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23 August 2005: On Death With Dignity
Late last month I joined with other religious leaders, Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish, to file an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of the State of Oregon in the case of Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General v. the State of Oregon. Specifically, our brief asked the Supreme Court to …
"I wonder if fiddling around on the periphery on the issues
of gay and lesbian rights can ever yield what the Church
lacks: a compelling vision which, if received and fulfilled,
would improve humanity as a whole. Christianity has no
unique truth and its claims, like those of all various
religions, is that it must rest upon a "Thus saith the Lord."
My own view, an ever-changing one I admit, is that the
Church has no transcendent truth to offer and knows it full
well. If nothing you offer has self-evident merit and you
can't admit the truth and survive as an organization, then
you resort to either intimidating everyone within into an
orthodoxy no one sees the sense or benefit in obeying any
longer or you wander aimlessly about preaching inoffensive
feel-good messages that everyone agrees with anyway without
getting out of bed early on a Sunday AM. Both directions
lead to irrelevance and that is the crux of the matter. The
Church is irrelevant because truth is irrelevant to the
Church and it has nothing to offer that I can't get elsewhere
without having to abandon my common sense or individual
autonomy. It either demands orthodoxy in matters even school
children should know are primitivistic and silly or it
demands orthodoxy toward a nameless Care Bear worldview that
scarcely needs a Church to propose it. Primitive tribal
codes or anomie. Not much to choose between and not much to
justify buildings, clergy, tax exemptions, satellite
channels, etc. Jesus was either a deity or a lay preacher.
Either there is a Christian God whose moral judgment is
somehow clearer than our own and should be accepted, assuming
it will provide a better result than a life of our own
devising, or the religion is simply one of many religious
delusions and a childish self-indulgence that intelligent
modern humanity should leave behind. I don't see a middle
ground that withstands rational examination. Even ER
physicians know there is a time to stop trying to resuscitate
17 August 2005: The Emerging Church
Time after time I am asked by people to describe what the church of the future will look like. It seems to these questioners that one who has written a book entitled A New Christianity for a New World should be able to address that question. That is especially an expectation since one chapter in …
I first heard of you when driving back to Melbourne from
Adelaide when you were interviewed by the Australian
Broadcasting Company. I subsequently purchased some of your
books and the theories you put forward opened up a completely
new way to appreciate Christianity. The only disappointing
thing to me seemed that you didn't stress in sufficient
detail your thoughts on the likelihood of an after life and
what form you believe it would take.
10 August 2005: Theology and Baseball
Last month an anonymous member of my class at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, left this unsigned question on my lectern: “How can you be so right about religion and so wrong about baseball?” I did not have the opportunity to address this profound theological concern in the class, so I have decided …
I really do enjoy your responses to our occasional guest
columnists. The response to The Rev. Gretta Vosper's column
"POISED" was by volume the largest we have ever received. I
am happy to run, in place of the Question and Answer feature
of this column today, a small sampling of your mail. I have
identified the writers with the names that they used and the
places they live if they noted that. All I had in some cases
was an e-mail name or a state. If you want your full name
and place of residence used when your letters are printed you
need to enclose that information. I am happy to identify you
whatever way you identify yourself.
New subscribers who may not have seen Gretta's column, which
ran on July 6, 2005, or those subscribers who would like to
read it again in the light of these responses may access her
column by going to www.bishopspong.com.
Your mail each week is gratifying even when you write to
express a contrary point of view or to point out a mistake
that my usually infallible editor (my wife Christine) has
missed. I read them all. I respond to many of them through
the column. I wish I could respond to each one individually
but the volume would require every minute of the day and a
staff that I do not have.
I send you all my best wishes.
— John Shelby Spong
3 August 2005: Pre-Modern Theology in Public Life
When the hurricane named ‘Dennis’ placed weary Floridians under water in the first major Caribbean disaster of 2005, their Governor Jeb Bush, reflecting on the recent pounding his state has taken, made an interesting, an almost stream of consciousness, observation. “I think there is a legitimate feeling,” he said, “Why me? What did I do …
27 July 2005: A New Dark Age Begins
Several years ago, in a column about the harassment, removal and silencing of Roman Catholic scholars like Hans Kung, Leonardo Boff, Charles Curran and Edward Schillebeeckx by that church, I referred to the leader of this “Inquisitional” mentality, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as “the pit bull of the Vatican.” Little did I realize that this church’s …
To my readers:
This week, in place of the Question and Answer feature of this column, I am pleased to turn this space over to some of you by printing excerpts from the incredible volume of mail I received in response to guest columnist Dr. James Hecht's piece on the struggle in the Middle East to find peace, entitled "Brokering the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict". That column ran on May 18th, 2005, and if you missed it or want to read it again, subscribers may do so by visiting http://www.bishopspong.com and clicking the "Log In" tab. Peace in the Middle East is still elusive, but until it is found peace in the world will remain an unfulfilled dream. Your comments were worth sharing broadly.
John Shelby Spong
Daryl Peter writes: "I think there is one thing lacking in Dr. Hecht's argument. Did the Palestinians aid and abet those who attempted to drive the Jews into the sea? I think the answer is yes. What then should be their reward for such treachery? The Arab world could easily have assimilated the displaced Palestinians and refused. Why? It seems to me there are quite a few nations in the Middle East who come to the table with unclean hands not just Jews and Americans. Until the entire Arab world and especially the U.N. agree this is a real mess and no one is guiltless can the problem begin to be resolved." Martin Crim writes: "The only element Dr. Hecht left out of the equation is that evangelical Christians form a strong pro-Israel lobby that is actually more extreme than AIPAC. Because they see the creation of the modern nation of Israel as fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, they are opposed to any steps toward peace with the Palestinians if that would require giving up "Judea and Samaria" as they call it." Sheldon Kronfeld of San Diego writes: "Without hesitation I agree with Dr. Hecht that the plight of the Palestinians is one of misery, suffering, subjugation and humiliation. I have a concern about his conclusion about where the responsibility for this unfortunate situation lies. Nowhere does Dr. Hecht indicate that he conferred with Israelis at all. Permit me to make mention a few of the hopes that Israel has had with respect to its Arab Palestinian neighbors. "We appeal
Daryl Peter writes:
"I think there is one thing lacking in Dr. Hecht's argument. Did the Palestinians aid and abet those who attempted to drive the Jews into the sea? I think the answer is yes. What then should be their reward for such treachery? The Arab world could easily have assimilated the displaced Palestinians and refused. Why? It seems to me there are quite a few nations in the Middle East who come to the table with unclean hands not just Jews and Americans. Until the entire Arab world and especially the U.N. agree this is a real mess and no one is guiltless can the problem begin to be resolved."
Martin Crim writes:
"The only element Dr. Hecht left out of the equation is that evangelical Christians form a strong pro-Israel lobby that is actually more extreme than AIPAC. Because they see the creation of the modern nation of Israel as fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, they are opposed to any steps toward peace with the Palestinians if that would require giving up "Judea and Samaria" as they call it."
Sheldon Kronfeld of San Diego writes:
"Without hesitation I agree with Dr. Hecht that the plight of the Palestinians is one of misery, suffering, subjugation and humiliation. I have a concern about his conclusion about where the responsibility for this unfortunate situation lies. Nowhere does Dr. Hecht indicate that he conferred with Israelis at all. Permit me to make mention a few of the hopes that Israel has had with respect to its Arab Palestinian neighbors.
20 July 2005: Political Fundamentalism
I listen to the rhetoric. It makes rational sense at first glance but the argument is circular and the feelings are hostile. Yet it has a familiar ring. I have heard it somewhere before. “The president wants to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court who will “interpret the constitution not amend it.” ” We …
"Our diocese has a linked relationship with one of the dioceses in southern Sudan. Terrible conditions. Our bishop and his wife visited the area (Kajo Keji) for three weeks several months ago. Our diocese has responded generously to pleas for food and other assistance. As it often happens, once caring people become personally exposed to conditions of millions upon millions in the developing world and have an opportunity to compare and contrast, the result - certainly by most Christians I have known - is a strong motivation to respond. In Swaziland in January, I guided our rector through a nine-day tour of conditions and the AIDS situation in Swaziland - same response. My bias as a Christian has been for many years that many faith groups place a significant emphasis and focus on the importance of belief as compared with the importance of behavior.
I recall a number of passages in the New Testament that cite Christ's focus on loving God and our neighbors. From my personal perspective, love of a neighbor and all of its critical interpretations receives much less focus and emphasis in the Church than love of God. What usually occurs after a meaningful experience with poverty, loss of hope and inequity, there is a brief flash of sympathy, often action of some sort - some of which is indeed useful. But sooner or later there seems to be a return for our church leaders to fall back on what appears to me to be some fuzzy interpretations that occurred many centuries ago and would never stand active interpretation.
So, as I challenge church leaders, clergy and congregations, my question relates to how I can encourage them to review one of the essential mandates from Christ - his clear and emphatic emphasis on our responsibilities toward our fellow human beings."
13 July 2005: Phyllis’ Garden — Finding Meaning in the Ordinary
The threat of meaninglessness and the specter of eternal anonymity are two forces that, far more than most of us realize, drive human behavior. The vast majority of the world’s population will live and die unnoticed outside their immediate families. In about three generations almost all of us will be forgotten. Consider, for example, the …
29 June 2005: Lessons Learned Walking 192 Miles Across England
It had its ups and downs, its heights and its depths. My wife, her daughter (my stepdaughter) and I set out on May 21st to walk the Coast-to-Coast trail across England. We began at St. Bees on the Irish Sea. Eighteen days later, weary, limping but unbowed, we placed our feet in the waters of …
Have you read Tom Harpur's The Pagan Christ? What are your thoughts concerning his belief that Christianity was copied from pagan religions that existed many years before Christ? Mr. Harpur, probably the most well-known and popular religious writer in Canada, even says there is no historical evidence for the existence of Jesus. So many of the events reported in the Bible have a very similar event in the pagan religions (e.g., dying on a cross, rising on the third day, miracles, etc.) Your thoughts?
22 June 2005: Guest Column from the Reverend Gretta Vosper
Dear Friends, This week I take great pleasure in introducing you to one of the most exciting voices in 21st century Christianity. The Reverend Gretta Vosper is an ordained pastor in the United Church of Canada, a church that came into being through an early 20th century merger primarily between the Presbyterians and the Methodists …
22 June 2005: Debating with Evangelicals
Twice recently, I have had the opportunity to engage in public debate two people who identify themselves as evangelicals, the Rev. Dr. Albert Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Rev. Dr. William Craig, a non-residential “Research Professor of Philosophy” at the Talbot School of Theology, an evangelical …
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