The Bishop’s Manifesto: “I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone.”

Bishop John Shelby Spong sets the example: 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.

Read the entire manifesto at Walking With Integrity, it’s worth your 5-7 minutes. Also, for sections like this:

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.


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Riese

Riese is the 40-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in California. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

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34 Comments

  1. Wow i hope EVERY Christian who still uses archaic, mistranslated biblical passages to hate us will read this, let the veil drop for a second, and actually THINK about the lives they affect when they say such hateful things. this bishop is definitely hope we can count on!

  2. thank you for making me believe in the faith I was raised with again.

    though I can’t speak for every member of my family, I’ve always had a hard time understanding how christianity could be about anything else than sharing and integrating.

    the hard part about the “love thy neighbour”-aspect of this religion is not loving the people who are similar to oneself, but moving out of one’s comfort zone and trying to love the people you disagree with initially.
    noone ever said it would be easy.

  3. I have a lot of respect for what this guy is doing. It’s apparent that he’s carefully considered this whole thing, and such articulate words could be useful to others.

    There is an unfortunate addendum to all of this, which is that the Bible clearly does condemn homosexuality. A while back I actually began reading the Bible to see what all the hullabaloo was about, and it really is completely unambiguous on this point. This isn’t a problem for me, because I don’t believe in Christianity, but in order to say that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality, you really have to do some pretty impressive interpretation gymnastics.

    It also says other wonderful stuff, like that if you have a venereal disease, the appropriate course of action is to take two doves to a priest so he can sacrifice them, or that if you want to sell your brother into slavery, it is acceptable to do so as long as you follow certain guidelines. After reading Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and the Book of Matthew, I decided that life is only so long, and I couldn’t waste any more time reading this drivel.

    I understand that Christianity means a lot to a lot of people, and I can’t judge other people’s belief systems. But reading the Bible was a revelatory experience that put an end to my cherry picking with Christianity. Anyhow, to each her own.

    • Well…..yes there are a few places in the bible where it seems that homogayness is completely condemned, however…

      The story of Sodom and Gomorroh(?) in Genesis has been used to condemn homosexuality over the years but many scholars, Christian and non-Christian alike, have stated that this story in fact condemns rape and to a lesser degree being inhospitable to strangers. Also, these stories are not meant to be taken literally, but symbolically…after all Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt at the end of this story!!

      The Book of Leviticus condemns everything!!! Most of what was written in Leviticus was rules and orders about things ranging from a woman having her period to what kind of food one was allowed to eat. These rules were intended for a specific people at a specific time (Jewish), mostly to distinguish them from pagans and gentiles who lived beside them. While it does clearly state in Leviticus that man should not lie with another man as he does with a woman blah blah blah, I think the point that the bishop was trying to make is that this rule/law is not relevant for today’s society anymore than is the rule that you should not wear clothes made of two different materials.

      With regards to the passage in Corinthians, again, scholars believe that this had been misinterpreted, or even translated incorrectly. The word homosexual didnt exist when this text was written, yet it appears in many bibles today. So while it may seem clear cut that the bible does in fact condemn homosexuality, that is not necessarily the case.

      (Also, St. Paul, who never met Jesus, wrote Corinthians. The writers of Genesis and Leviticus never met Jesus either for that matter).

      I’m pleased with what this bishop has said and hope that more religious leaders who feel this way would publicly state the same!

      • I wish more people knew that the term ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’ weren’t coined until 1890 (or 1892? I forget, somewhere around there). That alone puts some things in perspective, at least it did for me when I first learned about it – it seems so impossible currently to think that the term is roughly only a century old!

        Sorry, just a random thought that came up while reading your post. :)

        • Isn’t it wild that these terms/identities didn’t come into existence until very recently (by human history standards)??

          I feel like we should just do away with these terms altogether..it’s just getting too confusing. Live and let live is what I say. Human sexuality is beautiful in its defiance.

    • Well kids, have at it for yourselves. Here’s a few online versions of the Bible:

      http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-International-Version-NIV-Bible/

      http://www.bartleby.com/108/

      http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/index.shtml

      For my own part, to say that all that nonsense could be attributed to variations in translation and interpretation . . . it just wouldn’t add up. And if the parts of the Bible I haven’t read contain info that sheds unexpected light on this, then I’m at fault. But as I say, you make up your own mind.

      As for John Shelby, he’s questioning, and that’s always a good thing.

      • I think the idea that simply reading the Bible in whatever modern language translation yourself answers the question is, frankly, audacious. There is a reason that scholars have devoted their lives to producing volumes of work and teachings to understand and interpret these texts: they are not cut and dried and obvious to the modern reader be the subject homosexuality, the role of women, creation, etc.

        This is not to say that an individual reading can’t produce insight, but rather that we must engage in further discussion and reading to gain fuller perspectives. This is a document written centuries ago in a language and culture very different from our own.

        Context matters beyond simply saying “Homosexuality is okay now”. It matters in how the words and actions were interpreted by the people these stories were written for in the first place.

        For example, many read Sodom and Gomorrah as not a tale of the evils of homosexuality, but as a warning against transgressions of hospitality laws and condemnation of gang rape. This is not simply a modernist, pro-gay interpretation. In fact, a significant Muslim scholar interpreted the Koranic version of the story as a lesson in hospitality and treatment of foreigners in the middle ages.

        http://www.jesusmcc.org/resource/notasin.html
        is a good start for beginning to consider the origins of these passages and what the words and stories might have meant at the time. These conclusions are certainly not 100% in what the authors meant either. But they shouldn’t be written off just because a face-value reading of a modern translation doesn’t immediately produce the same conclusion.

        More generally…

        http://christiangays.com/marriage/marble_line.shtml

        is another inspiring writing to read from my college town’s Episcopal minister. He celebrates gay marriages and is generally wonderfully liberal and articulate and just nice. Also, I enjoy his blog http://lowellsblog.blogspot.com because unlike Bishop Spong’s site it never asked for my credit card. :/

  4. Really well thought out and expressed. Things like this give me hope. The other day, I went and visited an old school friend’s Facebook page. When I left the high school we both attended in 2006, to move interstate, my Muslim friend said to me, ‘Anna, I support LGBT rights’. This was when we were 15 years old. During that year I had been struggling with coming out and talked a lot about gay rights (as you do when you are trying to test people’s reactions) while saying I was straight. Deep down, I thought they probably knew though. On her Facebook profile I noticed that it says ‘I support all people, and that includes LGBT people’. I cried. For about ten minutes, I cried. To be able to see someone of faith (and a faith that historically doesn’t have a very seasoned gay rights movement) who I am a friend of…to know that I had that sort of impact on someone. That feeling is almost indescribable. While I’m sure quite a few other people in her life have also influenced her feelings, to know that a young Muslim woman has the same attitude to sexuality as the young Republicans at the Republican Youth conference last yr (who booed a homophobe who complained about a gay republican group being there) gives me a lot of hope.

  5. Amen! John Shelby Spong is an amazing human being and an example to people of faith in all walks of life on how to be a genuine follower of Christ. Through his writing, he has become my spiritual mentor and allowed me to remain a spiritual person while keeping a good conscience. I had the wonderful opportunity to hear him speak last year about homophobia within Christianity at an event sponsored by PFLAG of Michigan. He is just as genuine and open-hearted in person. Thank you for posting this again and calling attention to those “believers in exile” (as Spongs identifies himself) who are fighting for an inclusive faith. I highly recommend reading some of his other works. Of particular interest: Why Christianity Must Change or Die (a challenge to the church), The Sins of the Scripture (in which he dissects “terrible texts” and provides illuminating commentary including a speculation on the homosexuality of Paul), and Living in Sin: A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality. This quote from Why Christianity Must Change or Die describes Spong’s non-theistic understanding of God. “God is life, we say, and we worship this God by living fully. God is love, we say, and we worship this God by loving wastefully. God is Being, we say, and we worship this God by having to courage to be all that we can be.” Hopefully this doesn’t sound like I’m trying to convert anyone ( I personally identify as a non-theist). I was just so pleased to see Spong’s powerful words given a voice on this site and wanted to contribute some further context for them. :)

  6. ohmygosh. he has a brain. he uses it and everything! this makes me so, so, so happy. atm, I don’t really know where I stand on religion. I was raised in a Christian household, but I’ve been having lots of issues w/ that lately considering all the crap coming out of the extreme right wing of the Church’s supposed ‘ministry’. lots and lots of issues. this makes me hopeful.

    • I’m not done. I still have feelings. Lots of them actually.

      I’ve always wanted to know why these extremists seem to constantly throw out “God hates…” The God I learned about in Sunday School didn’t hate. I don’t think, in terms of Christianity, that it is possible for God to hate. However, I’m learning as of late that while I assume everyone around me uses logic, I’m very sadly mistaken about that. A lot of people don’t think at all. I’m not suggesting you need to think all the time, but a large percentage of the time, you should be using the brain in your head.

  7. On the one hand I think, this guy is great and good for Christianity.

    On the other, I still feel like Christianity imposes it’s beliefs on Western society. Because even if Christians ignore passages about homosexuality being a sin, heterosexuality is still has a privileged position. Being silent on homosexuality while promoting heterosexuality isn’t exactly equal either.

    Growing up Christian, what tortured me was not knowing the way forward when I realized I wasn’t at all attracted to men. And just like, the message that if you fuck up you’re going to end up in a firey hell. That’s some scary shit for a 12 year old.

    So, after a lot of soul searching my thinking evolved. This book can’t be the only way. I still hold that many of the things Christ taught were good ideas. But I don’t believe Christ is the son of God, nor do I believe in virgin births, resurrection, heaven, hell or any afterlife. If they could just stop with the whole “everyone is going to get judged whether or not you’re a believer,” I would be content with a truce.

    • “I still feel like Christianity imposes it’s beliefs on Western society.”

      As a godless heathen who comes from a long line of godless heathens, I’ve always experienced this imposition as rude in the extreme.

      As a wee child, starting school in a largely catholic neighborhood, the other kids took it upon themselves to inform me that I would go to hell since I didn’t go to church. Not entirely sure what hell was, I thought I should run it by my mother, since these kids thought the issue important enough to get up in my face about it. Her world-weary response was, “Don’t worry, honey, hell is here on earth.”

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