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17 June 2009: Among My Souvenirs: A Walk Down Memory Lane

One of the privileges of growing older is the opportunity to return to places and to revisit relationships that were once vital parts of one’s life. That is why “reunions,” that strange activity in which we pretend that the clock can be turned back and that yesterday can be relived, has continuing appeal. We all …

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Q & A:

I recently attended your three lectures in Austin, Texas. You are an important person in my growth. I was raised as a fundamentalist, and you allowed me to begin and continue my journey. You mentioned prayer, and defined the prayers of most as "adult letters to Santa Claus." I must admit that it is an excellent definition. My question is this: What does prayer look like you to today?  Thank you for continuing to educate.

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11 June 2009: On Losing a Friend of 57 Years

About a year ago a former classmate and friend for many years asked me if I would be willing to speak at his funeral service. This friend, Allan Zacher, was always one who planned well in advance, leaving no details to chance or, as we said, “to the Holy Spirit.” I told him that I …

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Q & A:

I am indebted to you for your brilliant scholarship and the light you have shined on my personal path of faith.

In your recent article, Israel: A Secular State Erected on a Religious Base, you stated that Poland was guilty of "active involvement in the Holocaust." That statement, with no further explanation or comment, is untrue and inflammatory. Unlike France, Norway, Greece, Hungary, Croatia, Belgium and many other countries, there was no official collaboration with the Nazis in Poland; the number of Poles who cooperated with the Nazis is estimated at several thousand in a population of 35 million. Poland has been referred to as a "Land without a Quisling." How can you refer to that as "active involvement?" France, on the other hand, was actively involved in the arrests, murders and deportation of Jews — why not highlight the French at the top of your list?

The brutal Nazi occupation of Poland, along with the equally brutal Soviet onslaught, subjected the Poles — both Christians and Jews — to unimaginable horrors, the likes of which were not seen in the occupations of, for example, France, Norway and Denmark. Three million Polish Jews were murdered in the Holocaust; nearly as many Polish Christians were murdered as well. Hans Frank, the German Governor-General of Poland during the war, once observed a sign in Prague commemorating there the murder of seven Czechs. Frank observed that if signs were posted in Poland at every spot where seven Poles had been murdered, there would not be enough trees in Poland to produce the necessary paper.

No one denies the existence of anti-Semitism in pre- or post-war Poland. Jews were betrayed to the Nazis by some Poles; Christian Poles also lost their lives to fellow Christians who betrayed them. But thousands of Polish Christians, some of whom were undoubtedly anti-Semitic, risked their lives and the lives of their families to save Jews from the Nazis. The Nazis enjoyed hanging Polish children in front of their parents who assisted Jews, yet so many Poles took the risk anyway. At Yad Vashim, more Poles are honored than any other peoples.

During the war in Poland, everyone was victimized. The Nazis were cruel to the Poles and even more cruel to the Jews. But now, in retrospect, why is it that the victimized Poles are blamed? Who will remember the Polish victims of the Holocaust? Why is it that simply taking note that there were other Holocaust victims is interpreted as anti-Semitism? And why, for heaven's sake, is Poland singled out as "actively involved" in collaborating when the exact opposite is true? Even the Israeli War Crimes Commission acknowledged there was virtually no collaboration in Poland.

It's time to stand up for the people of Poland, flawed as they are. It is deeply unjust to continue to pin an "anti-Semitic" crown on a nation that gave refuge to the vast majority of European Jews, a nation that was brutalized time and again, a nation that was betrayed by its European "allies," and a nation that was sold into Soviet slavery. Anti-Semitism is not a Polish invention, nor a Polish peculiarity. It is an evil that was nurtured by Christianity, and as Christians we all need to stand up against it.

If the time ever comes that we Americans have to face brutal occupation, murder and unbridled savagery, who among us will be willing to place a noose around our children's necks to save someone else? And if we do not, who will sit in judgment of our actions and how will we be condemned?

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4 June 2009: Masada, the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73, and the Writing of the Gospels

The most impressive memory I have from my last trip to Israel is not of a religious site at all but of a military site, one that played an enormous role in Israel’s history. I refer to our visit to the desert fortress of Masada where, according to Josephus Flavius, a first-century Jewish historian, the …

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Q & A:

Your vision of a reformed Christianity is easy for me to embrace. However, I am concerned that this vision is not compatible with "The Church Catholic." Do you believe the dream of a unified church is a necessary casualty of the Reformed Church?

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28 May 2009: Galilee: The True Origins of the Jesus Story

I spent several days recently in the region of Israel called Galilee. Contrary to what most people might expect I found my time in Galilee to be far more authentic than my time in Jerusalem. I actually wondered why, for it seemed counterintuitive. Seeking an answer to this question, I plunged into a brief study …

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Q & A:

Was Jesus also God? Or was he just a wonderful, inspired man more in touch with spiritual things than most other men?

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21 May 2009: Being Interviewed in Bethlehem on the Birth Narratives of Jesus

On Tuesday of Easter Week, my wife and I made our way to Bethlehem, a journey that carried us across the checkpoint and into the West Bank. That transition did not prove to be a major problem. The Israeli government is not too strict about who goes from Israel to the West Bank, but when …

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Q & A:

In an interview with Beliefnet, Hans Kung said that the Vatican knew for decades about sexually abusive priests and the Bishops' mishandling of them. In you opinion, why did they allow the situation to continue for so long?

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14 May 2009: Jerusalem: Where Scholarship Ends and the Tourist Trade Begins

It is not easy to be a biblical scholar when visiting the Holy Land. I spent Easter Monday of this year in the city of Jerusalem walking the Via Dolorosa, the way of the cross. My guide was a religiously oriented, delightful Jewish man who was, as he said, the child of radical Zionists who …

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Q & A:

I have read much of your work and met you once at Stetson University in Deland, Florida, at a pastor's conference. It was the same venue where I also met Marcus Borg. I am a retired civil trial lawyer and a late-life seminary graduate, now an ordained Disciples of Christ minister, although before seminary I was a lifelong Presbyterian (USA) from the same time frame and section of North Carolina as you. My question, which gives me a great deal of trouble, is: What is your basic understanding of petitionary prayer? I believe you have said, "A God who would save the life of one prayed-for cancer-stricken child and not another would be a monster." This makes sense but gives me a great deal of trouble in considering petitionary prayer. (I have read Honest Prayer – I find no answer to this problem there).

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7 May 2009: Israel: A Secular State Erected on a Religious Base

In 1976 as a young bishop ordained to that office less than six months, I made my first trip to Israel. It was part of a three-stop tour designed to gain perspective on the role of religion in that Cold War world. I went first to Geneva, the headquarters of the Protestant World Council of …

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Q & A:

I struggle with reconciling my "personal" experience of God when I can no longer hold to a personal God. How do you, or would you, help a member of a congregation you are serving understand the dichotomy of progressive religion?

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30 April 2009: The Origins of the Bible, Part XXV: The Book of Psalms

When I was a child I went with my mother from time to time to Chalmer’s Memorial ARP Church, the church in which she had grown up. Those letters “ARP” identified that church as belonging to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian tradition, an ultra-fundamentalist branch of the most rigid form of Calvinism. What was most unusual …

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Q & A:

I lead two study groups that have covered several of your books, and we are currently reading The Sins of Scripture. I would like to know about your new book, Jesus for the Non-Religious. Both groups have expressed an interest in reading this book next, after we finish The Sins of Scripture in April. Both groups, mostly seniors, all life-long Christians and representing three denominations, have found The Sins of the Scripture fascinating, raising many questions and challenges. I think I've read all of your books, and I think this is your best. I have studied and taught theology for more than 40 years, but even I am learning things I did not know. Although I am mostly in complete agreement with your position (some of the group members are not so sure), it has been most exciting for me to see things in scripture I had not seen before. Or perhaps more accurately realized things are not there that I thought were.

Yesterday we were discussing the section on the Bible and Children. I was amazed at how little actual reference there is to hell, sin, guilt and punishment in the New Testament. All I could think of was the library at the college where I taught, which is filled with theological books about sin, salvation and redemption. You are making vast collections in theological libraries literally out of date. But as a process theologian I believe that every word that we utter is in a sense out of date by the time it s uttered as reality has changed in that split second. It was in process theology that I first met the ideas of a non-interventionist God and a Jesus who was human, albeit a very special human being. My faith journey has been a long, rich and very fruitful one, which I have tried to share as a religious educator with anyone who was interested. Thank you for the many years you have been doing the same in a much more public way. I just hope the church is listening, though as you point out from time to time it is a mixed reaction of relieved understanding for moving into the future and a fearful, defensive declaration of past beliefs. Thank you for saying we do not need to create the church of the future, just take steps toward helping that church to be a possibility. My little group yesterday found that very comforting.

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23 April 2009: Why I Am Not a Unitarian

Some years ago, while I was delivering a series of Lenten lectures in St. Peter’s Church in Morristown, New Jersey, a lay woman asked me a pointed and provocative question: “How is what you say about Jesus different from what the Unitarians say?” Her question was not leveled as a charge, as it is so …

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Q & A:

What is this about Jesus leaving the area entirely and going to India and all over the world (Aquarius Bible)? I keep hearing these stories about Jesus traveling all over the world and then he comes back to his home in Bethlehem or Galilee to do his ministry after his travels. Also, what are these stories about his childhood? Now that I am reading your book, I think the stories are false, and I have heard LOTs of stories. However, I would like to have your comments. The stories are always in the vein of miracles and other supernatural things that they say were attributed to him as a child. I don't think this is factual or history. May I have your comments? What about his being married to Mary Magdalene — the basis of The Da Vinci Code? Any credence in that?

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16 April 2009: Life-Changing Moments in Duluth, Minnesota

Duluth, Minnesota, is a small city of less than 100,000 people at the southwestern corner of Lake Superior. It is known as one of the colder parts of America, receiving as it does those massive flows of Arctic air that sweep upon this nation out of Canada. Duluth is inhabited by hardy souls who are …

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Q & A:

Do you believe churches would speak with lesser timidity against injustice if they were not beholden to the government for their tax-exempt status? I know some churches have spoken out on certain issues that have provoked an investigation by the IRS, and they fight to maintain their tax-exempt status. You have written about paying taxes and have listed several reasons why you are not offended at having to pay your tax. It seems that church buildings occupy some prime real estate and taxes, especially local taxes, would go to the systems that help the poor and needy, improve health care, education and so on. Isn't it time churches pulled their weight and cut the government apron strings of their tax-exempt status?

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