By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – His ideas might fall outside the purview of orthodox Episcopal faith and practice, but it’s clear that Bishop John Shelby Spong is a serious man.
He doesn’t consider himself much of a rebel, just a reasonable, forward-thinking Christian.
“Certainly I’m still deeply committed to the Episcopal faith,” Spong said over the phone from his New Jersey home last week.
The North Carolina native’s list of credentials is impressive. He was a parish rector then bishop for nearly half a century. He’s lectured at Harvard Divinity School and his upcoming book, “Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World” will be his twenty-second.
To be sure, Spong is a bit of a rogue. He believes that Christianity wastes time trying to make the square peg of the 1st century world-view expressed in the Bible fit into the round hole of contemporary thinking.
He doesn’t believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.
“Any time you or I write we write from a particular perspective,” said Spong. “We can’t write from yesterday’s perspective, or tomorrow’s. When you literalize a text you freeze it,” he said, thus robing it of its power to speak effectively to future generations.
“You can still be a Christian without turning your brain into a 1st century pretzel,” he said.
Spong’s message is one of hope. The Christianity that critics like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins reject, he said, isn’t the best expression of the faith. The straw man that atheists topple is the construction of the fundamentalist who closes his eyes to the world.
Christianity will flourish, Spong insists, and feed the deepest needs of humanity if it’s un-moored from antiquated thinking and brought into real dialogue with science and reason.
Spong is a hero to homosexuals. “Discrimination against them violates everything the Christian faith is about,” he said.
He was censured by the Episcopal House of Bishops in 1990 for ordaining an openly gay man, but he continues to champion what he calls “the full humanity of every child of God.”
Spong will speak twice on Nov. 6 at the Link Centre in Tupelo. At 2 p.m. he’ll speak on “Human life: Fallen or incomplete?” and at 4 p.m. he’ll speak on “Salvation: Rescue from a fall or expansion of our humanity?” Tickets are $20 and include both talks and are available online at www.spafer.org and at the door.
Those wishing to meet Spong at an informal gathering at the home of Doyce Deas on Nov. 5 may contact Jim High at (662) 401-1932. All proceeds benefit the Link Centre.