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by C. Stephen Evans
It is easy for believers in historic Christianity to be angry with John Shelby Spong, Episcopal bishop for the Diocese of Newark. His publisher's press releases proudly trumpet that his "name is virtually synonymous with the word controversy." He has publicly argued for the permissibility of sexual relations outside of marriage for both heterosexuals and homosexuals, maintaining that "sex outside of marriage can be holy and lifegiving in some circumstances." He has written a book that denies that Jesus was born of a virgin and another that denies that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. He has campaigned semi-successfully for the ordination of practicing homosexuals. He has lobbied hard for abortion rights on the grounds that abortion restrictions are oppressive to women.
Spong not only holds many positions that I find deeply mistaken and disturbing; he defends those positions in a grandstanding manner that produces understandable anger among his critics. Nevertheless, when I recently had a chance for public dialogue with the bishop, I found I could not summon up much righteous indignation. The overwhelming emotion I felt was compassion. I came to see Bishop Spong as a victim.
Please don't get me wrong. I am no fan of the way people compete for the status of "victim" in our society so as to evade responsibility for their actions and even to demand special status and compensation for past wrongs. I am no friend of the kind of pop psychology that eliminates personal responsibility.
I don't doubt that the bishop--like myself--has much to answer for. However, even while holding out for personal responsibility, there is a place for compassion and understanding.
Bishop Spong and I appeared jointly on a radio call-in talk show that emanates from Chicago, called The Dick Staub Show. (A rather interesting show, by the way; quite different from most of what passes for intelligent conversation on the radio.) We were there to publicize recent books each of us had authored on the ...