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The unorthodox religion of Bishop John Shelby Spong — GetReligion

Newark Bishop John Shelby Spong by no means caught “Why Christianity Must Change or Die” on the doorways of Canterbury Cathedral, because it was simpler to submit a talking-points version of his manifesto on the Web.

“Theism, as a means of defining God is useless,” he proclaimed, in 1998. “Since God can now not be conceived in theistic phrases, it turns into nonsensical to hunt to know Jesus because the incarnation of the theistic deity.”

Missing a private God, he added, it was logical so as to add: “Prayer can’t be a request made to a theistic deity to behave in human historical past in a specific means.”

Spong’s 12-point tackle post-theism religion emerged after spending years on the highway, giving tons of of speeches and showing on broadcasts reminiscent of “The Oprah Winfrey Present” and “Larry King Reside.” Whereas main the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, inside shouting vary of New York Metropolis, he did the whole lot he may to change into the news-media face of liberal Christianity.

By the point of his demise on the age of 90, on Sept. 12 at his residence in Richmond, Va., Spong had seen a lot of his once-heretical beliefs — particularly on intercourse and marriage — normalized in most Episcopal pulpits and establishments. Nonetheless, his doctrinal strategy was too blunt for a lot of within the mainline institution, the place a quieter “religious however not non secular” strategy has change into the norm.

Spong known as himself a “doubting believer” and stated he had no drawback reciting conventional rites and creeds as a result of, in his personal thoughts, he had already redefined the phrases and pictures to suit his personal doctrines. He additionally knew when to be cautious, reminiscent of throughout Denver go to within the late Nineteen Eighties — an period wherein the Diocese of Colorado remained a middle for evangelical and charismatic Episcopalians.

After a lecture on the liberal St. Thomas Episcopal Church, I requested Spong if he believed the resurrection of Jesus was an “historic occasion that happened in actual time.”

“I do not suppose that I can say what the disciples believed they skilled. I will have to consider that some extra,” he stated, shifting on to a different query.

The bishop answered a decade later, in his memo calling for a brand new Reformation: “Resurrection is an motion of God. Jesus was raised into the which means of God. It due to this fact can’t be a bodily resuscitation occurring inside human historical past.”

Regularly, Spong floated doctrinal take a look at balloons in The Voice, his diocesan newspaper. Listed below are another well-known quotations.

On scripture — “The Gospels painting Jesus as believing that David wrote the Psalms, Solomon the Proverbs and Moses the Torah — a place which any graduate from any accredited seminary would immediately shortly dismiss.”

On the Virgin Mary — “The Mary I see in church historical past is a desexed lady. … Her humanity has been taken away from her, and I feel (Mary) makes a really poor image.”

On science — “We have now practiced our monumental scientific and technical expertise to open doorways to points of life that after we assigned solely to the gods. …The facility of divinity is increasingly our personal energy.

Spong argued that church buildings that did not embrace modernity have been doomed. However, throughout his period, Episcopal Church membership fell from 3.4 million within the Nineteen Sixties to 1.6 million in 2019, based on official statistics. Throughout Spong’s tenure as bishop (1976-2000), Newark diocese membership declined from 62,732 to 36,674. That quantity was right down to 23,045 in 2019.

Bishop Spong was not troubled.

“When Jesus stated, ‘Come unto me all ye,’ he didn’t add, ‘as long as you aren’t divorced or homosexual or a lady bishop or a doubter,’ ” he wrote. “This church of ours might by no means be the church of the plenty, it’ll by no means fulfill the emotional wants of the religiously insecure.”

Talking at Drew Theological Faculty in New Jersey, the bishop additionally urged believers to not fear about eternity.

“No person is aware of what the afterlife is all about; no person even is aware of if there’s one,” Spong stated, in 2010. “All of those photographs of bliss and punishment, heaven and hell should not in regards to the afterlife in any respect. They’re about controlling human habits with worry and guilt. …

“We do not want a savior. If Jesus died on your sins, you’re one wretched human being. I do not suppose that is excellent news.”

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