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Interview: Issues Etc., October 17, 2013 October 17, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Issues Etc, Newark, Seventh-day Adventist.
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Here is an to an interview I gave to the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio broadcast on 17 October 2013.

5. Media Coverage of Bishop John Shelby Spong – George Conger, 10/16/13

George Conger of GetReligion.org

Memories of Jack Spong: Get Religion, October 11, 2013 October 11, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Newark, The Episcopal Church.
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Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory — this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savors, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?

Remembrance of Things Past. Volume 1: Swann’s Way: Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust, translated by  C.K. Scott Moncrieff. p. 48.

Jack Spong is my petite madeleine.

The former Episcopal Bishop of Newark does for me what a cookie did for Marcel — open the door to bittersweet memories. The taste of the tea-soaked biscuit reminded Marcel of Charles Swann’s destruction that had been precipitated by his unfaithful wife Odette. An article in today’s Washington Post‘s On Faith section from the Religion News Service reminded me (as a priest in this church) of the destruction of the Episcopal Church precipitated by its unfaithful leaders over the past 40 years.

The article entitled “An aging maverick, Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong has no regrets” is part Edith Piaf — part Soviet Life hagiography. As I read through article I heard Jack Spong proclaim “Non, Rien de rien / Non, Je ne regrette rien” — while RNS went into full bore People magazine puff piece mode. All that was missing was the photo of the smiling peasants with their balalaikas extolling the virtues of the dear leader. One cannot blame Jack Spong for his part, but I do think RNS might be a little embarrassed.

The article opens on a friendly note:

MORRIS PLAINS, N.J. — At 82, retired and enjoying life, Bishop John Shelby Spong doesn’t have to be the liberal enfant terrible whose pronouncements for gay rights and against traditional dogmas once scandalized Christendom.

Indeed, many of the views that once turned the former Episcopal bishop of Newark into a lightning rod are now regarded as so matter-of-fact that they barely occasion much notice: ordaining gay clergy and blessing same-sex marriages, for example, or having a female presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman elected to lead a national church in the Anglican Communion.

And it gets better from here. The good bishop enumerates his triumphs with but slight modesty … but he discounts any direct responsibility.

Yet while he finds the victory deeply satisfying, he says he doesn’t take personal pride in this tectonic shift.“I was simply interpreting a rising consciousness,” he said. “Whether it was race or women or homosexual people, the issue was always the same: fighting against anything that dehumanizes a child of God on the basis of an external characteristic.”Now, he said, “I feel mellow,” his soft drawl burnishing the tone of reflection. “And I don’t think I’ve changed, particularly. I’m just not controversial in my church anymore.”

But RNS tells us:

[T]hose who love Spong — and the many who love to hate him — need not worry: He is hardly going gently into that good night. He seems as vital and youthful as ever, tall and lanky with a shock of reddish hair that still falls insistently across his forehead. He does four miles every morning on the treadmill, and he and his wife travel about 60 percent of the year, mainly at the invitation of audiences who want to hear more from Spong.And he has a new book out — his 24th. This latest one is a take on the Gospel of John called “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic.” As the subtitle suggests, Spong reads the Gospel through a Jewish lens, as he has done in many of his works.

It continues in this vein of hero worship. Jack Spong is a mystic — but a rationalist one.

In a sense, following the path of a mystic — like the author of the Gospel of John — only became possible as Spong, the rational-minded Bible scholar, aged. And that process in turn seems to have highlighted Spong’s roots as a pastor and teacher — a spiritual writer as much as a controversialist.

I do not begrudge the old lion his roar and Spong makes fewer mistakes than he is wont to do — he states with confidence that the Gospel writers were all Jews, while most New Testament scholars would argue Luke was Greek, see Lea & Black The New Testament: Its Background and Message, citing Colossians 4:10-11.

But how does RNS expect any but the most gormless of its readers to take this article seriously as journalism? No hard questions are asked of the bishop. Nothing about his tenure as bishop when his diocese was in free fall — collapsing faster than the city of Detroit.  Shortly after Spong retired Robert Stowe England penned a post-mortem of the bishop’s tenure, writing:

Between 1978 and 1999, the number of baptized persons in the diocese fell from 64,323 to 36,340, a loss of 27,983 members in 21 years. That’s a disastrous 43.5% decline. The Episcopal Church, by contrast, saw a decline in the number of baptized persons from 3,057,162 in 1978 to 2,339,133 in 1997, a loss of 718, 499, or a substantial 23.4%, according to the 1998 Church Annual.

The Diocese of Newark under Spong, thus, has declined at a rate 20.1 percentage points higher than the rate for the entire Episcopal Church. This rate of decline is 86% faster than the Episcopal Church, whose losses are considerable in and of themselves.

Nor is there an appreciation of Spong’s standing as a theologian — apart from that offered by the good bishop. In 1998, before he became Archbishop of Wales then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams was one of the leading scholars of the Anglican left — the author of the then standard apologetic for changing the church’s teaching to support same-sex relationships. Williams was not impressed with the Spong’s scholarly acumen.

Dr. Williams’ relationship with Bishop Spong, the author of a slew of books questioning the basic tenet of Christianity, has been difficult. In 1998 Dr. Williams characterized Bishop Spong’s controversial 12 theses as immature. Their implication he wrote “is that the sort of questions that might be asked by a bright 20th century sixth-former would have been unintelligible or devastating for Augustine, Rahner or Teresa of Avila.

Nor do we hear of Bishop Spong’s humiliation at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, when the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold apologized on behalf of the church to the bishops of Africa for “racist” comments made by the Bishop of Newark in an interview with the Church of England Newspaper. Bishop Spong — who in the run up to the conference was a media darling — left the conference early with his tail between his legs.

I write this not to attack the man, but to point out the perils of hagiography for journalists. If you are going to paint the subject of your interview as being a giant among giants — a successful bishop, a provocative scholar and a champion of minorities — you should be sure of your ground.

Here is the key journalistic point: The areas that RNS choose to highlight with the selection of its quotes were also the areas of Spong’s greatest failure. These omissions rob the article of credibility. There are too many missing essential facts.

The bishop and Proust’s petite madeleine are both light and insubstantial things — though the petite madeleine is the size of large nut and the bishop is rather bigger. Yet in an odd sort of way they share themes of the destructive force of obsessions and the allure and fatal consequences of transgressive sexuality.

Jack Spong is a great man, but also a tragic one — while the RNS piece is simply silly.

First printed in Get Religion.

‘Gay Love Gov’ rejected for ordination: The Church of England Newspaper, April 29, 2011. p 7. April 28, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Newark, Politics.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Christmas has come early for New York’s tabloids as former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey has returned to the public eye after the Diocese of Newark declined to ordain the “Gay Love Gov” to the priesthood.

In 2004 McGreevey resigned after a newspaper reported the twice married governor was having homosexual trysts with an aide.  In a nationally televised address the Democrat politician announced he was a “gay American,” and resigned amidst accusations of graft and corruption and was accused of having “led a governorship of personal sleaze” by University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato.

The governor’s bid for public rehabilitation was not helped by television commercials broadcast by the state tourist board that featured McGreevey holding his wife and daughter while standing on the beach exclaiming, “COME OUT–and see what’s new in New Jersey.”

The McGreevey sage took an unexpected twist in 2007 when the New York Post reported the “Gay Love Gov” had left the Roman Catholic Church and enrolled at New York’s General Theological Seminary to train for the Episcopal ministry.  In 2010 the former governor received a theological degree and began work at Integrity House, a mental-health and drug-addiction treatment center in Newark.

On April 25 the Post reported the Diocese of Newark had turned down the governor’s request for ordination.  It quoted an unnamed source in the diocese as saying McGreevey was turned away for multiple reasons.  “It was not being gay but for being a jackass — [McGreevey] didn’t come out of the whole divorce looking good.”

McGreevey “was sort of looking for every angle to make a complete redo of his professional life,” another unnamed source told the tabloid.  “He ran to the church for some kind of cover, which isn’t fully appropriate. Even if he’s a good guy, he should wait five to 10 years to get over his issues.”

US bid to authorise same-sex blessings: CEN 3.06.09 p 7. March 6, 2009

Posted by geoconger in 75th General Convention, Church of England Newspaper, Newark.
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The General Convention of the US Episcopal Church will be asked to authorize rites for the blessing of same-sex unions at their triennial meeting in July. On Jan 31 the Diocese of Newark synod endorsed a resolution asking the General Convention to amend the national church’s canons governing Holy Matrimony, making them gender neutral.

Newark’s Resolution 2009-05 asks the national church to amend Canon 18: Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony, substituting the words “two persons” where the words “a man and a woman” now appear, and to amend Canon 19: Of Regulations Respecting Holy Matrimony, to substitute the word “spouse” where the words “husband or wife” appear.

Delegates to the Newark synod also asked their diocesan clergy to henceforth record services solemnizing same-sex civil unions in the parish register “in a manner identical to the recording of marriages,” and stated the diocese’s intention of asking the national church to amend its canons making this innovation church wide.

Originally set down as a resolution to be adopted without debate, but removed from the synod’s “consent calendar” after protest, the resolution to amend the church’s marriage canons stated that it would not authorize any further public rites for same-sex blessings, but would modify existing rites “when the needs of the congregation so require.”

It was “important that The Episcopal Church modify its canons to reflect the gender neutrality now reflected in the law in those states where the law permits” gay marriage, the resolution said.

Recording gay marriages in parish registers was a matter of justice, the second resolution averred.

“Until same-sex couples are accorded full marriage rights it is incumbent upon the Church to recognize their unions in an identical manner as opposite-sex couples and to give civil unions the same dignity and respect bestowed on opposite-sex marriages. The Church does justice and exercises pastoral care by requiring clergy to record civil unions in the Parish Register” in states that have permitted gay marriage, the resolution said.

At their Feb 1-5 meeting in Alexandria, the Primates urged the Episcopal Church to maintain its moratorium on gay bishops and blessings as did the 2008 Lambeth Conference. While many US dioceses have called for an end to the moratorium enacted at the 2006 General Convention, it is unclear whether the church as a whole will repudiate Lambeth, the primates and Dr. Rowan Williams’ call for “gracious restraint.”

Bishop Spong in attack on Archbishop Williams: CEN 9.14.07 p 9 September 17, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Newark, The Episcopal Church.
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The former Bishop of Newark, Jack Spong, has penned an open letter attacking the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams for his handling of the gay crisis within the Anglican Communion.

“It is a genuine tragedy that you, the most intellectually-gifted Archbishop of Canterbury in almost a century, have become so miserable a failure in so short a period of time,” the controversial bishop wrote last week in a letter distributed via the internet.

Bishop Spong’s attack could not have come at a more inopportune moment, critics charged, and may further poison the tempestuous relations between the US Church and the Communion. The author of Dr. Williams’ invitation to meet with the American Bishops, Central Florida Bishop John H. Howe, called the letter “preposterous” and “as one of his fellow Bishops, I send my deepest apology.”

Dr. Williams’ relationship with Bishop Spong, the author of a slew of books questioning the basic tenet of Christianity, has been difficult. In 1998 Dr. Williams characterized Bishop Spong’s controversial 12 theses as immature. Their implication he wrote “is that the sort of questions that might be asked by a bright 20th century sixth-former would have been unintelligible or devastating for Augustine, Rahner or Teresa of Avila.”

In his latest letter, Bishop Spong laid the blame for the “estrangement” between the Episcopal Church and Canterbury at Dr. Williams” door. Bishop Spong stated that he was “elated” with the news of Dr. Williams’ appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury.

“The hopes of those of us who welcomed your appointment were, however, short lived because in one decision after another you seemed incapable of functioning as the leader the Church wanted and needed,” he said.

Dr. Williams had become a hypocrite upon taking up the appointment, Bishop Spong charged, and had engaged in a “breathtaking display of ineptitude and moral weakness.”

“We all knew where you stood,” on the issue of homosexuality, yet upon becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Williams had put “unity above truth.” His handling of the Jeffrey John affair had been execrable and “our trust in your integrity, all but disappeared.”

Bishop Spong lambasted Dr. Williams’s leadership of the Communion over the past five years, and accused him of being anti-intellectual and ignorant of basic concepts of morals and science.

The decision not to invite Gene Robinson to Lambeth 2008 also aroused Bishop Spong’s ire. “All of the closeted homosexual bishops are invited, the honest one is not invited,” he charged.

Bishop Spong also threatened to ‘out’ the Communions closeted gay bishops, writing “I can name the gay bishops who have, during my active career served in both the Episcopal Church and in the Church of England? I bet you can too. Are you suggesting that dishonesty is a virtue?”

Bishop Spong’s “sarcasm, his disrespect, and his arrogance are simply stunning” Bishop Howe wrote on Sept 7. He did not speak for the American Church the Central Florida Bishop wrote, “and that the Bishops who are gathering in New Orleans in just two weeks will greet you with great eagerness and affection.”

Lambeth Palace declined to comment.

Bishop Spong banned in Sydney: CEN 8.17.07 p4 August 16, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Australia, Biblical Interpretation, Church of England Newspaper, Newark.
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American Bishop John Spong has been banned in Sydney. The controversial former Bishop of Newark has been forbidden to preach or officiate in the diocese during his current book tour by Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen.

Sydney has also chided the Primate of Australia, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall of Brisbane for reversing the policy of his predecessor and allowing Bishop Spong to preach. During the Newark bishop’s 2001 book tour Archbishop Peter Hollingworth banned him from preaching, while Archbishop Aspinall has permitted the controversial bishop to preach at St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane this Sunday.

Bishop Spong banned in Sydney

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Newark Backs Same-Sex Blessings: CEN 6.22.07 p 7 June 22, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Newark, Windsor Report.
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The Diocese of Newark will not abide by the Primates’ call for a moratorium on same-sex blessings and will introduce proposed public rites for same-sex blessings at its January 2008 synod.

The introduction of formal rites for same-sex blessings by Newark, along with New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson’s announcement that his clergy were free to bless gay unions will stoke the anger of the Global South coalition of primates, observers note, increasing pressure on Archbishop Rowan Williams to take decisive action against the American church.

The Living Church magazine reports that a diocesan task force chartered by Bishop Mark Beckwith will prepare trial liturgies for consideration by the diocese.

“Bishop Beckwith has already made up his mind that civil unions would be performed,” a task force member said. “The diocese is of course very concerned about what happens in the Church as a whole, but it functions according to the will of convention.”