I just read the book ‘Here I Stand,’ by John Spong. I was given this book by a colleague who knew of my interest and identity within the ‘progressive Christianity’ community, and she thought I might enjoy a few words from this former Episcopalian Bishop.
Well, she was right. Bishop Spong shares a pretty detailed account of his life, from growing up in the Southern US, to his influences in theology and biblical scholarship, to his ultimate service and work within the diocese of Newark, and his continued struggle to raise awareness and rights for the oppressed and marginalized of society and the Christian tradition: African Americans, Jews, women, homosexuals, and others.
One statement in particular has haunted me a bit as I contemplate my role in ministry within the PC(USA), my presbytery, and my congregation. Spong writes, ‘…the church should meet the issues f our world head on and that truth was more important to me than church unity. Unity is a very secondary virtue. Faithfulness and integrity were primary.’
As I observe the power dynamics within my region, as I contemplate the actions of this year’s General Assembly, and as I re-visit this year’s Presbyterian Youth Triennium theme, ‘For Such a Time as This,’ I can’t help but debate the virtues of unity and faithfulness. Do they need to be separate from one another? Certainly not. But there are times when we are asked to take a stand for what we believe to be true, even at the risk of fracturing relationships and collegiality.
As I continue to envision a missional church for our world, I am forced to decide what must stay, and what must go in order for us to be more faithful to God who continues to do a new thing. And with these thoughts, I better understand my obligation to proclaim Christ’s radical love all who gather in his name, regardless of age, color, gender, legal status, ability, or any other category one would wish to apply to God’s children.
While this book only alludes to many of the theological and biblical stands that Bishop Spong has taken throughout his life, I am excited to continue to read his works, and to better understand the person behind the issues. And I think that might be the answer anyways: if we are able to see the person, the child of God behind each of these issues that we have been debating for decades now, our hearts may be open to God’s transforming love, an our minds open to shaping towards God’s kingdom.