Thoughts expressed at Kirwan Uniting Church Council of Ministry Meeting, 13 September 2021.
Bishop John “Jack” Shelby Spong died yesterday. May he rest in peace and rise in timeless glory. You will have heard and read about his supposed heterodoxy. He was not the antichrist of conservative fundamentalist infamy, nor the hero prophet of the new age, fêted and beloved by “progressives” (usually not-so-bright-or-celebrated as Spong, who fastened onto his iconoclastic coat-tails in hope that they would be thought so. The Uniting Church has its fair share of these wannabes). If you like, he was neither the Messiah nor a very naughty boy. Much of the stuff for which he was vilified by fundamentalists was really a rehashing of late 19thC biblical criticism, with a dash of his mid 20thC mentor, John Robinson. I don’t agree with many of his positions, but it’s a good thing to be challenged, to be made to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3.
However, he has a very good point to make about Jonah. “Jonah’s “sin,” … was that he dared to limit God’s definition of what is holy to his own definition of what is holy. He assumed that God had no ability to love beyond the boundaries of Jonah’s love.” This is expressed in the twelfth of Spong’s “12 points for Christian Reform”.
‘All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.’
Let’s paraphrase what God said to Jonah: “And should I not have concern for the great city of Townsville, in which there are more than a hundred and eighty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left … ?” Not one of those 180,000 is to be defined by any other descriptor than that God made them in his image and loves them. And that should be good enough for us.