Manifesto! The Time Has Come!

Powerful statement from John Shelby Spong, who was bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark for 24 years before his retirement in 2001.

Thursday October 15, 2009

I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is “an abomination to God,” about how homosexuality is a “chosen lifestyle,” or about how through prayer and “spiritual counseling” homosexual persons can be “cured.” Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy. I will no longer dignify by listening to the thoughts of those who advocate “reparative therapy,” as if homosexual persons are somehow broken and need to be repaired. I will no longer talk to those who believe that the unity of the church can or should be achieved by rejecting the presence of, or at least at the expense of, gay and lesbian people. I will no longer take the time to refute the unlearned and undocumentable claims of certain world religious leaders who call homosexuality “deviant.” I will no longer listen to that pious sentimentality that certain Christian leaders continue to employ, which suggests some version of that strange and overtly dishonest phrase that “we love the sinner but hate the sin.” That statement is, I have concluded, nothing more than a self-serving lie designed to cover the fact that these people hate homosexual persons and fear homosexuality itself, but somehow know that hatred is incompatible with the Christ they claim to profess, so they adopt this face-saving and absolutely false statement. I will no longer temper my understanding of truth in order to pretend that I have even a tiny smidgen of respect for the appalling negativity that continues to emanate from religious circles where the church has for centuries conveniently perfumed its ongoing prejudices against blacks, Jews, women and homosexual persons with what it assumes is “high-sounding, pious rhetoric.” The day for that mentality has quite simply come to an end for me. I will personally neither tolerate it nor listen to it any longer. The world has moved on, leaving these elements of the Christian Church that cannot adjust to new knowledge or a new consciousness lost in a sea of their own irrelevance. They no longer talk to anyone but themselves. I will no longer seek to slow down the witness to inclusiveness by pretending that there is some middle ground between prejudice and oppression. There isn’t. Justice postponed is justice denied. That can be a resting place no longer for anyone. An old civil rights song proclaimed that the only choice awaiting those who cannot adjust to a new understanding was to “Roll on over or we’ll roll on over you!” Time waits for no one.

I will particularly ignore those members of my own Episcopal Church who seek to break away from this body to form a “new church,” claiming that this new and bigoted instrument alone now represents the Anglican Communion. Such a new ecclesiastical body is designed to allow these pathetic human beings, who are so deeply locked into a world that no longer exists, to form a community in which they can continue to hate gay people, distort gay people with their hopeless rhetoric and to be part of a religious fellowship in which they can continue to feel justified in their homophobic prejudices for the rest of their tortured lives. Church unity can never be a virtue that is preserved by allowing injustice, oppression and psychological tyranny to go unchallenged.

In my personal life, I will no longer listen to televised debates conducted by “fair-minded” channels that seek to give “both sides” of this issue “equal time.” I am aware that these stations no longer give equal time to the advocates of treating women as if they are the property of men or to the advocates of reinstating either segregation or slavery, despite the fact that when these evil institutions were coming to an end the Bible was still being quoted frequently on each of these subjects. It is time for the media to announce that there are no longer two sides to the issue of full humanity for gay and lesbian people. There is no way that justice for homosexual people can be compromised any longer.

I will no longer act as if the Papal office is to be respected if the present occupant of that office is either not willing or not able to inform and educate himself on public issues on which he dares to speak with embarrassing ineptitude. I will no longer be respectful of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems to believe that rude behavior, intolerance and even killing prejudice is somehow acceptable, so long as it comes from third-world religious leaders, who more than anything else reveal in themselves the price that colonial oppression has required of the minds and hearts of so many of our world’s population. I see no way that ignorance and truth can be placed side by side, nor do I believe that evil is somehow less evil if the Bible is quoted to justify it. I will dismiss as unworthy of any more of my attention the wild, false and uninformed opinions of such would-be religious leaders as Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Albert Mohler, and Robert Duncan. My country and my church have both already spent too much time, energy and money trying to accommodate these backward points of view when they are no longer even tolerable.

I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced holy by the church. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” will be dismantled as the policy of our armed forces. We will and we must learn that equality of citizenship is not something that should ever be submitted to a referendum. Equality under and before the law is a solemn promise conveyed to all our citizens in the Constitution itself. Can any of us imagine having a public referendum on whether slavery should continue, whether segregation should be dismantled, whether voting privileges should be offered to women? The time has come for politicians to stop hiding behind unjust laws that they themselves helped to enact, and to abandon that convenient shield of demanding a vote on the rights of full citizenship because they do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy, which this nation has, and a “mobocracy,” which this nation rejected when it adopted its constitution. We do not put the civil rights of a minority to the vote of a plebiscite.

I will also no longer act as if I need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church. No one should ever again be forced to submit the privilege of citizenship in this nation or membership in the Christian Church to the will of a majority vote.

The battle in both our culture and our church to rid our souls of this dying prejudice is finished. A new consciousness has arisen. A decision has quite clearly been made. Inequality for gay and lesbian people is no longer a debatable issue in either church or state. Therefore, I will from this moment on refuse to dignify the continued public expression of ignorant prejudice by engaging it. I do not tolerate racism or sexism any longer. From this moment on, I will no longer tolerate our culture’s various forms of homophobia. I do not care who it is who articulates these attitudes or who tries to make them sound holy with religious jargon.

I have been part of this debate for years, but things do get settled and this issue is now settled for me. I do not debate any longer with members of the “Flat Earth Society” either. I do not debate with people who think we should treat epilepsy by casting demons out of the epileptic person; I do not waste time engaging those medical opinions that suggest that bleeding the patient might release the infection. I do not converse with people who think that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans as punishment for the sin of being the birthplace of Ellen DeGeneres or that the terrorists hit the United Sates on 9/11 because we tolerated homosexual people, abortions, feminism or the American Civil Liberties Union. I am tired of being embarrassed by so much of my church’s participation in causes that are quite unworthy of the Christ I serve or the God whose mystery and wonder I appreciate more each day. Indeed I feel the Christian Church should not only apologize, but do public penance for the way we have treated people of color, women, adherents of other religions and those we designated heretics, as well as gay and lesbian people.

Life moves on. As the poet James Russell Lowell once put it more than a century ago: “New occasions teach new duties, Time makes ancient good uncouth.” I am ready now to claim the victory. I will from now on assume it and live into it. I am unwilling to argue about it or to discuss it as if there are two equally valid, competing positions any longer. The day for that mentality has simply gone forever.

This is my manifesto and my creed. I proclaim it today. 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.

~ John Shelby Spong (http://johnshelbyspong.com/)

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27 Comments on “Manifesto! The Time Has Come!”


  1. Thank you for writing this! You gave me just the inspiration I needed at the just the time I needed it. God is surely amazing. XOXO

  2. Rev. Will McGarvey Says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Sonnie. It makes me wonder if enough of us ministers would go public – not just on our blogs, or congregations, but on the floor of presbytery – if we could change the conversation. Perhaps we are too silent in the fact that we won’t participate in the spiritual abuse of the ongoing conversations in their current form.

  3. Ted Seeber Says:

    And if the right wingers are correct, it will bring a whole new round of clergy abuse.

  4. Theresa James Says:

    Glad to have your manifesto out in the open and I hope you take all of your fellow homosexuals to whatever place, virtual or otherwise with you…. don’t lump blacks and women in your manifesto in the hopes of broadening your scope of influence. I don’t pretend to understand how so many exist today, except that we have lived in a very sexually promiscuous time… as far as I am concerned homosexuality begins in the dark, gets emboldened to the point that it wants to shove it down our throats… no pun intended. It is a sexually driven phenomonen and I really don’t have any personal interest in understanding how you all came about….. I have enough to do trying to make my own contribution in the world, being accountable for my own talents and gifts. Your status before God is between you and God; but I don’t think you should expect all of us to condone what you do….. if you believe you are right, go make your own country, your own church, your own society somewhere else…. stop forcing it on us!


    • Interesting that you seem to see this as MY manifesto when it is that of the Rev. John Shelby Spong…

      Theresa J, I could say a lot about your vitriol, but Jesus taught me to turn the other cheek, and my mom (and Thumper) taught me “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”

  5. John2 Says:

    Oh, dear! The boy bishop has fouled himself again. Time for this little man to wipe and flush.

  6. Marius Says:

    I don’t suppose you’re one of the Bishops for whom today’s Apostolic Constitution was published, no?

    On a serious note, I’m not sure exactly what demon possesses your mind, but you rant and rave like Satan himself. It’s best you repent, soon.

    In Christo Regnante,
    Marius

  7. Anonymous Says:

    It is quite amusing to read this rant. You, most definitly a left-winger, are doing the same thing as the right wingers. You state that you will no longer debate with right wingers and, by doing so, have “closed your mind” which I find very ironic from a liberal who is supposed to always have an “open mind”. Thank you for the good laugh.

  8. Sky Says:

    There is no great sin than to call evil good, or good evil.

    You are a very disturbed man, Mr. Spong.

  9. john shuck Says:

    Spong gets it right. Thanks for posting this.

  10. Michael Says:

    Let Him Be Accursed.


    • Accursed? Who talks like that? No matter, I guess, but the bottom line is that blessing and cursing is God’s job. Ours is to love God and to love our neighbor. ALL of our neighbors. Jesus said so.

  11. Warren Anderson Says:

    Wow – what a stupid rant. Holier-than-thou attitude? Anti-authority puerile mindset? Spong’s credo amounts to nothing more than “I’m right, you’re wrong – I have my fingers in my ears, I can’t hear you – lah lah laaah.” Spong should do himself a favour before he embarrasses himself further: take a vow of silence and spare us your venom, sir.

  12. Tyler Says:

    Thank you for this post and seeing someone just tell it like it is.


    • Tyler, I’m glad that you appreciate what he has to say.

      I don’t always agree with Spong, but he always makes me think. This time, though, he comes through exactly right. For me, personally, I will not debate the legitimacy of my life with anyone. I will share my own story, but I will not let someone else’s opinion of how I should live (or even if I shouldn’t live, but die because of their opinion) have any bearing on my life whatsoever.

  13. Timothy Says:

    I am delighted that “bishop” Spong is no longer listening. Now, if only he were no longer speaking! As the episcopal “church” continues to shrink (or “dialogue” with the world, as they call it) there will soon no longer be anyone reading (Spong at least).

  14. Bill Says:

    Sure a lot of ” I will …” . What one can hope is that he will listen more and speak less, just what he has said he will not do.

  15. Michael Sinclaire Says:

    After reading this miguided rant, a few quotes ran through my mind; on the subject of being inclusive:

    “Modernism is the synthesis of all heresy.”

    On the idea of changing with the times:

    “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.”

    On my feelings regarding the rant itself:

    “…it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

    Lastly, my feelings towards the person of “bishop” Spong:

    “Anathema sit!”

    Pax domine sit semper vobiscum.

  16. R.C. Says:

    I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I….

    Now there’s an outstanding model of Christian humility for you!

    But who would expect otherwise? Absent the Holy Spirit — who being something of a gentleman, isn’t usually going to insert Himself where He clearly isn’t wanted — what grace remains that can possibly draw a fallen human soul outside the confines of its own cramped little skull?

    A Christian would normally feel some slight obligation to defend the hope within him “with gentleness and reverence.” But perhaps that’s little to do with Mr. Spong.

    I wonder will the hosts of heaven be more saddened, or more amused, to watch Mr. Spong, standing before the pearly gates some decade hence, lecturing St. Peter on what Christianity was really all about?

    Really, one claiming a bishopric might also be expected to at least attempt to ape the qualifications for his post:

    * Teach and preach sound doctrine (1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:9)
    * Serve clothed in Christ-like humility (1 Peter 5:3-5)
    * Blameless as a steward of God; above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6-7)
    * Temperate, sober, vigilant, prudent, orderly, respectable (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8)
    * Not violent, not pugnacious (1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:7)
    * Patient, moderate, forbearing, gentle, not a brawler; uncontentious; not soon angry or quick tempered (1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:7)
    * Has a good rapport or reputation with outsiders (1 Timothy 3:7)
    * Not self-willed (Titus 1:7)
    * Self-Controlled (Titus 1:8)
    * Holy, devout (Titus 1:8)

    …but that’s a lot to ask for a human being to achieve on his own.

    It occurs to me there is one other relevant qualification for church leadership:

    * Not a novice; not a new convert (1 Timothy 3:6)

    Which may seem out-of-place as a criticism of Spong, but on further reflection, I think there’s something to it.

    After all, a novice may fully understand less of the Creeds than does Mr. Spong. But that novice probably believes a far higher percentage of content of the Creeds, than does Mr. Spong. So really, who’s the novice?


  17. If this means that you have taken the first step to stop leading Christians away, sir, I welcome that and congratulate you. It has been long overdue. Next step: please go away, and enjoy your retirement. Thanks!

    -Theo

  18. cathguy Says:

    Why all the ranting and raving? Are we really surprised by this? I am surprised Christian people at angry at “Bishop” Spong.

    Dr. Spong has stated publicly that he doesn’t think faith in Jesus matters for salvation, that Jesus probably never physically rose from the dead, that Jesus never founded a Church, etc. etc. etc.

    Given all of that, that means Dr. Spong rejects virtually every sentence of the Nicene Creed. And any thinking person knows what that means…. People… he isn’t a Christian. And he hasn’t been for quite some time. One of his favorite “Biblical” scholars is John Dominic Crossan! Spong is essentially an agnostic, serving as a “Bishop” in a denomination that broke from the Church centuries ago, and has been off the vine and dying since.

    What does he matter? Why the anger? He is irrelevant and has been for a very, very, very long time. People go to Church for a reason. Once a denomination begins just echoing the world and its values, people have no reason to go. The liberal episcopalian denomination is dying on… err… off the vine. No one in the pews. Why go? It has been dying off the vine since Henry VIII divorced his true wife and spilled the blood of countless Catholic martyrs in the process.

    No reason for anger. Just pray for this man and the people he misleads. He is ensnared by the culture of death, and needs our love and prayers.

    Really, no vitriol. It isn’t Christian, and Dr. Spong isn’t even relevant.

  19. Hythloday Says:

    The victory has been won? In the interest of empiricism, I want proof of that. I think the battle is far from over.

  20. AFW Says:

    Ah, Spong sure doesn’t sound like someone who has died to self so that Christ might live in him. Talk about wolves in shepherd’s clothing. Time to seriously pray for his soul, methinks.

  21. John2 Says:

    Hythloday,

    Empiricism is a philosophical perspective, so it has no interests. Nor will it help you out of the delusional trap into which (“I think”) you have fallen.

    To serve your personal interest, I tell you the reference is to the battle between good and evil, between the truth and lies, between right and wrong, a battle which is indeed over and decided.

  22. Margaret O Says:

    What about the smallest – the most vulnerable – the weakest of all humanity – the unborn baby. Will the good Bishop speak up for them?

  23. Malcolm McDonald Says:

    One of the greatest gifts we have in this lifetime is the astonishing diversity of humanity. Differences in sexuality should not be feared, but celebrated, as should differences in race, culture, religion, music, art, etc etc. It seems, however, many still fear such differences. Mr Spong, I sense, and share, your despair. Please maintain the rage, lest we fall into the past.


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