Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The passing of John Shelby Spong at 90

“God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don't think my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.”

That's a favorite quote attributed (accurately) to the Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong, who died at home in Richmond, Virginia, on Sunday at the age of 90.

This is not an original concept --- it's as old as Christianity itself. Others have expressed it many times in many ways. Desmond Tutu, for example, wrote a book entitled "God Is Not a Christian" in 2011. 

But the Rev. Mr. Spong, who gained his rather grand title by serving from 1979 until 2000 as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, used some version of it many times as he became one of the leading lights of what sometimes is called progressive Christianity during the last 50 years or so. Opponents of course branded him then (and still) as heretic.

He was at the forefront of many moves in a church tangled up in orthodox mythology to open doors to the disenfranchised --- overcoming early in his priesthood the racism instilled in him as a child of the South (North Carolina).

He went on to champion women, particularly women who saw no reason why they shouldn't be ordained, and LGBTQ+ folks who might otherwise have just dismissed Christianity as irrelevant and gotten on with life.

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