A Manifesto by John Shelby Spong

A Manifesto! The Time Has Come!

Our Hero

Our Hero

John Shelby Spong

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. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is “an abomination to God,” about how homosexuality is a “chosen lifestyle,” or about how through prayer and “spiritual counseling” homosexual persons can be “cured.” Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy. I will no longer dignify by listening to the thoughts of those who advocate “reparative therapy,” as if homosexual persons are somehow broken and need to be repaired. I will no longer talk to those who believe that the unity of the church can or should be achieved by rejecting the presence of, or at least at the expense of, gay and lesbian people. I will no longer take the time to refute the unlearned and undocumentable claims of certain world religious leaders who call homosexuality “deviant.” I will no longer listen to that pious sentimentality that certain Christian leaders continue to employ, which suggests some version of that strange and overtly dishonest phrase that “we love the sinner but hate the sin.” That statement is, I have concluded, nothing more than a self-serving lie designed to cover the fact that these people hate homosexual persons and fear homosexuality itself, but somehow know that hatred is incompatible with the Christ they claim to profess, so they adopt this face-saving and absolutely false statement. I will no longer temper my understanding of truth in order to pretend that I have even a tiny smidgen of respect for the appalling negativity that continues to emanate from religious circles where the church has for centuries conveniently perfumed its ongoing prejudices against blacks, Jews, women and homosexual persons with what it assumes is “high-sounding, pious rhetoric.” The day for that mentality has quite simply come to an end for me. I will personally neither tolerate it nor listen to it any longer. The world has moved on, leaving these elements of the Christian Church that cannot adjust to new knowledge or a new consciousness lost in a sea of their own irrelevance. They no longer talk to anyone but themselves. I will no longer seek to slow down the witness to inclusiveness by pretending that there is some middle ground between prejudice and oppression. There isn’t. Justice postponed is justice denied. That can be a resting place no longer for anyone. An old civil rights song proclaimed that the only choice awaiting those who cannot adjust to a new understanding was to “Roll on over or we’ll roll on over you!” Time waits for no one.

I will particularly ignore those members of my own Episcopal Church who seek to break away from this body to form a “new church,” claiming that this new and bigoted instrument alone now represents the Anglican Communion. Such a new ecclesiastical body is designed to allow these pathetic human beings, who are so deeply locked into a world that no longer exists, to form a community in which they can continue to hate gay people, distort gay people with their hopeless rhetoric and to be part of a religious fellowship in which they can continue to feel justified in their homophobic prejudices for the rest of their tortured lives. Church unity can never be a virtue that is preserved by allowing injustice, oppression and psychological tyranny to go unchallenged.

In my personal life, I will no longer listen to televised debates conducted by “fair-minded” channels that seek to give “both sides” of this issue “equal time.” I am aware that these stations no longer give equal time to the advocates of treating women as if they are the property of men or to the advocates of reinstating either segregation or slavery, despite the fact that when these evil institutions were coming to an end the Bible was still being quoted frequently on each of these subjects. It is time for the media to announce that there are no longer two sides to the issue of full humanity for gay and lesbian people. There is no way that justice for homosexual people can be compromised any longer.

I will no longer act as if the Papal office is to be respected if the present occupant of that office is either not willing or not able to inform and educate himself on public issues on which he dares to speak with embarrassing ineptitude. I will no longer be respectful of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems to believe that rude behavior, intolerance and even killing prejudice is somehow acceptable, so long as it comes from third-world religious leaders, who more than anything else reveal in themselves the price that colonial oppression has required of the minds and hearts of so many of our world’s population. I see no way that ignorance and truth can be placed side by side, nor do I believe that evil is somehow less evil if the Bible is quoted to justify it. I will dismiss as unworthy of any more of my attention the wild, false and uninformed opinions of such would-be religious leaders as Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Albert Mohler, and Robert Duncan. My country and my church have both already spent too much time, energy and money trying to accommodate these backward points of view when they are no longer even tolerable.

I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced holy by the church. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” will be dismantled as the policy of our armed forces. We will and we must learn that equality of citizenship is not something that should ever be submitted to a referendum. Equality under and before the law is a solemn promise conveyed to all our citizens in the Constitution itself. Can any of us imagine having a public referendum on whether slavery should continue, whether segregation should be dismantled, whether voting privileges should be offered to women? The time has come for politicians to stop hiding behind unjust laws that they themselves helped to enact, and to abandon that convenient shield of demanding a vote on the rights of full citizenship because they do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy, which this nation has, and a “mobocracy,” which this nation rejected when it adopted its constitution. We do not put the civil rights of a minority to the vote of a plebiscite.

I will also no longer act as if I need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church. No one should ever again be forced to submit the privilege of citizenship in this nation or membership in the Christian Church to the will of a majority vote.

The battle in both our culture and our church to rid our souls of this dying prejudice is finished. A new consciousness has arisen. A decision has quite clearly been made. Inequality for gay and lesbian people is no longer a debatable issue in either church or state. Therefore, I will from this moment on refuse to dignify the continued public expression of ignorant prejudice by engaging it. I do not tolerate racism or sexism any longer. From this moment on, I will no longer tolerate our culture’s various forms of homophobia. I do not care who it is who articulates these attitudes or who tries to make them sound holy with religious jargon.

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.

Life moves on. As the poet James Russell Lowell once put it more than a century ago: “New occasions teach new duties, Time makes ancient good uncouth.” I am ready now to claim the victory. I will from now on assume it and live into it. I am unwilling to argue about it or to discuss it as if there are two equally valid, competing positions any longer. The day for that mentality has simply gone forever.

This is my manifesto and my creed. I proclaim it today. I invite others to join me in this public declaration. I believe that such a public outpouring will help cleanse both the church and this nation of its own distorting past. It will restore integrity and honor to both church and state. It will signal that a new day has dawned and we are ready not just to embrace it, but also to rejoice in it and to celebrate it.

– John Shelby Spong, Retired Episcopal Bishop

23 Responses

  1. Hi Mel,

    Thanks so much for posting this piece! And thanks to John S. Spong for writing it! Here’s to the new day and a revolution in thinking. I’m so glad you have this site.

  2. James Schwindt

    I live in rural Montana…well, nearly all of Montana is rural ;o). I’m tempted to print out a couple of copies of this manifesto and nail it to the front doors of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall and the local Mormon Church…a la Martin Luther. But I’d probably get arrested by those wonderful and loving “christians” for defacing their property. Jim Schwindt

  3. Rev. Stefan M. Jonasson

    Bishop Spong forgot one important thing, namely: Amen! So it remains for those of us who support him in this manifesto to pronounce the “amen” by living according to the ethic he has invited us to uphold. James Schwindt’s comparison of this manifesto to Martin Luther’s theses is apt and we must find the courage to pursue this affirmation of human dignity with the same dedication and conviction with which the great reformers of the past sought to transform the world.

  4. Randi Reitan

    Dear Mel …. I thought of you when I first read it and was not suprised to see you had it posted. Thank you to Rev. Spong for speaking the truth so boldly. Now how should the rest of us who feel this way speak out?

  5. Sherri Murrell

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I have just become aware that an issue has arisen in my small town Presbyterian Church about whether or not to allow a homosexual couple to be married in our church. This has confirmed by instinct to voice clearly to the members of our session (local church governing party) that the only answer can be yes!

  6. Donn Murray

    How absolutely wonderful to read Bishop Spong’s words. To me, the true meaning of Christianity. Being a pastors son and active in the church as an organist, my only choice was to leave my family and church. At 72, I feel free. Thank you to Bishop Spong and to Mel White for your work.

  7. Thank you.
    We are in the midst of a battle for our students with the start of a gay straight alliance group in the high school.
    There is too much to tell but your manifesto and creed are a great comfort to me now. We used to be so loved and now despised because we openly have said we accept and affirm our GLBTQ friends.

  8. Richard H. Pulley, III

    I am so glad that Bishop Spong has spoken this for all of us. Having grown up in Virginia I know that the church lied about race for as long as it could. I know that the church has been an instrument in repressing women, and even treating children and teenagers as an underclass. Praise the Lord for Jack Spong!

    In the 1960’s I came to believe that if the church was wrong about race and it treatment of women and children, then it must be wrong about sexual orientation.

    I probably should mention out that I am a lifelong church member, am presently an elder in my church, have taught children’s and adult Sunday School, served as deacon and on church committees and boards. I took religion in college and keep up still. One of our children is a professional clergyperson and another was a religion major and attended seminary. Finally, one can be Christian and progressive. Perhaps progressive is what being Chirstian is.

  9. Nancye

    Thanks Mel for posting this. I thought for a minute you had written it! This embodies so well the feelings of many who have had enough of debate and parrying with the ignorance of those who refuse to listen

  10. Wow – everything I’ve truly felt and not been able to vocalize/verbalize for some reason. He’s so right! In every day discussions about trivial matters, we say things like “I’m not even going to justify that statement with a response.” And yet, with issues as fundamental as equality for ALL, and basic human rights, we’ve been engaging with people who make ‘arguments’ that shouldn’t even be justified with responses. I absolutely love this Manifesto, and I plan to pass this link along. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  11. Axel

    I found this manifesto and this site by accident. Maybe God lead me to it. Thank you so much for posting this. I feel like there is hope in my life again.

  12. Axel,
    I am so glad you stumbled across my website. It is always such a reassuring blessing to know that God still works to send us peace in this life.

    If you have the time, check out soulforce.org
    I think there you will find even more answers to the questions you are seeking out.
    Peace and luck my new friend,

  13. Dear Bishop Spong & Mel,

    Thank you for writing this manifesto & posting it here. It reminded me of a saying on my Soulforce t-shirt from Cleveland in 2000: The Debate Must End. The manifesto is very articulate in that it says what you will and will not do without attacking other faiths. For me, the most important piece is not giving equal media time to both “sides”. You are absolutely right: today we would not permit this for segregation or women’s voting rights.

    Thank you for being the brave visionary God has called you to be.

    Peace & Love,

  14. Julia

    I can not believe I’ve never seen this article! Thanks to Anne Rice for posting a link to it on her Facebook page, and thank you sooooo much Mr. Spong for writing this wonderful manifesto, and to Mr. White for posting it. I am delighted to read it, and have passed it on (and will continue to pass it on).

  15. I’m so glad someone in the church called it all out…I for one have always felt that because I was gay that I didn’t belong in a lot of churches for some of these same reasons he mentions, I was always able to “READ”, all the hypocrites. Being around so many made me realize that I would never possibly find a church I believed in. Even some GAY or Non-denominational churches still had other prejudices.. Jesus died for all of us and I’m sure GOD’s plan didn’t include that we HATE ANYONE. By the grace of GOD, I feel that John Spong speaks these words from Him the ALL MIGHTY. We should all embrace them and take head to what he says. With Love to All My Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

  16. David Hicks

    Thank you for publishing this, and God bless you Bishop Spong for espousing several facts including one that I’ve been trying to throw out there to the fundy’s that I ain’t broken so you can’t fix me. Thank you for standing up for the LBGT community and for speaking out what others are too chicken to approach!

  17. Rev. Renee L TenEyck

    Bravo brave people! Sometimes doing what’s right is not the popular thing, but if we all stand together, we can create a beautiful world!

  18. Carmel Ryan

    I recently went into a local catholic church and was compelled to write in the book where you asked the Lord to help you, your family etc. I asked the Lord to help the church to see the errors of it ways. To allow people to be able to “fall in love” with whom they like as Jesus is the embodiment of Love. To see that cebilacy does not work and the church should bankrupt itself in an act of contrition for all the harm that has been done to the children in its care. And to see that women are an atribute and not second class citizens and have an equal footing to their male counterparts.

    It is an out dated and extremely detrimental to those deeply religous, pious parishers.

    I ache in my heart with such saddness and cannot return to this church until it has acted correctly on these basic humanitarian rights. The Lord must be so dismayed at what the church is doing….let us pray they will do the right thing so that others may follow suit

  19. Joseph

    You know, you have a point, in that ‘man’ has caused all this confusion and created a deviant version of what is right and wrong and it has made the word of God a muddled mess and they have twisted all that God has given to us. But that is the point. It is man’s ideas of what God says, wants or accepts or does not accept that is the issue. Your opinions and experiences are based on what we all have grown up hearing and we, much like all things man gets his hands on, is muddled and clouded. BUT GOD’S VERSION AND GOD’s WORD IS PURE AND UNCHANGING. Once you accept what God has given and follow Him with your heart, you will see things as God intended, and you will leave all questions, dishonor, and confusions behind. You will be devoid of man’s influence and see the light. You are wrong in everyway. Repent and you shall, for once, be enlightened. Repent and ask God to forgive you for taking from His word………for God shall take from you as much………Shalom.

  20. Jason Focken

    “Joseph,” who posted on April 30th 2012, makes some interesting assumptions. Now, to be clear: He has made some assumptions about God, as do I and the next person. However, the difference between me and Joseph is that I do not write in all capital letters to cover up my assumptions. Unlike Joseph, I am able to acknowlege the possibility that my assumptions regarding God are incorrect (My conclusion stems from him using all capital letters to justify his assumptions about God to, I believe, somehow convince people that his assumptions about God are not assumptions. That did not work. Not with me.). So please interpret that however way one wants to.

    Now, Joseph says that God is unchanging. Ok… Well, what makes him assume that to be the case? I mean… God is God. Right? There are many philosophers, theologians, historians, and other similar fields throughout human history who made assumptions about God and have used the most sophisticated argumentation to justify that their assumptions are correct. However, what needs to be made clear is that human beings’ various personal and cultural assumptions about God are just that… assumptions! The real God could be a woman, for example, or have no gender whatsover. Right? Too deep? I know Joseph… Still, at least I have the courage to acknowlege these possibilities and not to assume that my assumptions about God are correct. So please step off of your high horse!

    Scripture does not count as evidence that one does not make assumptions about God. Ok? ALL scriptures from throughout the world were created by human beings, and that is not an assumption. After all, if God wrote anything, it would not be on paper. Ok? Even paper is a relatively new invention when one compares that to how long human beings have been on this planet (I promise you that human beings have been on the Earth for much longer than 6,000 years.).

    Even the notion that Yahweh is the correct God to worship, when compared to all the other Gods throughout human history and various cultural interpretations about God throughout the world, is an assumption. Of all the various cultural understandings and interpretations of God throughout the world, the God named Yahweh is somehow the correct God to worship? Of all cultures throughout the world, somehow the Hebrews were the only culture in human history who had it right regarding God interpretation? Wow! Why is that? Considering that roughly 25% of the entire human race believe that Yahweh is the true God, perhaps that is because whoever created the social and cultural assumptions, proselytizing as it were, that Yahweh is the true God over all other Gods and Godesses in human history did a mighty fine job indeed. However, their efforts did not diminish the fact that Yahweh could very well be the wrong God to worship.

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