Bishop John Shelby Spong
Interview, for community radio program Queer Radio, recorded prior to the Stonewall Service,
Bishop Spong had addressed a large group in the city's
You can hear this entire 8 minute 30 second interview as a 2mb mp3 at: http://www.queerradio.org/BishopSpong240601.mp3
Interview by John Frame
for Queer Radio and 4ZZZfm,
Bishop John Shelby Spong, youíre here visiting
Bishop John Shelby Spong:
I think thatís right. I think Jesus is rather controversial Ė remember they put him to death for his witness.
I donít understand how one can be a Christian and discriminate against anybody Ė and yet in the history of the Church weíve discriminated against people of colour; weíve discriminated against mentally-ill people; weíve discriminated against left handed people; weíve discriminated against women and weíre still discriminating against gay and lesbian people, and my hope is that we can strike a blow for freedom and not allow that to happen. That is not in touch with who the God I meet in Jesus is.
And I must say that when I come to
And when I hear homophobic statements
coming out of my own Church, the Anglican Church - particularly in the
So I want to come to a gay community and say that thereís another part of the Anglican Church that is not tied up in that homophobia Ė that accepts the words that Jesus spoke that invite everybody to come unto him just as they are - and thatís a witness that I hope to make.
It does make you controversial in those closed and conservative Church circles.
Itís been suggested to me that the number of people within the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church who wonít accept gay men or lesbians as part of their community, is actually quite small Ė and that thereís an encouragement for those to stay with their Churches and weather it out. Would you encourage that?
Well, I think you always do better to work from within than from outside, and I think thatís the only way institutions ever change. The fact is that there are a large number of gay people in the priesthood of the Catholic and Anglican Church Ė many of them closeted and many of them quite homophobic in their public stances. I find that intolerable, but I still think thatís one of the things that we have to do: - Iím not in favour of "outing" people, I think people have the right to announce who they are, in whatever way they wish. But I must tell you that when people use their closets as a place to attack other gay and lesbian people, I think that they are treading on very thin ice.
Youíve recently released a book as well, and thatís part of the reason you are here: ĖWhatís that book particularly aimed at?
The book is entitled "Here I Stand:
My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love and Equality" and
itís basically an autobiography. Itís my personal story. I grew up in an
evangelical Anglican church, in a southern part of the
Now thatís what Christianity looked like to me when I was a child, and it was interesting that every time one of these prejudices was being discussed, the Bible was quoted to prove that the prejudice was right. So you have to fight against this attitude, and then you have to fight against the Bible being quoted to support these prejudices.
The story of my life is the story of how I
came out of a segregated world to the honour of being
named Public Enemy Number1 by the Ku Klux Klan in
And I also came from being a very "male chauvinist" to supporting women in every area of the Churchís life, and Iím very proud that my branch of the Anglican Church today has nine women bishops and more than 50% of our future clergy, studying for the priesthood today are women. So that battle is over.
And Iím very proud that Iíve led my Church into a new understanding of Jewish-Christian relations and I hope into a better understanding of how to appreciate Buddhists and Hindus and Moslems and all the great religions of the world.
When I retired as the Bishop of Newark,
just last year, 35 of my clergy were out-of-the-closet gay and lesbian priests,
31 of them lived openly with their partners Ė and Iíve yet to have a complaint.
And I think weíve won that battle too, in the
I ordained the first gay man - who was open
and honest about being a gay man - and who lived openly with a partner, in
1989. There was enormous negative reaction around the world, but we set about
to change the attitude and weíve changed that attitude. There are gay clergy
who are very open in the
We have gay clergy all over the Church today, but theyíre not all honest, and I would bet that in the history of the Christian faith, more than fifty per cent of all the ordained people Ė popes, cardinals, archbishops, priests, pastors Ė I would bet that more than fifty per cent of them have been gay men.
That could be an indication also of those people being caring and nurturing, perhaps.
I think that theyíve made an enormous contribution to the life of the Church and I think that the Church ought to honour that and wake up, and stop denigrating it. We still have groups, connected with churches, that say they are in the business of changing gay people Ė so that they will become heterosexual. Thereís not a bit of scientific data to support that point of view, and I think thatís fraudulent. I think that what theyíre really doing is treading on the prejudices of others and the fears of people.
You know, when you grow up gay in our society, you grow up knowing that you are looked down upon by the society, condemned by the society, feared by the society. And so the desire to be someone whoís not going to be looked down on, beat up, feared or whatever is powerful and for a church to play on that!
You know, we used to tie the hands of little children behind their backs, so theyíd grow up to be normal right-handed people. We didnít understand the variety of humanity. Thatís what the Church needs to recognise, and I think the time has come for us to say that those organisations need to be scrutinised by authorities, so that their claims can be validated or dismissed. I see no evidence that gay and lesbian people can be changed or ought to be changed. Itís part of Godís creation. We donít try to change left-handed people anymore; we ought not to try to change homosexual people.
I remember when a program was being done on
me, in the
Thank you very much Bishop Spong.
Itís a pleasure to be with you.