This year, Bishop John Shelby Spong continued the Endowment for Religious Understanding speaker series established by the Class of 1952. Bishop Spong spoke with students about accepting people, regardless of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. He explained to students that the Bible is sometimes used to dissuade that acceptance, including in Bishop Spong’s own childhood experience. A retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, Bishop Spong is known as a theologian, religious commentator and author.
Growing up in the 1930s in North Carolina, Bishop Spong says, “I listened as my home church quoted from the Bible to justify segregation of African Americans, to justify treating women as second-class citizens, and to justify anti-Semitism. It also taught me to become homophobic.”
Bishop Spong credits the Civil Rights Movement as triggering his lifelong personal journey toward changing the way he thought about people different from himself, without turning away from the Bible, a book that he treasures.
“With all these misuses of the Bible, why would anyone bother with such a book?” asked Bishop Spong. “The Bible is an evolving story. It’s the story of the rise of human consciousness. I see God as the source of life, so the only way we can worship God is by living fully and by being all that we are capable of being. The more fully I can be myself, the more fully you can be yourself.”
Bishop Spong’s books include Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, A New Christianity for a New World, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, and Here I Stand.
The Endowed Speaker for Religious Understanding has brought renowned religious thinkers to campus since 2002, and provided a forum for discussing the diverse faiths practiced in our country and around the world.