Bishop JOHN SPONG has challenged the Christian world to debate

From: Rev Ed Hird[]
Sent: May 12, 1998 11:29 PM
Subject: An Open Letter to the Rt. Rev. John Spong and to the "Voice" Editor
Re: Call to New Reformation

In the May 1998 issue of the Diocese of Newark's "Voice", Bishop Spong issued an open invitation to debate the "core and content" of Christianity. We, of St. Michael's, Wayne, in the Diocese of Newark, accept this open invitation by initially responding with this open letter.

While Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud contributed much to modern thought, we do not accept them as sources of divine revelation. We also do not accept each individual word of scripture as being necessarily literally true ,in all instances. However, we do believe that "God inspired the human authors" and "God still speaks to us through the Bible." (Book of Common Prayer, p. 853).

The Bishop's description of traditional Christianity as "irrelevant " and as a "shrill fundamentalism" is one we reject. Likewise, we do not believe we fit his description of "mindless fundamentalism." We think, we read, we study, we discuss, and we pray. We are reasonably educated people and Episcopalians, whose lives have been transformed by the life changing grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, our personal Lord and Savior. God is not dead to us; nor is He the mere fabrication of our minds; nor is He only bound by human traditions passed down to us. We worship a God who still performs miracles today, and who responds to prayer, as we affirm that members of this parish have been supernaturally healed of broken bones, cancer, infertility, asthma, depression and other illnesses and infirmities.

Contrary to the Bishop's description of our church life as being characterized by "boredom," we are very excited and energized, and empowered by Jesus, who rose from the dead, and who is alive today. We celebrate a God who "invites all people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior" (from Resolution passed by Diocesan Convention, January, 1998).

Faithfully yours in Christ Jesus,
We the undersigned people of St. Michael's, Wayne,
An American Anglican Council Affiliate in the Diocese of Newark
John & Ellen Donnelly, Rectors


From: Rev Ed Hird[]
Sent: May 25, 1998 4:28 AM
Subject: Bishop John Howe Responds to the +Spong/+Lee Statement
May 22, 1998

The Rt. Rev’d Peter John Lee
Diocese of Christ the King
St. Peter’s Lodge
Box 1653
Rosettenville 2130, South Africa

a facsimile transmission 2711-435-2868

Dear Peter,

I have just read the statement you co-authored with Jack Spong on the subject of homosexuality, and I want to make several comments that I hope might be useful. I am grateful for the respectful tone of the paper, and I think it has some positive points. Thank you for offering it to us. I am certain your intentions in agreeing to this project were exactly as you have stated them: to try to help the Lambeth Conference avoid contention and possibly even schism. However, I fear you have been co-opted by a very deceptive strategy on the part of our colleague from Newark.

Even the title of the statement is problematic: "Catechesis" is immediately defined with an asterisk and a footnote, "a dialogue between believers." Given Jack’s very public posting of his "12 Theses" on the Internet last month, even many of those who have been somewhat sympathetic toward him on various issues are questioning whether he really is a "believer" in any recognizable Christian sense.

And that is the point he is so desperate to make. Not only is he a "believer," but he is the principal spokesman for one of two equally valid positions among believers.

The end result of Lambeth adopting anything like the paper you have written will be for it to recognize there are two legitimate perspectives, two equally acceptable orthodoxys. And if Jack can capture that concession he will have won the day.

Jack doesn’t need the bishops to declare his position the only truth. All he needs is for them to recognize it as one of two truths, and he will have defeated his opposition (for they contend there is but one truth, and that truth is not Jack Spong’s!)

I have a further problem with the paper. In stating the two positions, I think you have greatly oversimplified and ended up portraying the truly orthodox position as a straw man. For instance, you write, "If homosexuality is an evil activity chosen by morally depraved or mentally ill people and condemned by God, scripture and tradition…"

Wait a minute! I don’t know any bishops who would express their views in those terms! First of all, homosexuality is an orientation, not an activity. The orientation itself is apparently not consciously chosen, but there are many, many choices involved in its expression. Those homosexual persons who are attempting to live their lives as faithful Christians are certainly not morally depraved, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the decision to become sexually intimate is one that flouts the proscriptions of scripture.

Another for instance: in your first statement of agreement you say, "we believe that homosexual people are God’s children…" This, of course, is what our General Convention said back in 1979, and it is well intentioned, but desperately wrong. Not all homosexual persons are God’s children any more than all heterosexual persons are God’s children! "To all who received [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born…of God." (John 1:12, 13)

I know what you are trying to say here. Homosexual persons are loved by God, created for fellowship with him, and regardless of how they respond to it, they are the recipients of his grace. Jesus died for homosexual persons - just as he did for heterosexual persons. But, of course, it is equally true that homosexual Christians have the same obligation as heterosexual Christians to do all in their power to bring their lives into conformity with the teaching of scripture. In any case, we must be very careful not to use biblical language to make points that differ from the teaching of the Bible itself.

A third for instance is your statement that, "homosexuality is not amenable to change and…those who seek to force homosexual persons into heterosexual behavior [are] guilty of both fraudulent behavior and pastoral violence." I don’t know who is trying to "force" change upon someone else, but study after study has demonstrated that the orientation is amenable to change when there is a sufficiently high level of motivation. Masters and Johnson say the rate is as high as 65%. Politically incorrect or not, we must not ignore these studies.

I could go on analyzing the paper along these lines, but I hope this is enough to show you my concerns. The question is: what to do with them? I don’t know how much you will be involved in further shaping this paper before, or during Lambeth, or whether you will be part of the "continuing panel" you envision being appointed. But perhaps you might rethink your "side" of the argument with these concerns in mind.

I send these words with great respect and affection, and I am looking forward to being with you in less than two months.

Warmly in our Lord,

John W. Howe [Bishop of Central Florida]

Note from Ed Hird+: The +Spong/+Lee Statement, referred to, can be found at


From: (David L. Fisher)
Subject: Thank you.
Date: Mon, 18 May 1998 23:09:57 -0600 (CST)

Hi Tony:

Glad you see fit to put the Fellowship Article online. Thank-you.

I've just finished reading the article you posted from John Spong. No doubt a heretic. He assumes a modernist position and when taken to the extreme it is antithetical to the Gospel. I hope few will have an appetite for so poor a counterfeit. I fear otherwise.


David Fisher


From: Rev Ed Hird[]
Sent: May 29, 1998 1:19 AM
Subject: Presiding Bishop Maurice Sinclair Responds to the +Lee/+Spong Paper

Presiding Bishop Maurice Sinclair Responds to the +Lee/+Spong Paper

Rt. Rev. Peter John Lee,
St. Peter's Lodge,
Box 1653, Rosettenville 2130,
South Africa.
23rd May 1998

Dear Peter,

Greetings again from Salta.

Bishop John Spong has sent me a copy of the document that you have jointly signed. He has asked for my endorsement of it. I have written to tell him that I cannot support the proposal it contains and I want to explain to you my reasons for disquiet. In doing so I recognize the immense amount of energy, intelligence and good will you have invested in this initiative. Please don't feel that this is lightly dismissed.

My main disagreement with what you are proposing with Bishop Spong is that it involves placing side by side for equal consideration two positions which should certainly not be treated in this way. One is the historic teaching and practice of our Communion and the other is a deviation which has never in any province obtained canonical support and which has repeatedly involved the breaking of ordination vows. The only possible condition for recommending a wide ranging study commission on human sexuality would be an effective return to historic standards before such an exercise began. This isn't to set order against life, but to respect order which truly gives life.

My second objection to your joint proposal relates to the full extent of the ambitions of John Spong and advocates of gay-lesbian and feminist theologies. Bishop Spong has simultaneously declared these in his twelve theses and, I understand, in his book "Christianity must change or die". From another source I have traced the overall thrust of such writings in the paper I have sent you. I can only conclude that Bishop Spong is being tactical in what he has negotiated with you. He does not want a majority at Lambeth to reaffirm orthodoxy. The degree of moderation and the tone of what he has agreed is inconsistent with what he says elsewhere. It is clear that to placate this gentleman and those who share his views it will be necessary to abandon so many essentials that little that is recognizably Christian will be left.

Lastly I view as erosive rather than constructive the degree of ambiguity which your proposal for a study commission commits our Communion for the next ten years. For one thing it leaves the way open for those who are unilaterally breaking tradition to go on doing so, and in ways that subsequently are harder and more painful to reverse. The things that you recognise as irreconcilable we must choose between and not delegate to a commission an impossible task. Admittedly some Christians with certain cultural backgrounds have become conditioned to ambiguous belief and optional ethics. These may be tolerated and preferred to the scandal of particularity. They are however seen to be clearly and truly inadequate by those coming from other more physically challenging contexts. This is not to claim infallibility let alone omniscience for the conservatives. I am though invoking the spirit of Deuteronomy 29:29 so that what is revealed is passed on to our children and indeed the children of those who have yet to come to faith in Christ.

I remain convinced that it is the duty of the Lambeth bishops to vote through resolutions which will wisely reaffirm orthodox teaching and practice. We must do this not just to preserve an inheritance but to fully enter into its vital implications for the years ahead.

Since your letter with Bishop Spong is being given such a wide circulation, I am taking the liberty of copying to others this letter to you.

Yours in Christ,

Maurice Sinclair

Maurice Sinclair is Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America which includes the dioceses of Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, and Uruguay.


From: Rev Ed Hird[]
Sent: May 18, 1998 2:57 AM
Subject: Senior Canon of St. Paul's Cathedral, London, Speaks Out on Spong

From The Times, London, Monday 18 May, 1998



A SENIOR canon of St Paul's Cathedral sharply criticised a liberal Anglican bishop from the pulpit yesterday. Canon Michael Saward, treasurer of St Paul's, said the credibility of the Anglican Church was being challenged by the Right Rev John Spong, the Bishop of Newark in New Jersey.

That Canon Saward has spoken out against Bishop Spong indicates the concern in the Church. Conservative evangelicals have urged the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, to ban Bishop Spong from this summer's Lambeth conference.

The dispute comes after Bishop Spong's open denial of nearly every traditional Christian belief. In a list posted on the Internet, Bishop Spong rejects belief in God, dismisses the virgin birth and New Testament miracles, and describes the idea that Christ died sacrificially to save the world as "barbarian".

At evensong Canon Saward said Christians had spent centuries arguing about the Creed; some churches had expelled those who denied its teachings. "A Church's credibility is severely strained if it permits its teachers, clergy and especially bishops to deny the core of its beliefs publicly and without challenge."

Ruth Gledhill The Times London