pastor and I know that seminaries could be placed on a continuum or range scale from conservative to liberal or some other defining set of words. It troubles me that certain conservative/fundamental/evangelical seminaries continue to promote belief and thinking going back to the third or fourth century CE. Does the problem of withholding more revealing scholarship to congregants lie primarily with the seminaries, the graduates of the seminaries, or both?

 

Read the Answer...

20 February 2014: Part XIV Matthew – The Sermon on the Mount: Sinai Revisited

Matthew is portraying Jesus as the New Moses who went to the top of a new mountain to deliver a new interpretation of the Torah. He is not a reporter for a local newspaper covering an event that actually happened. Matthew is quite specific in his gospel that Jesus is not delivering a new Torah! …

Read More…

20 February 2014: Part XIV Matthew – The Sermon on the Mount: Sinai Revisited

Matthew is portraying Jesus as the New Moses who went to the top of a new mountain to deliver a new interpretation of the Torah. He is not a reporter for a local newspaper covering an event that actually happened. Matthew is quite specific in his gospel that Jesus is not delivering a new Torah! …

Read More…

Q & A:

Please excuse my English. It is Google’s machine translation. I just wanted to thank you for your book A New Christianity for a New World. It seemed great and I fully agree with you on everything. To know that one is not alone in the way of understanding the change that must occur in Christianity is very rewarding. To those I can I am talking about your book and believe me its message is spreading, as also your articles translated into Spanish. It would be interesting and almost necessary that your website becomes available for translation into Spanish. Is there a possibility of that?

 

Read the Answer...

13 February 2014: A Life Fulfilled – EMB

It was a very unusual memorial service. It was not held in a church, a synagogue or a temple, but in the Avery Fisher Hall of the Lincoln Center in New York City. That vast and beautiful symphony space will seat 2783 people and except for the boxes in the top tier, it was filled. …

Read More…

Q & A:

God is defined as an Almighty being. An Almighty being does not require atonement (for “sins”). Therefore if God requires atonement as the Bible says, he is imperfect and not Almighty. Does this make sense? In other words, philosophically, the need for atonement indicates a lack of something, which detracts from the perfection which God should have. I would appreciate your thoughts.

 

Read the Answer...

Page 1 of 5712345102030...Last »

In Need of a Good Word?

We encourage you to show your support for positive and progressive Christian views by becoming a part of Bishop Spong's growing online community. You'll receive a new column each week on topics in social justice and spirituality that matter most.

Join the Movement

Free Q&A Email

Sign up for Bishop Spong's FREE weekly Q&A email.

Browse by Date

Browse our monthly archives:

Connect on Facebook