January 26, 1998
The Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. George L. Carey
Archbishop of Canterbury
Lambeth Palace, London SE1 7JU
Thank you for your letter dated December 30, 1997, but not received until January 14, 1998. I appreciated its moderate tone. Had you suggested that the Kuala Lumpur statement, when it was made public, was intemperate, and had your own comments while in this country been other than what they were, perhaps there would have been no need for what you appear to have interpreted as a confrontation. But the silence about the outrages of the Kuala Lumpur statement, coupled with your own rhetoric while in America, made me feel that something needed to be said to give some perspective to the debate that is before the Church.
I have now had two exchanges with Bishop Peter Lee of South Africa that indicate the possibility that someone is listening. I rejoice in that.
My hope is to come out of Lambeth without new negativity being heaped upon the gay and lesbian population by an insensitive and poorly informed ecclesiastical hierarchy. I do not regard the Lambeth Conference as a place where much more than damage control can be practiced. This will be my third Lambeth. My sense is that historically we have been primarily a reactive group, not a proactive group. We do not tend to chart the future, but rather to respond to the past. I particularly deplore evangelical zeal which in my experience, is hardly ever informed by competent scholarship. These people seem to me to march to the beat of a drummer in another century. The Church of England News as a representative evangelical publication, is probably the worst and most irresponsible ecclesiastical newspaper that I have ever read. It is also embarrassingly naive.
I believe that the best way to handle the issue of homosexuality at Lambeth would be to have two major speeches - one to reflect the mentality present in the Kuala Lumpur statement (I regret dignifying that mentality, but I see no way to avoid it), and one to reflect the modern consensus that homosexuality is a given, not a chosen and should be related to like left-handedness which we once persecuted or skin pigmentation which we once enslaved or segregated.
After the two presentations (and the second one, if it is to have credibility, must be given by someone in whom the recognized gay and lesbian church groups, such as Integrity and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, have confidence), the issue could then be discussed in small groups where experiences could be shared. That is where real listening could occur. St. Martin's Press is publishing a book this summer called African Homosexualities that will prove quite enlightening to our African brothers in the Episcopacy. So would my correspondence from African gay and lesbian Christians if I were willing to share it, which I am not. Then we, as a conference, should agree on those aspects of this debate where there is agreement. Contrary to evangelical propaganda, that is a larger arena than most imagine. I think there would be widespread agreement, for example, on the need for justice and equal protection before the law for homosexual persons. No one favors gay bashing even though religious rhetoric frequently encourages it unwittingly. I think we would all also condemn as dehumanizing and therefore not Christian, promiscuous or predatory sexual behavior whether it is heterosexual or homosexual in nature. I know of no responsible voice in leadership circles of the Church who would not stand with traditionalists on this issue.
The places of disagreement would be over whether non-celibate gay and lesbian people who live in faithful, lifetime committed unions can be "wholesome examples to the flock of Christ" as our prayer book states is a qualification for priestly ordination. I have a priest in this diocese who has lived faithfully with his partner for 37 years. I honor him. He is a much loved and highly competent priest and everyone knows that he is a part of a gay couple. I have 30 out of the closet gay/lesbian couples among my 280 clergy. They serve this Church with integrity. This diocese covers some of America's worst ghettos. I would have to close much of our urban work without these clergy. They are willing to work in places where many heterosexual couples are not willing to go. I know many priests in the Church of England, some in high places, who live secretly and furtively with their partners in hiding. They are welcomed as priests by the Church, but their lives and the lives of their partners are terribly diminished by this dishonesty. Clandestine living is never wholesome. This is the place where integrity confronts stated principle. The Church so clearly tolerates this secretiveness privately while condemning what they tolerate publicly. That is even true in very conservative English dioceses like Chichester.
The other place of conflict would be in the Church's attitude toward blessing and recognizing gay/lesbian unions. My conviction is that we either bless these relationships, recognize them, and undergird them or by not doing so, encourage the very instability and promiscuity that we deplore. I don't understand a Church that believes it can tell people, who are not called to the vocation of celibacy which the Church has always honored, that they must nonetheless live the celibate life. We could never do that to heterosexual persons. I wonder why we think we can do that with homosexual persons. I wonder why we are surprised that promiscuity is widespread in the gay community when we, in fact, create it with condemnatory attitudes toward those who desire to form monogamous units. These are the issues that we will not agree on and these are, therefore, the issues that should be placed before a commission for future study. We should simply state that on these two issues there is deep division within our Communion. No effort to use this commission to prevent each communion from coming to its own conclusions should be allowed for two reasons. First, Lambeth has no such authority and second, that would violate the churches in Scotland, Canada and the United States where we are quite close to reaching a new consensus that is inclusive. Our communion has never moved in lockstep on any great social issue that has been before us. We will obviously not move in unison on this issue either.
Assuming that such a commission is appointed, its credibility will depend entirely on whether such organizations as the LGCM are consulted. I reread your Christmas letter. I agree with you that we must be prepared to listen to those with whom we disagree. I implore you to set that example, personally and concretely, by meeting with the leadership of Integrity and the LGCM about this issue as soon as possible and to do so publicly. They have experienced nothing but rejection from you. I am sure Integrity would send representatives to London to join LGCM representatives for a conversation with you. That action on your part would do more than anything I can think of to restore balance to the discussion.
Finally, I note your comment in your last letter on the use of scripture in this debate. I am not convinced at all by your argument. I call to your attention that scripture has been used in every great social conflict from the Magna Carta to the ordination of women to bless the status quo and to repress the new insights. I regard that use of the Bible as nothing more than irrelevant prejudice based on a view of scripture that has been effectively challenged by at least 100 years of biblical scholarship. Most evangelicals seem to be blissfully ignorant of that scholarship. Please be aware that scripture is still being used by what you call "theologians of the highest rank" to demonstrate the second class status of women and thus their unfitness to be priests and bishops of the Church. That is an improper use of scripture and the fact that John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger still employ it only indicates how out of touch with reality they are. Incidentally, using that approach to scripture Christians also condemned Galileo, supported slavery, opposed vaccinations, justified segregation and countered Darwin. That is hardly a record that creates confidence in an approach that people cling to even in high places until it embarrasses the cause of Christ.
I send you my best wishes for a good year and Lambeth Conference that will not compromise the Gospel we are called to proclaim.
John S. Spong, Bishop
February 19, 1998
The Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. George L. Carey
Archbishop of Canterbury
Lambeth Palace, London SE1 7JU
Thank you for your letter. I do regret, however, that you continue to choose to attack me personally rather than looking at whether there is any validity to what I say.
I grew up, as you did, in evangelical circles. I, too, used various texts from Holy Scripture to justify my prejudices. I, like you, broke from that mentality first in the struggle for civil rights for black Americans and secondly, in the struggle for full equality for women in the life of the Church. I also proceeded to allow my prejudice against homosexual persons to be confronted both by experience and by the spirit of the Gospel. It is this step which I do not see you making.
Let me illustrate that. You have taken leadership which I greatly admire in England's debate to open ordination to women. I do not believe that would have occurred, given the Church of England's peculiar voting system, without your active engagement of this issue. The Church of England made what I believe are egregious compromises; e.g. flying bishops, payments to those who left, etc., to preserve unity. That has had the effect of institutional- izing and validating this dying male chauvinism, and will keep the battle going for several generations yet to come. The Church of England has also not completed the cycle by consecrating women to the Episcopacy. However, I am confident you will achieve this step during your primacy, even though you appear willing to offend women and violate the unity of the Church in your effort not to offend traditionalists.
During the debate about women, every point of view that you now offer to defend your stance against homosexual persons was employed by those who opposed the ordination of women. Please look at your words spoken to the people at the Virginia Theological Seminary. If you change all of your references from homosexual persons to women, then you might understand why your words come over as so harsh and rejecting to gay people. Surely you could say that you have searched the Bible and nowhere do you find biblical authority for women being ordained. Indeed, there are specific texts which state categorically that women are to be quiet in church and to exercise no authority over men. You could further argue that women, biblically, are not on a par with men. They are ordered to obey, for example. Then there is the biblical issue of polygamy. Is sex with one of a man's many concubines sex inside marriage as either you or I would define marriage? Given these realities, how credible is it for anyone to seek to make the literal words of the Bible a place to solve today's complex issues?
We also once argued that black people were not on a par with white people. That was a specious argument then and we are embarrassed to remember how often Christians used it in these ancient battles. I want us to recognize that these arguments are no more valid today when applied to gay and lesbian people than they were when we applied them to blacks or women. The only difference is that our conscience as a Church has now been formed on black people and women. It is still being formed on gay and lesbian people. The rhetoric being used by well-meaning but ill-informed people is painful to major elements of the body of Christ today and will be an embarrassment to all of the body of Christ tomorrow. The role of leadership that you possess is to be used to call the Church to move graciously into its dynamic future. It is not to articulate the dying prejudices of the past. Leadership also does not sacrifice truth to the idol of ecclesiastical well-being or unity.
I am sorry that you do not think well of having a meeting with the acknowledged leaders of the Lesbian Gay Christian Movement and Integrity. Yes, I understand the constraints of your diary, but you and I both know that we have time to do the things we value and to which we are committed. Your use of that excuse only magnifies that fact.
I have talked to Richard Kirker who denies that he has ever been invited to lunch with you and Rowan Williams, nor did he ever have lunch with you on any other occasion. You and Richard need to determine where the truth lies. I only suggest that for you to urge bishops to come to Lambeth ready to listen to whose with whom they disagree has a very hollow sound if you are not willing to meet with authentic gay leaders in the L.G.C.M.
I have gathered from many sources newspaper quotations of your various visits to the United States. Some of them appear quite insensitive and hostile to gay and lesbian people. I found one, however, which revealed a different quality in you. I would like to call this one anew to your memory and to ask you to meditate on the message it communicated. It was published in The Los Angeles Times on May 27, 1996.
"I'm struggling," Carey admitted to the Pasadena audience. "I don't want to be heard as someone who rejects others. I want to be heard saying we have to live with questions, and if we're going to travel with the questions, then I must also travel to listen to the experiences of others - and it may be that I would have to change my mind - or others would have to change their minds.
"Some of the homosexual priests are among the very best clergy so there needs to be humility on both sides."
That is the response of one who is open to new revelation. It does not say "nowhere in the Bible do I find......" It does not say there is a hierarchy of values and gay people "are not on a par" with straight people. The person this quotation revealed should not have remained silent in the face of the abusive, uninformed Kuala Lumpur statement. For that silence had the effect of lending your support to that bit of ecclesiastical prejudice. Your quite critical response to my initial statement ("intemperate and hectoring") was an emotional and angry response, not the response of one who is willing to listen and to be in dialogue.
Finally, the Christian Church struggles today to articulate a basis for ethics in a world where the external standards of the past, like the literal Ten Commandments and the literal Bible, can clearly no longer be held to be authoritative. I do not need to argue that statement, but simply to note that the tenth commandment lists wives among the "property of a neighbor not to be coveted." The wife is listed after the house and before the servants, the ox and the ass. The commandment against adultery was promulgated in a world that practiced polygamy, not monogamy. What does adultery mean to Solomon who owned 300 wives and 700 concubines? We have abandoned Sabbath day worship and replaced it with Sunday. The commandment about not killing does not embrace the birth control and abortion debates of our day, nor does it embrace our modern ability to continue life artificially long after meaningful existence has passed. The Bible, as I have noted previously in our correspondence, has been used to justify slavery, segregation, war, second class status for women and to oppose Galileo, Darwin, vaccinations and many other now-abandoned causes.
So when we today dare to speak ethically on critical modern issues we must do more than quote ancient authorities whose integrity has been compromised. When I explore these questions, I come to the conclusion that truth is, in fact, an ultimate good. Ignorance is, therefore, an ultimate evil. Not to recognize the difference or to encourage the continuation of ignorance in place of truth becomes itself evil. For example, we now know that skin pigmentation is the result of the body's adaptation to the sun. It has nothing to do with worth, intelligence or any other intrinsic human quality. So to use skin pigmentation as a basis for judgment of one's ultimate human worth is both objective ignorance and objective evil. In the same manner, to understand that left-handedness is the result of the way the brain is organized and carries with it no moral judgement means that we have to say that the persecution of left-handed people for centuries by Christians in the western world was both ignorant and evil. For Christian leaders today not to avail themselves of the sea change of knowledge in our understanding of the reality and the causality of homosexuality and to continue to act out of the ignorant and prejudiced mentality of yesterday is to be guilty of a massive evil. The knowledge is available. Not to know of it or not to agree with it simply no longer is an adequate excuse.
That is why I hope you will talk to those who know, that you will seek out medical and scientific authorities who have no ax to grind save to know the truth, and that you will speak out against the Bible-quoting ignorance that people use when they seek to justify their own prejudices and avoid the hard work of growing spiritually. That is the role of a true leader. It is not too late for you to claim that role and exercise that leadership. You did it in regard to the ordination of women. Please do it now in regard to the gay and lesbian issue.
I look forward to the Lambeth Conference. My prayer is that we will do no evil to those members of the human race who are still victimized by our ignorance and homophobia.
John S. Spong
Bishop of Newark
cc: The Primates
The Rev. Richard Kirker
Professor Louie Crew
Friends in Christ,
Both Spong and Griswold insist on saying, contrary to the evidence, which is easily available to anyone who wants to investigate it, that sexual orientations are a given. In Griswold's words reported from the Boston Glove (2/21):
" But it is important to realize, Griswold argued, that contemporary understanding of human sexuality is much more advanced than it was in Biblical times. A large body of scientific evidence has concluded that sexual orientation is innate, he said, not chosen. ''Scripture has to be put in its own historical, social context,'' Griswold said."
Yes, contemporary understanding of human sexuality is "more advanced" than it was back in the iron age (or whatever it was), but Frank Griswold does not show evidence of being up on it.
And Spong continues the same nonsense in his letter to the ABC:
"...the modern consensus that homosexuality is a given, not a chosen and should be related to like left-handedness which we once persecuted or skin pigmentation which we once enslaved or segregated."
The alleged "modern consensus" does not exist, and both bishops either know that perfectly well, or they have no excuse for not knowing. Their ignorance is therefore self-imposed, which is what we call stupidity. *Not one* of the studies alleging determinative genetic or biological causation has survived peer review. I repeat: Not one of the studies has survived peer review.
It is bad enough to impose stupidity one oneself, but it is sinful and evil-minded to try to impose it on others, all the more so when the life and health of so many are at stake. And, if there is ever an honest debate on the matter and an honest assessment of what the Biblical relation is to "modern science", and if some "peers" will show up who have both the knowledge and the courage to bring the matter candidly to the fore and to force the honest confrontation, neither Spong or Griswold will survive peer review either.
I suppose we can excuse Griswold, since he does not believe in objective truth to begin with. So he can say anything at all and be "legitimate". But Spong at least portrays himself as scientific, logical, and interested in the evidence. He is in fact lost in his own foggy bottom of.... whatever.
This mess is illustrated by Spong's manipulative use of Scripture:
"You could further argue that women, biblically, are not on a par with men. They are ordered to obey, for example. Then there is the biblical issue of polygamy. Is sex with one of a man's many concubines sex inside marriage as either you or I would define marriage? Given these realities, how credible is it for anyone to seek to make the literal words of the Bible a place to solve today's complex issues?"
Spong protests that he loves and studies Scripture, but you will work hard and long to get him to quote any piece of Scripture whatsoever. If he does, then he will have to defend why he chooses *that* passage over any other. What does he study if not particular passages? What does he believe, if not particular beliefs? And if so, why will he not tell us what they are?
And when you look for what he in fact relies upon for his evidence (read it in his books and correspondence), it is always some warmed-over, long out-dated, view of ideologically secularized (not objective) science. The evidence of his own words shows that the man is not interested in either honest science or Biblical truth (which are in fact in no conflict whatsoever). And, as any person of such caliber, should be discounted as a participant in the discussion.
The truth is that he holds Scripture, our covenant with God, and indeed the whole Biblical worldview in contempt. If you ask him, "Is there anything specific at all that you find of value in Scripture?" he dares not answer for then he will also be guilty of taking that terrible "literal" meaning of Scripture. So he has painted himself right out of the Biblical room. Either he comes up with specific passages of Scripture that form the basis of his thinking, and explains why *those* passages, or he loses all reasonable right to say that he loves the Bible or indeed to be called a Christian at all.
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