Monday, August 13, 2007

On a Slow News Day....

I said to my wife this evening that this was clearly a slow day for news when I saw that the big hook for “MSNBC Live with Dan Abrams” was a special report on Scott Peterson, noted uxoricide. Granted, there was Karl Rove’s departure; but for a few of us resignation is not nearly so satisfying as arrest might have been. In any case, it was clearly a slow day.

By the same token, it seems to be a slow day in the Anglican world. The best bit: it seems that today Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney, has banned that liberal lightening rod, John Shelby Spong from speaking in any of the Anglican Churches of Sydney.

Now, it is certainly within his purview to do that. I’m certain, too, that virtually anything said by Bishop Spong would be challenged by Archbishop Jensen, however factual, on the principle that Bishop Spong’s objectionable statements must solidly discredit any otherwise unobjectionable statements he might make.

At the same time, I haven’t seen in any news item that any Anglican Church in Sydney had in fact expressed any interest in having Bishop Spong speak. News reports have him attending a conference at a United Church, and speaking at a Unitarian Church; but no interest from Sydney Anglicans. And that, of course, is really not surprising, is it? He has been invited by Archbishop Phillip Aspinall to preach in Brisbane's cathedral; but surely that's no reflection on Sydney.

I have read several of Bishop Spong’s books. I have had the same experience with each of those I have read. He begins with is a thorough examination of a particular issue in Scripture, including both sides of the issue. Next there is the same sort of examination in the history of the Church. There is a look at contemporary scholarship on the Scriptural record, and a look at contemporary scholarship on Church History. Next there is a review, as appropriate to the issue, of current academic, social, and scientific scholarship, followed by a review of how all these are playing out in the life of the Church at the time he writes. With each book I have read, I have found the work to this point thorough, fair, and balanced (at the very least in stating a wide variety of points of view and taking seriously folks with whom he disagrees).

And then, with each book I have read, he starts to talk about policy. That’s where, in many cases, he and I have come to disagreement. His scholarship was really quite good, and quite fair. His thoughts about what to do next were, I thought, wrong. Perhaps that’s why I read a few books, and didn’t go on to read more.

In a way, I feel sorry for Archbishop Jensen (with whom I disagree on many issues). There’s almost no way Bishop Spong could have come to town without Archbishop Jensen being asked about it; and yet just about anything the Archbishop might have said would only result in more headlines for Bishop Spong. At the same time, why ban a man from Sydney churches, when none, apparently, was foolish enough to extend such an invitation? Granted, Archbishop Aspinall did invite Bishop Spong to speak in Brisbane; but surely that would change nothing in Sydney. Surely there was some way to leave the responsibility with Archbishop Aspinall to explain why he did invite Bishop Spong, rather than with Archbishop Jensen to explain why he did not.

Well, of course, this will pass. I expect my Australian cousins will soon learn to ignore Bishop Spong just as most Americans – even Episcopalians – even progressive Episcopalians – do. This will turn out before long to be pretty much a teapot-sized tempest; but, then, I guess it is a slow news day….


jackfate said...

I wonder how many churches would pay much attention to Jesus himself if he were around today? How many invitations to speak would He get? He would challenge the system and structures of the church (and all religious systems) as well as society....a lot like Spong does. Questioning the status quo is not the popular thing to do.

A Voice of Sanity said...

Scott Peterson, noted uxoricide

Clever choice of word BUT wrong word. Scott Peterson had nothing to do with the abduction and death of his wife and child. In the US, once you are convicted in the media it is almost impossible to get a fair trial based on the actual evidence and Peterson certainly did NOT get a fair trial. To this day no one can point to any valid evidence that Scott had anything to do with the abduction and death of his wife - even the jurors cannot explain on what basis they voted for guilt. Given the preposterous hypothesis the prosecution offered, Scott's case is just another trial by hysteria.

The Odds
The Assumptions
The Voice of Sanity

Marshall said...


Duly noted. I've had something of the same thought. And I don't begrudge Bishop Spong challenging systems, including the Episcopal Church. As I said, I have found him to be a good scholar. Anyone I've met who worked for him has told me he was a fine pastor to his clergy, something that I value highly. I have heard him speak myself, and he is interesting.

At the same time, he has made some suggestions I don't think would work. The same is true of another theologian whose work has been important to me: Carter Heyward. Much of her work has been important in my ministry. She has also made some suggestions I don't think useful.

He has, I think, somewhat separated himself from the Episcopal Church, at least in his focus. I have the impression he is more active in his writing for a wider audience, and not specifically for Episcopal or Anglican readers. So, without judging its intrinsic value, his current work is not as relevant to me these days.

Marshall said...


I recognize your concern, and have looke at the web sites you link. You believe profoundly this is a false conviction, and you're working as hard as you can to argue for that.

Fair enough; false convictions do happen, and one is too many. I would no more wish to see a false conviction in this case than in any other. At the moment, he is convicted. If there is better evidence, I pray it will come to light, get a fair hearing, and lead to a just result.