Bishop Spong.. could we have a little "we"?

I like Bishop Jack Spong a lot. He does chew the bone down and suck on the marrow. He is always working away at the death he has overcome - the fundamentalism of his past. Sometimes that fundamentalism seems so high, he can't get over it, so low....etc. Sometimes he seems to rant. Rants can be very entertaining and finally enlightening. We just have to be willing to hear it out.

Bishop Spong has apparently published a new Manifesto, "The Time Has Come." I say apparently because while the source of the document is attributed to him, access to the direct citation has not yet been forthcoming. Various reporters have now carried articles on the paper and it is available from Louie Crew HERE. The Pluralist has a particularly good article on the essay HERE.

It sure reads like Spong. All the stuff to love and hate about the way Spong thinks and expresses himself is there. Lots of good rant for justice, lots of over use of "I." There is plenty of uplift and downdraft.

The Manifesto is a personal one. He says, "I have made a decision." Fair enough.
Still, sometimes it would be good to have a little more"we" in the manifesto. Only at the end do we finally get invited in.

"I invite others to join me in this public declaration. I believe that such a public outpouring will help cleanse both the church and this nation of its own distorting past. It will restore integrity and honor to both church and state. It will signal that a new day has dawned and we are ready not just to embrace it, but also to rejoice in it and to celebrate it."

As a sign-on document the Manifesto is written poorly. I have no reason to sign on to his rant. His rant is not my rant. What is needed are "we" statements. Spong says, " I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone." Great for him to say. But if this is a manifesto to be taken up by all of us it might be better to say, "We will no longer debate the issue..." I'd like Bishop Spong to rewrite this Manifesto, not as a personal rant, but as a statement we could affirm in a collective sense.

Spong puts the skunk on the table. It is time to move on. Moving on, however, is not as simple as declaring victory. The snakes in the orchard are still there. Spong is more than ready to end debate, declare victory and get a life. But no longer debating is not the same as no longer paying attention to the opponent or opponents.

It may not be necessary to debate the various parties that Bishop Spong is now tired of attending to, but it will continue to be necessary to be watchful. Some of the people he is finished with are not finished with us and they can do great harm to our common life as Episcopalians, they can harass gay and lesbian persons in our church, they can cast doubts on the faithfulness of any of us or our churches. They can, in other words, muck about in our lives, leaving people scared for life, much as Bishop Spong's fundamentalist beginnings have scared him. This is no time to ignore the opposition, for ignoring them will lead to ignorance and ignorance will produce forgetfulness. And we must never forget.


  1. Regarding the copy of the Manifesto at agoramedia.com:
    that site seems to hold a great deal of proprietary material by +Spong that is advertised through an email series from him.

  2. Ms. Gledhill is linked by Thinking Anglicans.
    That woman gets on my last nerve.
    I believe she is angry that +Spong is invading England to sell his book, and is especially nasty.

  3. This cannot be a "we" manifesto. Only someone who is in a position to engage in active affirmative action can remvoe himself from the debate.

    People like me can't, the only thing I can do is talk. If we all stopped talking the bullies would win.

    What I will do is refuse to allow others to set the parameters of the conversation. It is time "we" were no longer on the defensive, simply answering the questions and accusations thrown at us and trying to persuade those who clearly will never be persuaded.
    I will continue to engage and to talk - but not with the hardened anti-gay brigade, only with truly thoughtful people who are genuinely trying to find their own answer.

  4. Mark,
    Thanks for the honest assessment.

    Jack was my preaching professor at Harvard. I am eternally thankful for that class, as he taught me how to be provocative and how to challenge a congregation, qualities in my own preaching that have been appreciated in the two parishes I have served.

    But at the same time, Jack's class was as much about him as it was about preaching. His considerable ego very often gets in the way of his message.

    He has been a prophetic witness in the church. But I don't think any of his recent rants have served to move discussion forward (and in some cases, like his "superstition" remarks after Lambeth 1998, have even harmed the cause. It may be time for him to fade into the sunset.

  5. I think some folks are over reacting to the good bishop. I think that is often the case. He does like to rattle folk's cages. But I cannot subscribe to calling clear, concise language a rant. Nor do I read the bishop as cutting off conversation, as this is being interpreted by Viagraville.

    To me what he is saying is that for him personally, which is why the "I" language, there are now well established facts about sexual minorities which are no longer up for grabs. They are settled. They are no longer debatable. Period. And he published this on his paid subscription website, not a public one, but one where he supplements his retirement income, so it was not published for a wider audience, even though it was bound to get out of the bag.

    In fact, I find his "I do not give a shit" attitude a refreshing change to the Casper Milktoast verbiage of many of our allies.

    Truthfully, as a gay man, and as an Anglican Christian, I wonder what has taken the good bishop this long to reach that point, because I reached it years ago. As you all know, I do not suffer fools with gladness.

    It is no longer useful to debate the clobber scriptures. They have not changed. Our understanding of them as translations and interpretations have progressed, but it is of no practical value to continue to hash them out with fundamentalists/conservatives. I know their position, it has not changed. As long as they are fundamentalists/conservatives it will not change.

    I will no longer debate human sexuality. My sexuality, whether it is a natural phenomena, whether it is God-given, or whether it is psychologically and physiologically healthy is no longer open to debate.

    I will no longer debate whether I am Christian. I will no longer listen to someone who wishes to question or denigrate my faith, my spirituality or my devotion to God.

    For me these are already the foundation stones, they are the givens. This is where the conversation, the "listening process" begins. So if you want to go poking around the foundation, I am going to chase you away, because you have nothing at this point to discuss with me.

  6. Edmund Campion19/10/09 4:37 PM

    Come on, now, Mark. You are trying to gently prod Spong out of his Great Western Heresy of Saying I. But you must one day admit the truth: you owe Ackerman an apology, and Spong a viciously-quick deposition.

  7. +Jack Spong is a man who inspires in me profoundly mixed feelings. I sometimes think that the uncritical Biblical literalism of his boyhood has come back as a too uncritical embrace of modernity. The persecution complex endemic to fundamentalism of all types is still there in his capacity to personalize everything.

    However, I agree with him and Dah-veed that there are some subjects that have been unproductively talked to death. I won't discuss or argue anymore the legitimacy of my sexuality or my faith, or that both live together. I've lived with both for 51 years, enough time and experience to see that my antagonists do not know what they are talking about. I won't waste my time anymore trying to convince the unpersuadeable, or answering questions that are intended to prosecute rather than illumine. Those views and those minds can't and won't change no matter what the evidence says. I'm tired of repeating myself over and over trying to make breakthroughs with people who long ago made up their minds.
    In my experience, it is those beliefs that fail all the tests of evidence, experience, reason, justice, decency, and humanity that some people will cling to most tenaciously. They cling to them because it is what they know and what makes them feel safe. Those beliefs have become part of their identity and they are too frightened of the larger world to step outside of their points of reference no matter how wrong or suffocating they are. Why should I waste my time? I know better. It's time to get on with the business of living.

  8. I think you are overthinking this one a bit, Mark.

    If he says "we" he'll be smacked for arrogance, if he says "I" he will be forgetting the "community." Community isn't either the individual or the group!

    I'm not an apologist for Spong, but I believe that, by setting this up as a personal statement - one with which I fully agree, for once - he is allowing it to be "signed on to" by those who can accept it as a personal statement.

  9. I like Bishop Spong a lot too!

    He jolted me into being a Thinking Anglican (instead of being a potted prunefaced repeater of words that meant little to me).

    P.S. Susan, Ms. Gledhill gets on my nerves too, it bothers me that she ¨hangs¨ with David Virtue/etc. and romps back and forth over the integrity of whatever/whoever she thinks is NEWSWORTHY enough!

    Tiresome sparkly.

  10. To ignore those who disagree with you is bad. But to treat them with deep suspicion is worse. Much worse. Neither entails actually listening and hearing the other. And thus, neither gains you the right to be heard.

    Mark, I wonder what you will do when you and your friends have finally driven out all who disagree with you by twisting their words and their intentions, misusing canons, etc., and your church (it's obviously not ours anymore) is homogeneous in its "diversity", and people of traditional Christian beliefs and morality have all left for the RCC, ACNA, etc. When there are no more internal enemies to combat, will you choose external ones, or create some new ones? How will you be able to manage without enemies to combat?


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.