John Shelby Spong, 90, dies; Seeks to open the Episcopal Church
That year he ordained Robert Williams, an openly gay man, a priest. (Ellen Barrett, a lesbian, had been ordained some ten years earlier.) Bishop Spong understood the controversy he was creating – in fact, he invited every episcopal bishops across the country to attend.
Nine months later he was censored by his colleagues, but he continued to ordain gay and lesbian priests – at least 35 by the time he retired in 2000, he claimed, including Bishop Perry. . The church eventually followed his example: in 1996, an episcopal court ruled that homosexuality was not against its principles, and in 2015, the church recognized same-sex marriage.
While Bishop Spong’s stance on LGBTQ women and clergy has placed him on the edge of the mainstream, his theological views set him well outside. He taught that the gospels were to be seen as artistic interpretations of the life of Jesus, not literal accounts, and he called on Christians to reject ideas, like original sin, that could not be explained by science.
These views, even more than his social activism, have drawn millions of followers, as well as countless critics. Writing in National Review in 1988, William Murchison called Bishop Spong “the latest in a long line of The Right Reverend’s goofballs,” berating him for calling the church to lean towards modern society rather than the other way around. .
Traditionalists particularly disliked his blunt approach, which they said made dialogue difficult.
“He has always pushed the boundaries, indeed making it difficult for other points of view to coexist,” said Paul FM Zahl, a retired episcopal priest, in an interview. “You kind of felt like you were being told to grow up, that he was preaching an adult version of Christianity. “
Bishop Spong’s aggressive liberalism often got him in trouble. After a prominent Nigerian bishop attempted to exorcise the “homosexual demons” of a homosexual priest at an Anglican conference in 1998, Bishop Spong denounced African Anglicans as backward.