A Manifesto! The Time Has Come!

Originally published October 15, 2009 on http://johnshelbyspong.com

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

Review & Commentary

  • http://johnjustthinking.com John Carver, Ph.D.

    I’m a secular humanist who’s followed you for some time, taking pleasure that a rare Christianity spokesperson dares to renounce the superstition and arrogance common to religious dogma. I’ve agreed that your defense of Christianity, in your words quoted from atheist friends, is “putting lipstick on a corpse,” but your moral courage to save some ethical remnants of the creed gives me great hope. Thanks for this manifesto. It truly thrills me and invites an optimism I seldom feel for religions to becme sources for ethics instead of escapist fantasy.

  • Bozo2U

    “They no longer talk to anyone but themselves”, as have you!
    Your face looks as if you were around in the 1970s when the Psychiatric/Psychological Associations declassified this personality disorder from the DSM III, thus opening the Pandora’s Box via the legal system. So in one generation homosexuality has gone from a “sickness” to “law” and it is all based upon BEHAVIOR!! A woman, a person of color, a disabled person, the aged, have issues that on the face of it may be identified, however this “civil right” has nothing discernible except what is claimed. And what is claimed is based on “feelings” and, as stated, behavior which is not the purview of employment nor the public square. We agree, screaming does none good. We also agree that love between people of the same sex has been celebrated throughout the millennia by all types of cultures; what has not been celebrated is sex between the same genders and, for the most part, outside of marriage. The characterization of those who disagree with you is a straw man argument as we don’t hate the homosexual PERSON, simply the sin; and as we are all sinners and recognize that turning our lives around is mostly a full time activity, we will judge the behavior and pray for the sinner.

  • Dr. Kevin B. ORR

    It is difficult to say anything to someone who has closed his mind.
    All he says about the acceptance of homosexuality may be true but it still does not stop me from being disgusted by the male version just as I would be if I found my infant son eating his faeces! (I believe I was found doing this in my bath!!) I like that quote, above, about the difference between same sex love and same sex sex.
    Of course this is not a religious issue any more than it is a health issue. It is neither and both! But what is the point of discussing it when the man won’t listen. I suppose his intellect can’t go on forever!!
    KBO 25/12/14 Sydney, Australia.

    • anakinmcfly

      @Kevin – being disgusted with something doesn’t make that something morally wrong, especially when it comes to sex. I am thoroughly disgusted, for instance, at the thought of my grandparents having sex. This does not mean they are doing something wrong, nor that I have the right to condemn them. No one is asking you to cease finding gay male sex disgusting (though on that note, does this mean you consider female homosexuality to be morally acceptable?). You’re a straight man. Of course the idea of sex with men repulses you, just as it does for lesbians, just as the idea of sex with women repulses gay men. Accepting homosexuality doesn’t mean thinking that it’s something you’d be okay with doing; that wouldn’t be acceptance, that would be being gay. It’s about understanding that for some people, the reverse is true, and the same disgust you feel is the same disgust a gay man feels when he’s pressured into dating, marrying or having sex with a woman.

  • Ed & Donna Tucker

    When I passed my required courses and the mandated exam needed to become an elementary school teacher in Chicago, I was warned that my updated methods and theories learned would be found threatening to older co-instructors. I was cautioned to be patient with my faculty cohorts as they needed to grow in our craft. Interestingly, I received the same cautions when I approached graduation from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (UMC} in 1964. So I was not surprised or overwhelmed with your approach to Scripture. Since then, I note that the domination’s leadership promotes lectionary preaching and warns ordained pastors against performing, or even participating in “gay weddings.” We’ve been cautioned that the presence of video and camera-phones might catch us smiling or rejoicing at events and celebrations involving LGBT persons. As you know one popular pastor was actually “defrocked” for performing the wedding of his gay son. Luckily, our Judicial Council has since reinstated his status.

  • Ian Cook

    Thank you John, I too have had enough of the so called debate where the conservatives don’t accept reasoned argument but continue in their predjudist and bigoted, uneducated ancient beliefs.
    These issues have long since been so clearly shown to be unacceptable in a community that believes in love and equality for all.
    I also believe the issues of the continuing creation of the universe over 13.6 billion years or so, the evolution of all life, and the truth of science, have similarly been decided and only further enhanced as time and new discoveries are made.
    This does not deny the presence of a God who is Love and life – but enhances the wonder and mystery which gives my life purpose.
    Ian Cook – Australia

  • http://trinity-stpeters.org rev trish cunningham

    Dear Bishop Spong:

    I’m glad that you are just saying “no” to the toxicity of too much interest in other people’s sex lives that has lowered the IQ of the Episcopal Church and obfuscated our mission to serve Christ in all. I particularly like what you write about the tribal chiefs/prelates who, together with the AoC form, a convincing argument to eradicate the Anglican Communion. However, this would be to “throw the baby out with the bath water.” Going forward, I would encourage you to spend more time with young people, the majority of whom have never known that sexual orientation is an issue to be discussed.

  • http://www.livingspiritunited.ca Johannes C den Boer

    Hallelujah! and Amen! I am going to nail this Manifesto to the (not wooden) door of our Church

  • Sandra Reuther

    Thank you for your enlightened article, may it change the hearts of many.

  • Michael Fleming

    Dear Bishop Spong: What a wonderful, courageous affirmation. I simply wish you would broaden your focus to include all of the transgender sisters and brothers in Christ who are enduring very much the same forms of discrimination and ignorance.

  • John Stewart Murray [ The Very Rev]

    Thank you John for saying out loud what so many of us say in our hearts.
    I have worked and spoken out for “grace to prevail”, for some 40 years, for the Gospel acceptance of all people as equal children of God and in particular gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, to guide my part of the Church of Jesus [the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand]. But at our last Assembly, in October 2014, a considerable number of our delegates walked out rather than face the challenge of the Gospel.
    It is time now no longer to be blackmailed by the plea to care for “our weaker brethren” and say to our leaders, opposition and exclusion is the denial of our faith and is simply wrong.
    [John Murray former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand]