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12 October 2005: Is History Repeating Itself?

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” These words of philosopher George Santayana are terrifyingly true. Recently, I have looked again at what happened to the Jews in Christian Europe in the 1930s and 1940s and compared that to what I believe is happening today to homosexual people in the United …

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Q & A:

On July 13, 2005, this column ran a story entitled

"Phyllis' Garden." In that column I asked my readers to send

Phyllis Welder a letter or card to thank her for her part in

beautifying her surroundings by turning a tiny piece of

ground 18 inches by 36 inches underneath a street sign in

front of her house into a lovely garden for all to enjoy. It

was the major contribution of this 85 year old widow to the

community where she had spent all of her life. At last count

224 of you did that. The mail created quite a bit of

conversation in the village of Stoneleigh, where suddenly

this simple and unprepossessing woman received more mail each

day than anyone else in the village and sometimes more than

everyone else put together! I want to thank you for doing

that and these letters will reveal that your response brought

great joy to this lady and offered an opportunity for her

community to see greatness in the ordinary which was the

subject of the article. For those who might have missed this

column or for new subscribers who did not receive it you may

read it by going online to http://www.bishopspong.com. If you

do that it is not too late to send Phyllis a letter from you.

I would love to see the tally reach 300 letters. My thanks

to all of you for taking the time to do this little act of


John Shelby Spong

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5 October 2005: The Christian Church in Sweden

Recently Christine and I spent fifteen days on a lecture tour across the beautiful, gracious land of Sweden stopping in the cities of Vasteras, Rattvik, Stockholm, Uppsala and Goteborg. Sweden has a long and distinguished history. In the 18th Century when its boundaries included all of what is now Norway and Finland, Sweden’s armies conquered …

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Q & A:

"As a recovering Roman Catholic, Jesuit educated, who still

reveres much of the theology and the theologians in that

church, I have been on a long journey of discovery. I did,

in fact, discover you as an important part of that journey,

in an issue of the Science of Mind Magazine. I still believe

in the concept of tithing; that you should contribute a

percentage of your income to the source(s) of your spiritual

enlightenment and well-being. Since you fulfill a

significant part of that role in my life, I would like to

send a portion of my tithes to you for the work that you do.

How and where would I do that? Advise."

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28 September 2005: Born Gay!

A new book co-authored by Dr. Qazi Rahman, a lecturer in psychobiology at the University of East London and Dr. Glenn Wilson, a member of the faculty of the University of London, has just been published in the United Kingdom. It was reviewed in The Guardian, one of the United Kingdom’s four major daily newspapers …

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Q & A:

In my state the Board of Education threw out the teaching

of evolution a few years ago. Upon election of moderate

members, the Board brought it back again. Now conservatives

are in the majority again and the whole issue of universe

origin is being debated again. This time the issue of

"intelligent design" is being brought in as needing to be

taught. Is this just another way of bringing in conservative

belief about instant creation?

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21 September 2005: Jewish Fundamentalism

Religious fundamentalism is built on the assumption that the truth of God has been captured for all time. It comes in many forms including inerrancy for the words of scripture, ex cathedra utterances of a religious leader and the conviction that the ultimate truth of God has been captured in one’s developed creeds. Fundamentalism is …

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Q & A:

I attended all of your lectures when you were here in

Birmingham back in March of 2004. I've also read all of your

books. In your lectures and your books, you state how

important daily Bible study is to you. In one of your

lectures you stated that you begin the day with Bible

readings/study and have set "course" to read the entire Bible

with the Apocrypha over a fixed period of time, somewhere in

the 12-18 month range, if I remember correctly. What I

wonder is have you ever considered writing a Bible study book

for liberal/progressive Christians so we could accomplish the

same? I'm thinking of something much deeper than a daily

outline. Something that would include notes and musings from

you on the history behind the day's passages, translation

issues, questions to ponder/answer, etc. The goal here is

for you to provide a format that liberal/progressive

Christians could read the entire Bible with the Apocrypha in

a fixed period and really study what we're reading along the

way. This would be quite a daunting task but many would

welcome such a volume.

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14 September 2005: Robert Walter Funk 1926-2005

By the force of his will and personality, this man brought biblical scholarship out of the ivy covered walls of academia and placed it on the front pages of the newspapers of America. He forced those articulators of yesterday’s biblical ignorance to recognize that the empires they were erecting on foundations of sand would not …

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Q & A:

"Several years ago, I was interviewed at a pro-choice event

for Republicans. Being well past any likelihood of

pregnancy, I linked my concern about my right to die with my

right to decide about my fertility. Both ends of life are

clearly the prime battlegrounds of the "Right to Life"

groups, yet they assert that an embryo or a fetus and a

person who cannot survive without heroic, indefinite

intervention are fully alive and must be saved. I said then

that I was as appalled at the notion that the government

might decide if I should live or die, just as they might

decide if my daughters could have an abortion within the

reasonable parameters set by Roe v. Wade. People at that

event thought I was "stretching it."

"Since then I have been proven tragically correct. Attorney

General John Ashcroft has challenged Oregon on its right to

death with dignity law. Abortion conditions continue to be

eroded by the radical conservatives who seem to know better

than the family in question what is best. People in nursing

homes often have to be resuscitated at hospitals because,

even with written directives otherwise, the nursing home is

required to send the patient to the hospital to be "saved."

Can you explain how it is that the Republican Party that has

historically stood for limited government is now inserting

itself into the most personal of issues?"

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7 September 2005: Hurricane Katrina and American Priorities

I hesitated at first to write about Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that has been visited on the city of New Orleans and the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Television stations have been giving 24-hour-a-day coverage to this almost unimaginable disaster. American citizens have been both numbed by the tragedy and overwhelmed by frustration …

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Q & A:

"How can Christians believe that of Jesus' 46 chromosomes, 23

were contributed by a human and 23 by a non-human? If this

was true and Jesus was unique wouldn't that make all other

religions irrelevant? But "virgin births" are not unique to

Christianity. They are present in many mythologies. Isn't

the Council of Nicea's pronouncement on Jesus' divinity just

a pre-emption to provide security and control? I don't

believe there has been a single human being in the history of

the world that didn't have two human parents, including


Carlyle thought Jesus' father might have been a Roman

soldier. If Jesus were illegitimate, that would go a long

way to explaining his antipathy to his mother (see Mark

3:31-35, Mark 6:1-6, and John 2:1-11). Of course, you never

hear the Catholic Church quoting the passage in Mark in any

of its liturgies where Jesus replies to a question with, "Why

do you call me good? Only God is good (Mark 10:18)."

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31 August 2005: The Dark Side of Evangelical Religion

I often wonder what Bible it is that people read in America’s Bible Belt. I wonder what the religion is that is practiced by the Religious Right. It certainly does not connect with my understanding of Christianity. Perhaps I am the one who is blind to the things they perceive, but seeing their enthusiasm for …

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Q & A:

"When you research Biblical views, what Internet or written

sources are good starting points for persons who want to hear

a liberal viewpoint besides your own. I am looking for

commentaries and Bible software that is worth the investment

of money or time. I do not want Matthew Henry or Strog's

Concordance anymore. Help!"

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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 …

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Q & A:

"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

a corpse."

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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 …

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Q & A:

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.

Read the Answer...

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 …

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Q & A:

Dear Friends,

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

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