Thursday, August 21, 2014

Enter the Trenches: A response to a cynic

by John Shelby Spong

The following is Spong’s response to John, a man who is “freaked out” by fundamentalist Christian “fan clubs.” Spong’s answer resonates with me, personally.

I do not recognize Jesus in the claims of some of those who purport to speak for him. Through the ages, the church in both its Catholic and Evangelical Protestant forms has been anti-Semitic, anti-Moslem, anti-women, anti-gay and racist. The Christian Church has carried out the Crusades, the Inquisition, endorsed slavery, resisted desegregation, advocated an inferior identity for women and people of color, called homosexual people deviant, evil and depraved, when the only “sin” of the homosexual was, we now know, to be born with a sexual orientation different from the majority.

What you, John, do not seem to understand, however, is that the Christian Church has also raised up within itself visionary voices that bear witness to unpopular truths that eventually have forced institutional change.

Abraham Lincoln, while never comfortable in church, read the Bible daily and that Bible informed his commitment to end slavery and to issue the “Emancipation Proclamation.” The Civil Rights movement was a movement led by Christian clergy of all denominations, first as courageous minority voices, but ultimately achieving a majority status. I remind you that Martin Luther King, Jr. was the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and that his homiletical genius was born in a deep engagement with Holy Scripture. The church also inspired and raised up the voices of women from Mary Magdalene to Julian of Norwich to Joan of Arc to Dorothy Day to Rosemary Ruether, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza to Nancy Wittig to Barbara Harris to Katharine Jefferts-Schori. These women first challenged and ultimately defeated institutional sexism.

No, that battle is not over. Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox Christians will not yet ordain women, but inevitably they will and sooner than their hierarchies now think! The Church of England has finally run out of delaying tactics and will open the bishop’s office to women very soon. There will be no turning back on this.

The battle for gay rights, gay acceptance and gay justice has been fought inside the structures of the Christian Church as well as outside it. Great pioneers like Fr. John J. McNeill in the Roman Catholic Church, Louie Crew and the Rev. Robert Williams, the Rev. Barry Stopfel, The Rev David Norgard, The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, The Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool, The Very Rev. Tracy Lind and countless others in the Episcopal Church have not only challenged, but in some cases, have overcome and defeated the homophobia of institutional Christianity.
The followers of Elvis Presley have never raised up minority voices to purge and to purify their movement.

The Bible asserts time and again that Christianity is called to be a minority movement, but always affecting the majority. We are told in the New Testament to be the leaven in the dough that causes the bread to rise, to be the salt in the soup that gives it flavor and to be the light in the darkness that will not be extinguished.

I am a Christian, not because I am proud of the history of institutional Christianity, but because I believe that minority Christian voices can and do purge institutional Christianity of its excesses and of its life-diminishing prejudices.

You seem to have some sense of who this revolutionary person called Jesus is that we Christians follow. I invite you to cease standing outside ecclesiastical structures as an external critic and to come inside, enter the trenches where the battles are being fought and make a difference.


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