David Virtue DVirtue236 at AOL.COM
Sun May 13 20:47:28 EDT 2001


News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

John Shelby Spong has a penchant for twisting the truth, and, at the
end, dispensing with it altogether.

His latest blast at the church was made to staff writer, Allison Askins
of The State, South Carolina's largest newspaper.


Spong says that the church he was raised in was racist as it practiced
segregation. He goes on to say that racism is still, "under the
surface. Racism is still operative in New Jersey. Racism is alive and
well all over this country."

Now racism is indeed still alive, but hardly well. Racism as Mr. Spong
experienced it in the South in his early years has long since departed
and he grossly misstates the situation about racism in those states
today. By doing so he ignores the gains Blacks have made in America,
the Civil Rights movement, the rise of Black colleges, equal
opportunity in the
work place and various laws designed to enhance Blacks in employment.
All of  this is light years from what America was 50 years ago. The
strides America has made in this area have been enormous and continue,
though imperfectly.

While segregation has been eliminated, racism has not been totally
eradicated. No one would deny that. We have a whole new twist with
racial profiling today; indicating that racism does indeed lurk beneath
the surface.

But racism is not solely a black white thing. I know blacks that are
racist towards Hispanics and racism lurks in Asia, Africa and the
Middle East. American whites are not the only practitioners of racism
in the world.

But to blame racism on the church and therefore condemn the church as
out of touch and all its biblical teachings null and void is flagrant

Scripture has never endorsed racism even though millions of Christians
have and continue to practice it.

Racism is primarily an issue of the heart, which plays itself out in
society. If you want to really deal with racism deal with people's
hearts. Laws do not eliminate racism. Of course systemic racism can be
eliminated, but racism and anti-Semitism are not only legal issues they
are personal and attitudinal ones and can only be dealt with as we see
ourselves for what we are and ask God to change us. Spong does not want
to talk about that. That involves Christian conversion, the kind of
evangelical thinking he now despises.

It is when Christians return to Scripture with fresh eyes that they see
racism as wrong.  Look at what happened in South Africa. Both black and
white believed and read the same Bible. Whites used the Old Testament
to justify Apartheid. No, said the Blacks you cannot exegete Scripture
like that. The New Testament forbids you to think that we are inferior
because of the color of our skin. And furthermore your exegesis of
certain portions of Genesis is dead wrong. Rethink your understanding
and interpretation of Scripture.

So blacks suffered for 200 years. Then it slowly dawned on White South
Africans (with a little help from the world community especially the
[racist] US) that Apartheid was indeed morally and biblically
indefensible. Some whites even began to say that Scripture does not
support Apartheid and the whole edifice came tumbling down. And then to
top it off Black South Africans turned around, established a Truth
Commission and declared all those who participated in Apartheid
forgiven, a very Christian attitude indeed.

I wrote a book A FLAME FOR JUSTICE about a Black man who lived in
Soweto, outside Johannesburg, when Apartheid was still in full flight.
His name was Caesar Molebatsi. Caesar was run down by a white man and
lost his leg. He sought revenge and was on his way to kill the man when
he heard the gospel story. He was converted, turned around, started a
youth ministry and later a church in Soweto and went on to become a
famous broadcaster. He forgave the man and his Evangelical Bible
believing church (that Spong would despise) continues to thrive and
flourish in Soweto, a 'living stone' in the midst of social chaos.
That's what the gospel does.

Now if South African Blacks had not been Christians, but Marxists or
Maoists or Islamic
Fundamentalists they would have simply turned around and slaughtered
all those whites that participated in Apartheid in whatever role they
played. Eighteen million blacks could certainly have turned the tables
on four million whites in no time at all.  But Nelson Mandela and
Desmond Tutu said no; that is not what we are going to do. We will
build a new society where black and white will live and work together
in peace. And so it was.

And the root of all this thinking is Scripture, not Mao's little Red
Book or Spong's, Here I Stand. The whole idea of forgiveness is rooted
totally in Scripture, in the God who redeems, something Mr. Spong now


Another favorite whipping boy of Spong's is slavery. Slavery was and is
wrong, and yes,  hundreds of thousands of Africans suffered and died at
the hands of white slave owners. It was wrong. Dead wrong.

But what Mr. Spong does not tell you is this. The person who single-
handedly got rid of slavery, and spent his whole life doing so, was
William Wilberforce who, at the age of 25 was ablaze with a mission for
life - one that, although daunting in light of the deeply entrenched
opposing interests, changed the world. With the menacing clouds of the
French Revolution rolling up on the horizon Wilberforce set out with
one simple objective: "God almighty", he wrote, "has set before me two
great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the reformation
of manners." He was heralded as the Washington of humanity. He labored
for 47 years to rid the British Empire of slavery.

Wilberforce was a well-known Evangelical Anglican who belonged to
something called the Clapham Sect. He spent his entire parliamentary
life opposing slavery. At the end he was successful. His act abolished
slavery forever.  Wilberforce's whole life was animated by a deeply
held, personal faith in Jesus Christ. Now you won't find that story in
any of Spong's rantings. And it was John Newton, himself a salve trader
who composed "Amazing Grace" a hymn that would never had been written
but for his conversion.


And then there's homosexuality, a favorite Spong subject.

He says that after much study at Cornell School of Medicine in New York
he become convinced that "homosexuality is a given and not a chosen."

He writes: "We can choose how we're going to live it out, but we can't
choose our orientation. When that finally got through my thick skull, I
had to reorient my attitude. It is not moral to judge a person on the
basis of his or her being."

Now Scripture concerns itself with behavior. It knows nothing about
orientation, nor does it care. It does say we shouldn't judge, and I
don't know a single evangelical or Anglo-Catholic Episcopal priest who
has openly stood up and judged a homosexual person in the Episcopal
Church because of their orientation. In fact at the recent General
Convention in Denver outed gay Bishop Otis Charles got five minutes to
tell his story and not a single evangelical bishop said a negative
word. Furthermore I have never read a single statement by an
evangelical or Anglo-Catholic bishop openly condemning homosexuals
because they are so. I defy Spong to produce one.

The two Bishops of Dallas recently allowed a homosexual priest to take
a large parish in there diocese without a murmur. And that's a thorough
going evangelical diocese. That's far more inclusive than what Dixon is
doing in the Diocese of Washington, DC to an Anglo-Catholic rector.

Evangelicals and orthodox Episcopalians have condemned homosexual
behavior and well they should. And if anybody should understand that it
is Spong. It was he who ordained the first avowed non-celibate
homosexual priest when he was Bishop of Newark, and that same priest,
J. Robert Williams later died of AIDS but not before he called Spong "a
racist, a sexist and a homophobe."

And what has homosexuality wrought in the Episcopal Church? Well, I'll
tell you. It has brought nothing but dissension, theological
lawlessness, moral relativity and will, in time, split the Church in
two. It has produced neither light nor joy, peace or tranquility. It
has become the lightning rod issue at Primatial gatherings, bickering
and broadsides in the House of Bishops and the Presiding Bishop has
openly declared a whole new theology called pluriformity to embrace it,
without a single layperson beginning to comprehend what he means by it.


And who is Jesus? According to Spong he is one in whom one "sees the
fullness of life, the totality of love and the absolute courage to be.
He is the meaning of God." Really.

None of these are biblical categories, they are the deconstructed
thoughts of a theologically bankrupt bishop. For Spong, Jesus does not
rise from the dead in bodily form, so he becomes an "idea" a "meaning."
Scripture says Jesus is both human and divine, the "light of the
world." He is the incarnate Son of God, Messiah, prophet, priest and
king, Savior and, above all, Lord - Lord of the universe and Lord of
our lives, not some vague "courage to be" whatever the blazes that
means. In stripping Jesus of his messiahship, Spong reduces Jesus to
little more than a superior Gandhi unable to save because Spong will no
longer have us believe in his atoning death, and being a sacrifice for
sin is a "barbarian" idea. An historical Jesus who is independent of
the Trinity lacks the divine authority to order our religious and moral
life. And Spong's Gnostic Jesus saves no one and nothing.


Spong picks up his idea of God as "ground of being" from existential
theologian Paul Tillich, it's not original to Spong. It's an old
sawhorse that died with Tillich a long time ago. When Tillich died one
wag suggested that he be buried in the ground of his own being. Spong
is trying to resurrect this old idea. Theistic categories no longer
suffice for Spong who wants to redefine the deity in terms that
corporate CEO's in New York office towers can apparently live with. One
can imagine Donald Trump announcing that God was really an extension of
his true self and then watching he and Spong going at it for first
place in the theos sweepstakes. Trump could announce the news from his
palm pilot and Spong could announce it on the Position. Com.


Spong says the Christian Faith teaches three things.

Firstly, all Christians believe that every life is holy, and here Spong
cites race, gender and sexuality issues. He says "the church is
terribly mistaken to say black people are not part, that Jewish people
are evil, that gay and lesbian...etc.

This is a brilliant half truth. Of course we are all God's children, by
reason of creation. But we only become sons and daughters of God by
reason of redemption, something Spong does not want you to believe or
hear. That becomes too exclusive for him. Because if we do believe the
latter then we get back to the cross and redemption and Spong will have
none of that. Furthermore the vast majority of Blacks in America are
Evangelical Christians and they go to Baptist churches. (See recent
Gallup polls)

Secondly, to say, "that every life is infinitely loved by God" is to
state the obvious. Of
course every life is. But people sin and the Fall is very real, and
redemption is only
possible if we accept Christ's offer of salvation. Spong conveniently
ignores that.

Finally, Spong wants you to believe that every person is "called to be
all that person can be." This ignores self sacrifice, dying to oneself,
and, if everyone pursued this narcissistic, motivational 'be all you
can be', Dale Carnegie approach to life there would never have been a
missionary movement. And then to cap it off Spong says that being one's
fully realized self is to say "we believe in the Holy Spirit."

Now if the Holy Spirit can be reduced to being an extension of our
personalities, our "self" then we have serious problems. The Trinity is
no longer other; it is us. For Spong the Holy Spirit is therefore an
extension of ourselves, in which case Adolph Hitler lived a full,
meaningful, "all he could be" life and wiped out 20 million people. Who
could deny he lived fully? Brief, for sure, but fully. He realized his
dream, a unified Germany and the slaughter of Jews and anyone else he
didn't like. A World War I corporal, he failed to get into art school,
murdered a family member and then became "fully realized" by forming
the Nazi Party. The end result was death.

Finally Spong argues that the real heresy of the church is to assume
that the "explanation of the experience of God" is eternal. For Spong
only the "experience of God," not the way I explain that experience is

This is Spong's way of saying that man's experience of God can only be
validated existentially, in the moment. That the way the prophets of
old experienced God, how Jesus and the Apostles experienced God was
true for them then, but is no longer valid now.

Spong would like you to believe that their experience of God has been
canceled or nullified by more progressive understandings of God. So if
Lesbitransgays experience God in their behavior that is valid for them
and we have no business saying otherwise. That is heresy, he says. All
experiences of God become self-validating and can never be cross-
referenced, argued against or brought into the revelation light of

Spong's god, like Spong himself is the revelation of a post-modern mind
free of all historical moorings with history, Scripture, and the church
should now be defined to suit contemporary mores and scientism. But the
old adage is true; he who weds himself to the age soon becomes its


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