John Shelby Spong has been no stranger to social conflict and controversy as reflected in the Episcopal Church, in other churches, and in religion in general. His life experiences and extensive education alerted him to the irrationality and evils of racism and sexism and the exclusion of large portions of the population from spiritual expression through the Church. His love of the Church, the Bible, and the Gospels impelled him to seek reconciliation and inclusion for all people with a focus on growth through open study, questioning, education, and debate rather than a traditional acceptance and enforcement of Church doctrine and interpretation. Instead of rejecting the Church, he has sought to bring it into the modern world.
Born in 1931 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Spong was baptized and raised in the Episcopal tradition in the segregated South. He experienced as a child the operative assumption of the correctness of racism and sexism, “blissfully ignorant of evil” and profiting from it. He also recognized the Church’s discomfort with anything sexual and its connection to racial issues of the times. His mother’s Christmas gift of a King James Bible started a “lifetime love affair with the Bible” and a thirst for biblical knowledge. Influenced by priest and role model Robert Crandall, Spong determined that the priesthood was the only possible career for him.
Spong graduated from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in 1952. By age twenty-one, he was married and a graduate student at the Virginia Theological Seminary. In 1955, he was ordained to the priesthood. In 1976, he became the eighth bishop of Newark, New Jersey. Numerous events in his young life would awaken his perceptions of the injustice of both racial and sexual prejudice. Although strongly committed to the Church and its precepts, Spong was influenced by a number of mentors, including Rector...
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