Barbara Karkabi in the Houston Chronical:
The retired Episcopalian bishop worked hard to extricate himself from that mindset, but still calls himself a “recovering racist.”
While at the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va., Spong made his first black friend. His name was John Walker and he later became the first African-American bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (including D.C. and several countyies in Maryland).
Through Walker and others, Spong became involved in the civil rights movement. As the Bishop of Newark, Spong became an advocate of gay rights and feminism, consecrating the first openly gay priest.
Spong retired in 2000, but continues to write and lecture about rethinking Christian beliefs. His most recent book is Jesus for the Non-Religious(HarperOne; $14.95.) Spong was in Houston recently for a lecture sponsored by the Foundation for Contemporary Theology and talked to Chronicle reporter Barbara Karkabi.
Q: You call yourself a “God intoxicated non-religious man.” What does that mean?
A: Religion to me is a system of thought that makes some assumptions I can’t make any longer. I live in the space age and I have taken a course on the history of the universe. So I understand that the God we worship is too small to fit into that dimension of space. The God feeling is always evolving.
Q: You talk of reordering Christianity. How can we do that?
A: I think you have to live it. I don’t think you can set out a blueprint, I think it’s a daily thing. The older I get, the more I’m convinced that it has to do with becoming more deeply and fully human. The real mistake religion makes is to say that you are supposed to become religious. I think you are supposed to become more human.
Q: So you don’t believe Jesus is the son of God?
A: Well, I wouldn’t say it that way because I believe I meet God in Jesus. I think that Jesus was so completely and fully human that all that God is can flow through him without interruption. What made Jesus different, I couldn’t tell you. But I believe those around him were trying to say: ‘We’ve met something in Jesus that we didn’t think could ever have happened in human life.’ ”
Q: What about denominations?
A: Denominations will die because they don’t make a lot of sense in our world. My mother was a Presbyterian because her ancestors came from Scotland. My father was Episcopalian because his ancestors came from England. If you are Roman Catholic your ancestors came from Ireland, Italy or southern Europe. Those differences don’t make much sense in this world.
Q: So what’s next?
A: A post-denomin-ational world. I think some of the most exciting things are going on in the Methodist church and the United Church of Christ and some splinter movements. Are you familiar with Unity? It’s a small church with a big idea. They believe in affirming life, which is very much on my ideological wave length. Jesus is very important, it’s specifically Christian, but with a new emphasis.