Transcript: Bishop John Shelby Spong on The Sins of Scripture | Jun 18, 2005

John Selby stands behind the pulpit in a church, facing an audience. He is in his seventies, clean-shaven and with short straight light brown hair. He wears glasses and religious garments.

John says THE TITLE
OF THIS BOOK IS A TITLE THAT
HARPER GAVE IT, "THE SINS OF
SCRIPTURE."

An image of the book pops up with the caption "University of Toronto Book Store."

The caption changes to "John Shelby Spong. Author of ‘The Sins of Scripture.' University of Toronto Bookstore Reading Series. Saint Barnabas Church, Toronto. April 28 2005."

John says IT'S THE
JUXTAPOSING OF TWO WORDS THAT
DON'T NORMALLY GET SPOKEN
TOGETHER.
ACTUALLY THEY DIDN'T LIKE MY
ORIGINAL TITLE.
MY TITLE WAS, "THE TERRIBLE
TEXTS OF THE BIBLE."
AND THEY SAID, WE LIVE IN SUCH
A SECULAR AGE, PEOPLE DON'T
KNOW WHAT A TEXT IS, SO YOU
CAN'T USE THAT.
[Audience Laughter]
AND SO,
AS USUAL, I ACQUIESCED IN
HARPER'S TITLE.
BUT I ALSO WANTED IT TO SHOW
HOW CHRISTIANITY HAS MOVED FROM
A TRIBAL RELIGION INTO WHAT I
HOPE CAN BE A UNIVERSAL FAITH.
WHAT I TRIED TO DO IN THIS
BOOK, WAS TO EXPOSE NOT JUST
THE DARK CHAPTERS OF CHRISTIAN
HISTORY, BUT THE SCRIPTURAL
BASIS FOR THOSE DARK CHAPTERS.
BECAUSE WE CHRISTIANS HAD
BELIEVED THAT WE HAD THE ONLY
TRUE FAITH, WE HAVE
SYSTEMATICALLY PERSECUTED OTHER
RELIGIONS THROUGHOUT OUR
LIFETIME, THROUGHOUT OUR
HISTORY.
YOU HAVE TO GO BACK TO THE 10th
AND 11th AND 12th CENTURIES TO
SEE WHERE ARMIES OF EUROPEAN
CHRISTIANS, PUT TOGETHER BY THE
VATICAN AND THE POPE INVADED
THE MIDDLE EAST AND SLAUGHTERED
THOUSANDS OF MUSLIMS.
AND WE DID IT BECAUSE WE
REGARDED THEM AS HAVING AN
INADEQUATE FAITH, EVEN A
DEMONISED FAITH.
IN 2001, MUSLIM FANATICS,
DECIDING THAT THEY HAD THE ONLY
TRUE FAITH, ATTACKED THE
WESTERN WORLD, ON 9-11, BECAUSE
WE WERE THE DEMON PEOPLE IN
THEIR MENTALITY.
THERE'S NOT MUCH DIFFERENCE.
WHENEVER ANY RELIGIOUS GROUP
DECIDES THAT THEY HAVE THE
TRUTH, THEY ALMOST INEVITABLY
MOVE TO PERSECUTE A RIVAL
RELIGIOUS TRADITION.
THERE'S ALSO THE TIME IN
CHRISTIAN HISTORY WHEN WE
BELIEVED ALL SICKNESS WAS SENT
BY GOD FOR PUNISHMENT.
SO EVERY TIME SOMEONE GOT SICK,
THEY ALSO HAD A GUILT TRIP LAID
ON THEM BECAUSE PEOPLE SAID,
WELL I WONDER WHAT HE DID
THAT'S SO TERRIBLE THAT GOD
STRUCK HIM DOWN WITH A HEART
ATTACK.
AND CHRISTIANITY, IN THOSE
EARLY YEARS, WAS ON THE OTHER
SIDE FROM WHERE CHRISTIANITY
SEEMED TO BE IN MY COUNTRY IN
THE TERRI SCHIAVO CASE.
IN 1801, THE PRESIDENT OF YALE
UNIVERSITY IN THE UNITED
STATES, WAS A PRESBYTERIAN
MINISTER NAMED TIMOTHY DWIGHT.
HE WAS PROBABLY THE BEST KNOWN
SPOKESMAN IN THE UNITED STATES
FOR RELIGION IN THE PUBLIC
ARENA.
AND IT WAS IN THAT VERY PERIOD
OF HISTORY THAT MEDICAL SCIENCE
WAS FINALLY DEVELOPING
SOMETHING CALLED VACCINATIONS.
AND TIMOTHY DWIGHT, IN THE NAME
OF HIS UNDERSTANDING OF
CHRISTIANITY, RAILED AGAINST
VACCINATIONS.
HIS ARGUMENT?
IF GOD HAD INTENDED FROM ALL
ETERNITY THAT YOU WOULD DIE OF
DIPHTHERIA, A VACCINATION WILL
THWART THE WILL OF GOD.
THAT WAS A SERIOUS ARGUMENT.
NOW WE QUOTE THE BIBLE TO SAY
YOU CANNOT REMOVE A FEEDING
TUBE PLACED INTO THE STOMACH OF
A WOMAN WHO'S BEEN BRAIN DEAD
FOR 15 YEARS, WITHOUT BEING
ANTI-RELIGIOUS.
IT'S INTERESTING HOW THE DEBATE
CHANGES OVER THE CENTURIES.
DURING CHRISTIAN HISTORY WE
HAVE PERSECUTED GAY AND LESBIAN
PEOPLE SO FREQUENTLY THAT THE
VERY NICKNAME BY WHICH WE
SLANDER GAY AND LESBIAN PEOPLE,
WHEN WE CALL THEM FAGGOTS, THAT
NICKNAME COMES FROM THE LITTLE
STICK THAT WAS USED TO IGNITE
THE FIRES THAT BURNED THE
HOMOSEXUALS AT THE STAKE IN
CHRISTIAN HISTORY.
AND WE BURNED SO MANY OF THEM,
THAT THE LITTLE LIGHTED STICK
BECAME A SYNONYM FOR THE
VICTIM.
I WONDER IF ANYBODY IN THE
CHRISTIAN TRADITION IS PROUD OF
THAT HERITAGE.
BUT JUST A FEW YEARS AGO, WHEN
A YOUNG GAY MAN NAMED MATTHEW
SHEPPARD, A WYOMING UNIVERSITY
STUDENT, WAS SET UPON BY A GANG
OF OLDER MEN, AND BEATEN UNTIL
UNCONSCIOUS AND LEFT ON A FENCE
POST IN RURAL WYOMING IN SUB-
FREEZING WEATHER UNTIL HE DIED,
WHEN THAT YOUNG MAN WAS BEING
BURIED, A BAPTIST PREACHER FROM
TOPEKA, KANSAS PICKETED THE
FUNERAL SERVICE WITH A SIGN
THAT SAID, "GOD SAID FAGS
SHOULD DIE, LEVITICUS 20."
WE HAVE TAKEN TEXTS OUT OF THE
BIBLE, AND WE HAVE USED THEM TO
DO INCREDIBLE EVIL TO A VERY
SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF PEOPLE.
AND LOOK AT WHAT WE'VE DONE TO
WOMEN.
SOMETIMES THE NEWEST GENERATION
OF WOMEN, WHO ARE ABLE TO DO
SUCH REMARKABLE THINGS, FORGET
WHAT THE PAST WAS.
WOMEN COULD NOT VOTE IN TUE
UNITED STATES UNTIL 1920.
I THINK IT WAS ABOUT THE SAME
TIME THAT WOMEN IN CANADA...
MAYBE YOU WERE AHEAD OF US, YOU
USUALLY ARE.
[Murmuring]
1920, WOMEN COULDN'T BE IN THE
CABINET OF OUR PRESIDENT UNTIL
1932.
NO WOMAN
SERVED ON THE SUPREME COURT
UNTIL RONALD REGAN APPOINTED
SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR IN THE
1980s.
WOMEN WERE NOT ALLOWED TO GO TO
UNIVERSITIES UNTIL THE TURN OF
THE CENTURY.
WOMEN
ENTERED THE JOB FORCE IN THE
WESTERN WORLD AS A SOURCE OF
CHEAP LABOUR.
THEY BECAME TEACHERS BECAUSE
TEACHING DIDN'T PAY MEN WELL
ENOUGH TO GET ENOUGH MEN INTO
THE TEACHING PROFESSION, AND SO
IT WAS TURNED OVER TO WOMEN WHO
COULD BE HIRED CHEAPLY.
DOCTORS DIDN'T LIKE TO DO
BEDPANS, AND SO THE NURSING
PROFESSION ENTERED INTO THE
WORLD TO DO THE SCUT LABOUR OF
MEDICAL SCIENCE.
THE PROFESSION HAS GROWN, I
MUST SAY, A GREAT DEAL FROM
THAT TIME, BUT THAT'S WHERE IT
STARTED.
AND THEN WOMEN BECAME
SECRETARIES SO THAT THE LORDLY
MALES COULD BE FREED FROM
MENIAL DUTIES, AND THAT'S THE
WAY WOMEN ENTERED THE WORK
FORCE.
AND ALL THE TIME, THE BIBLE WAS
QUOTED TO JUSTIFY SECOND CLASS
CITIZENSHIP FOR WOMEN.
THE QUOTATIONS ARE EASY TO
CITE.
IN THE UNITED STATES, IN 1874,
THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED
STATES RULED THAT A WOMAN WHO
HAD PASSED EVERY EXTERNAL
STANDARD TO PRACTICE LAW IN THE
STATE OF ILLINOIS, THE SUPREME
COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
RULED BY AN 8 TO 1 MAJORITY
THAT SHE COULD NOT PRACTISE
LAW, BECAUSE, "GOD HAS CREATED
THE WOMAN FOR THE MORE DOMESTIC
ROLE."
[Murmuring]
TO MY KNOWLEDGE THAT CASE HAS
NEVER BEEN OFFICIALLY
OVERTURNED.
BUT IT'S SORT OF VISUALLY
INOPERATIVE WITH TWO WOMEN
SITTING ON THE SUPREME COURT.
ALL THE WAY THROUGH HISTORY, WE
SEE CHAPTERS WHERE PEOPLE HAVE
BEEN HURT, DIMINISHED,
VIOLATED, KILLED AND THAT
ACTIVITY HAS BEEN JUSTIFIED BY
QUOTING HOLY SCRIPTURE.
LOOK AT WHAT WE'VE DONE TO THE
JEWS.
I DON'T HAVE TIME TO GO THROUGH
THE WHOLE HISTORY, BUT LET ME
JUST MENTION, WE'RE FAMILIAR
WITH THE HOLOCAUST, WHICH
OCCURRED IN A WESTERN CHRISTIAN
NATION, AT LEAST OSTENSIBLY
CHRISTIAN.
AND THE UNITED STATES AND
CANADA AND GREAT BRITAIN DID
LITTLE OR NOTHING, EVEN WHEN
THEY KNEW THE JEWS WERE BEING
EXTERMINATED.
AND POPE PIUS XII, AT WORST WAS
A COLLABORATOR, AT BEST WAS A
BENIGN NEGLECT OBSERVER.
BUT EVEN BEFORE THE HOLOCAUST,
IN THE 14th CENTURY, THE GREAT
BUBONIC PLAGUE SWEPT ACROSS
WESTERN EUROPE, KILLING
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN 1 FIFTH AND 1 THIRD
OF THE ADULT POPULATION.
AND THEY DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT
GERMS, VIRUSES, RAT
INFESTATION.
AND SO THEY INTERPRETED THE
PLAGUE AS IF IT IS DEVINE WRATH
BEING EXPRESSED.
AND SO THEY RAISED THE
QUESTION, WHAT HAVE WE DONE TO
CAUSE THIS INCREDIBLE
OUTPOURING OF GOD'S WRATH UPON
THE PEOPLE OF EUROPE?
AND THEY CAME TO THE CONCLUSION
THAT WHAT THEY HAD DONE WAS
THAT THEY HAD TOLERATED
INFIDELS IN CHRISTIAN EUROPE.
AND SO AS A RESPONSE TO THE
BUBONIC PLAGUE, THE WORST
PERSECUTION OF JEWISH PEOPLE
WHO WERE THE ONLY INFIDELS THEY
COULD FIND, THE WORST
PERSECUTION OF JEWISH PEOPLE
UNTIL ADOLF HITLER TOPPED IT,
TOOK PLACE IN CHRISTIAN EUROPE.
AND EVERY TIME THEY DID THIS,
THEY QUOTED THE BIBLE, HIS
BLOOD BE UPON US AND UPON OUR
CHILDREN, TO JUSTIFY THEIR
HEINOUS BEHAVIOUR.
WHAT I'VE
TRIED TO DO IS TAKE THE
TERRIBLE TEXTS OF THE BIBLE,
THAT HAVE BEEN USED TO HURT, TO
DESTROY, TO DIMINISH, AND
EXPOSE THEM AND FACE THEM, AND
CALL ON THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH TO
FACE ITS OWN HISTORY, AND TO
RECOGNISE THAT CHRISTIANITY WAS
SUPPOSED TO BE FAR MORE THAN
THAT.
BUT
TONIGHT, I DON'T WANT TO
DEVELOP ANY OF THOSE.
I WANT TO DEVELOP ONE THAT I
HAVE NOT DEVELOPED IN THIS
PUBLIC LECTURE CIRCUIT BEFORE,
AND PART OF THAT IS BECAUSE I'M
GETTING TIRED OF MY OWN STUMP
SPEECH--
[Audience Laughter]

AND PART OF THAT IS THAT A
LOT OF PEOPLE IN THIS AUDIENCE
HAVE ALREADY HEARD ME BEFORE,
SO I DON'T WANT YOU TO HAVE TO
DO IT AGAIN.
SO I WANT TO TURN TO ANOTHER
PASSAGE IN SCRIPTURE, AND TRY
TO DEVELOP A VERY INTERESTING
WAY THAT I THINK IT HAS
IMPACTED OUR UNDERSTANDING OF
THE CHRISTIAN FAITH.
HAVE YOU EVER HEARD THE BOOK OF
PROVERBS QUOTED, THAT IF YOU
SPARE THE ROD, YOU WILL SPOIL
THE CHILD.
THAT'S BEEN USED BY MANY A
PARENT, INCLUDING MY OWN MOTHER
ON MORE THAN ONE OCCASION, WITH
A VERY INTERESTING DEFINITION
OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN
LYING BEHIND THAT.
AND IF YOU EXAMINE THE HISTORY
OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH, YOU
WILL DISCOVER THAT SOMETHING
THAT COMES VERY CLOSE TO
SADOMASOCHISM HAS TAKEN PLACE
INSIDE THIS CHRISTIAN
INSTITUTION.
SCHOOL MASTERS THROUGHOUT
WESTERN HISTORY HAVE BEEN WELL
KNOWN AS PUNISHING SCHOOL
MASTERS WHO BEAT THEIR
STUDENTS.
AND YOU NEED TO RECOGNISE THAT
ALMOST ALL OF THE SCHOOLS IN
WESTERN CIVILISATION, UNTIL
VERY RECENTLY WERE CHURCH
RELATED SCHOOLS, AND THEY WERE
MOSTLY TAUGHT BY CHURCH PEOPLE.
AND PUNISHING CHILDREN
PHYSICALLY WAS AN ACTIVITY
ENCOURAGED, SUPPORTED BY CHURCH
AUTHORITY.
NOW IT'S INTERESTING THAT
TODAY, EVERY PSYCHIATRIST I
KNOW THINKS THAT CORPORAL
PUNISHMENT IS BAD FOR CHILDREN.
BUT THE CHURCH HAD ITS OWN
STANDARDS.
AND THE CHURCH HAS WRIT DEEP
INTO ITS LIFE THAT THE
PUNISHMENT, THE PHYSICAL
PUNISHMENT OF CHILDREN IS
NECESSARY BECAUSE OF THE
CHURCH'S DEFINITION OF WHAT A
CHILD IS.
SO WE HAVE TO GO BACK AND BEGIN
TO LOOK AT THAT.
AND WHEN WE DO, WE FIND,
SURPRISINGLY A GREAT DEAL OF
SADOMASOCHISM IN THE LITERATURE
AND IN THE LITURGY AND IN THE
THEOLOGY OF THE CHRISTIAN
CHURCH.
LET ME START WITH THE BIBLICAL
DEFINITION OF HUMAN LIFE.
HUMAN LIFE, SAYS THE EARLY
STORY IN THE BIBLICAL
TRADITION, WAS CREATED GOOD AND
PERFECT IN GOD'S IMAGE.
AND IN THAT INTERESTING WORLD,
GOD AND HUMAN LIFE LIVED
TOGETHER IN PERFECT HARMONY.
IT WAS A HARMONY SO PERFECT IT
WAS SYMBOLISED BY THE FACT THAT
IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN, GOD WAS
SAID TO HAVE COME OUT OF HEAVEN
AND WALKED IN THE GARDEN OF
EDEN IN THE COOL OF THE EVENING
WITH GOD'S FRIEND ADAM, AND
GOD'S FRIEND EVE.
THEY WERE PERFECT.
THEY WERE PLACED TO LIVE IN A
PERFECT GARDEN.
THERE WERE FOUR RIVERS THAT
FLOWED THROUGH THAT GARDEN.
TWO OF THEM WERE THE TIGRIS AND
THE EUPHRATES WHICH MEANS THE
GARDEN OF EDEN WAS IN THE
MIDDLE OF IRAQ.
IT'S KIND OF AN INTERESTING
NOTE IN TODAY'S WORLD.
AND GOD AND HUMAN LIFE WERE
INTIMATELY CONNECTED.
HUMAN BEINGS WERE CREATED IN
GOD'S IMAGE, THEY LIVED IN A
PERFECT RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD,
AND THEY SERVED AS GOD'S
STEWARDS OVER GOD'S WORLD.
BUT THEN THE BIBLICAL STORY
SAYS THAT HUMAN LIFE CORRUPTED
GOD'S WORLD.
IN AN ACT OF DISOBEDIENCE, AND
HUMAN BEINGS FELL INTO SIN.
WE CALL THAT THE ORIGINAL SIN.
IT CORRUPTED THE WHOLE
CREATION.
AND NOW HUMAN BEINGS WERE
SEPARATED FROM GOD, AND THERE
WAS THIS RELATIONSHIP OF
ANTAGONISM.
AND THESE FALLEN CREATURES HAD
NO WAY THAT THEY COULD OVERCOME
THEIR OWN SELF-DESTRUCTION.
AND GOD COULD NO LONGER WALK IN
THE COOL OF THE EVENING,
BECAUSE GOD WAS NOW THEIR
JUDGE, NOT THEIR FRIEND.
AND NOBODY IS HAPPY WALKING
AROUND WITH THEIR JUDGE.
AND THIS MAN AND THIS WOMAN,
THEY'RE BANISHED FROM THE
GARDENS, SAYS THIS ANCIENT
STORY.
THEY'RE TOLD THEY CAN NEVER
COME BACK INTO THAT PERFECT
WORLD AGAIN.
THEY HAD TO LIVE EAST OF EDEN,
TO BORROW A PHRASE FROM JOHN
STEINBECK.
[Audience Laughter]
AND THE WHOLE BIBLICAL STORY IS
WRITTEN AGAINST THAT
UNDERSTANDING OF HUMAN LIFE.
HUMAN
LIFE IS FALLEN, HUMAN LIFE IS
SINFUL, HUMAN LIFE IS
DISTORTED.
HUMAN BEINGS CANNOT SAVE
THEMSELVES.
EVEN IN OUR LITURGY WE SAY
THINGS LIKE, WE CAN DO NOTHING
GOOD WITHOUT YOU.
IT'S AN
INTERESTING DEFINITION OF HUMAN
LIFE.
AND SO THE DRAMA IN THE BIBLE
IS A DRAMA OF GOD TRYING TO
REACH OUT TO THIS BROKEN,
FALLEN CREATION IN ORDER TO
RESTORE IT TO WHAT GOD HAD
ORIGINALLY INTENDED THE
CREATION TO BE.
AND NONE OF THE WAYS THAT GOD
TRIES TO REACH OUT TO THESE
BROKEN, FALLEN DISTORTED
CREATURES, NONE OF THEM SEEM
SUCCESSFUL.
GOD SENDS THE LAW, BUT THE
PEOPLE ARE INCAPABLE OF KEEPING
THE LAW.
GOD SENDS THE PROPHETS, BUT THE
PEOPLE KILL THE PROPHETS.
IF YOU'RE IN THE INSURANCE
BUSINESS, YOU DON'T EVER WANT
TO INSURE A PROPHET.
[Audience Laughter]
THAT JUST IS NOT A GOOD
ACTUARIAL RISK.
AND FINALLY THE STORY SAYS THAT
IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME, GOD
HAD TO COME INTO THIS WORLD
GOD SELF, AND BRING ABOUT THE
REDEMPTION, AND IT WAS A COSTLY
ACT, BECAUSE THE ONLY WAY GOD
COULD DO IT WAS TO ALLOW THE
DIVINE SON TO BE CRUCIFIED.
NOW THAT'S WHAT I CALL THE
WOODSHED THEORY OF THE
ATONEMENT.
NOW THOSE OF YOU WHO WEREN'T
RAISED IN THE SOUTHERN PART OF
THE UNITED STATES MIGHT NOT
KNOW WHAT HAPPENED IN THE
WOODSHED, BUT THAT'S WHERE YOUR
PARENTS WOULD TAKE YOU TO BEAT
YOU, FOR YOUR SINFULNESS, FOR
YOUR MISCONDUCT.
A TRIP TO THE WOODSHED WAS
DREADED.
THE WOODSHED THEORY OF THE
ATONEMENT SAYS THAT HUMAN
BEINGS ARE EVIL.
WE'VE BEEN BAD BOYS AND GIRLS,
WE DESERVE TO BE PUNISHED, AND
GOD, THE HEAVENLY SHERIFF TAKES
US OUT TO THE HEAVENLY
WOODSHED, AND GOD GETS READY TO
BEAT US FOR OUR SINS, AND AT
THE LAST MOMENT, JESUS STEPS
IN.
YOU HAVE TO SAY THAT WITH THREE
SYLLABLES TO BE UNDERSTOOD.
[Audience Laughter]
YOU'VE GOT TO SAY JE-ESUS STEPS
IN.
[Audience Laughter]
[Applause]
AND GOD BEATS JESUS INSTEAD OF
YOU, AND INSTEAD OF ME.
AND ON THAT FRAME OF REFERENCE,
WE HAVE TOLD THE JESUS STORY
THROUGH THE AGES.
NOW THINK ABOUT THAT STORY.
WHAT KIND OF GOD IS THAT?
WHAT KIND OF GOD IS IT THAT
CANNOT REACH OUT TO BROKEN
SINFUL PEOPLE AND SAY, I LOVE
YOU JUST AS YOU ARE.
I FORGIVE YOU, PLEASE COME BACK
AND DWELL IN A RELATIONSHIP
WITH ME.
NO, THIS GOD SAYS, I CAN'T
FORGIVE YOU UNTIL I HAVE HAD A
HUMAN SACRIFICE AND A BLOOD
OFFERING OFFERED TO ME -- UNTIL
I HAVE MADE THE DIVINE SON A
VICTIM SO THAT MY SENSE OF
RIGHTEOUSNESS IS SATISFIED.
IS THAT A GOD YOU REALLY WANT
TO WORSHIP?
AND HOW OFTEN THE WHOLE JESUS
STORY HAS BEEN WRAPPED AROUND
THOSE IMAGES.
AND WHAT DOES THAT DO?
HAVE YOU EVER HEARD ANYBODY
SAY, JESUS DIED FOR YOUR SINS?
YOU CAN HARDLY TURN ON THE
RADIO FOR THESE RELIGIOUS
PROGRAMS IF YOU DON'T HEAR THAT
FIVE OR SIX TIMES IN THE FIRST
FIVE MINUTES.
JESUS DIED FOR YOUR SINS, WHAT
KIND OF MESSAGE IS THAT?
THAT'S A GUILT MESSAGE.
YOU ARE SO WRETCHEDLY EVIL THAT
THE CHRIST FIGURE HAD TO SUFFER
FOR YOUR SINS.
MAN, THAT'S A GUILT TRIP.
YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE
DEATH OF JESUS.
AND GOD, GOD BECOMES A PERSON
GUILTY OF DIVINE CHILD ABUSE.
IS THAT GOOD NEWS?
AND LOOK WHAT WE DO IN CHURCH
ON SUNDAY MORNINGS.
YOU CAN HARDLY GO TO ANY CHURCH
IN THE GREAT MULTIPLICITY OF
TYPES OF CHURCHES IN THE WORLD.
YOU CAN HARDLY GO TO ANY OF
THEM WITHOUT HAVING YOUR
HUMANITY INSULTED EVERY SUNDAY.
YOU GATHER TOGETHER IN CHURCH,
AND WHAT DO WE HAVE YOU SAYING?
LORD HAVE MERCY, CHRIST HAVE
MERCY, LORD HAVE MERCY.
WHAT KIND OF CRY IS THAT, TO
WHAT KIND OF GOD IS THAT?
AND WE SAY OF OURSELVES, WE ARE
NOT WORTHY EVEN TO GATHER THE
CRUMBS UNDER THE DIVINE TABLE.
THERE IS NO HEALTH IN US, WE'VE
DONE THE THINGS WE OUGHT NOT TO
HAVE DONE, WE'VE NOT DONE THE
THINGS WE OUGHT TO HAVE DONE,
WE ARE MISERABLE, WRETCHED,
INCOMPETENT CREATURES.
HAVE YOU EVER KNOWN ANYBODY TO
BE HELPED BY BEING TOLD HOW
WRETCHED, MISERABLE AND
INCOMPETENT THEY ARE?
WE SEEM TO KNOW THAT, BUT WE
DON'T SEEM TO UNDERSTAND IT
WHEN WE COME TO CHURCH.
AND SO THE CHURCH HAS GOTTEN
DEEPLY INVOLVED INTO WHAT I
WOULD CALL THE MESSAGES OF
GUILT.
GUILT IS THE GREAT CONTROLLER
OF HUMAN BEHAVIOUR.
IF WE CAN MAKE YOU FEEL GUILTY
ENOUGH, WE CAN KEEP YOU UNDER
CONTROL FOREVER.
AND SO WE
DEVELOP STORIES ABOUT GOD WHO
HAS HEAVEN AND HELL, AND IF
YOU'RE A GOOD BOY AND GIRL, YOU
MIGHT GO TO HEAVEN, AND IF
YOU'RE A BAD BOY AND GIRL, YOU
KNOW EXACTLY WHERE YOU'RE GOING
TO GO AND YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT
YOU'RE GOING TO GET.
SO IT'S THIS PUNISHING GOD.
AND SO THE CHURCH TEACHES US
THAT WE ARE LIKE LITTLE
CHILDREN COWERING BEFORE AN
AUTHORITY FIGURE WHO'S GETTING
READY TO BEAT US.
YOU SPARE
THE ROD, YOU SPOIL THE CHILD.
YOU SPARE DIVINE PUNISHMENT,
YOU GET HUMAN BEINGS WHO
SOMEHOW DON'T KNOW HOW TO
WORSHIP.
BUT LET ME ASK YOU TO TRY THAT,
THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE PARENTS.
LET ME ASK YOU TO TRY THAT ON
YOUR CHILDREN.
REMEMBER THE TIME YOU BROUGHT
YOUR FIRST CHILD HOME FROM THE
HOSPITAL, OR THE MIDWIFE
DELIVERED YOUR FIRST CHILD TO
YOUR ARMS.
AND YOU WANTED TO BE A GOOD
PARENT, SO YOU READ BOOKS THAT
THE CHURCH WRITES ABOUT GOOD
PARENTHOOD.
AND THOSE BOOKS SAY, EVERY DAY
OF THAT CHILD'S LIFE, YOU TELL
THAT CHILD THAT CHILD WAS BORN
IN SIN.
YOU TELL THAT CHILD THAT THAT
CHILD IS ONE WRETCHED MISERABLE
OFFENDER.
YOU TELL THAT CHILD, THAT CHILD
IS NOT WORTHY TO GATHER UP THE
CRUMBS UNDER THE DIVINE TABLE,
DO YOU THINK YOU'D RAISE A
HEALTHY ADULT?
OR DO YOU THINK PSYCHOLOGICAL
ABUSE UNDER THE GUISE OF
WORSHIP CREATES HEALTHY ADULTS?
WHAT KIND OF SADOMASOCHISM IS
IT THAT HAS CAPTURED SO MUCH OF
THE CHURCH'S PROCLAMATION OF
ITS GOSPEL?
DURING THE LENTEN SEASON,
SOMETIMES YOU FEEL THAT YOU
MIGHT BE IN A SADOMASOCHISTIC
SHOP WHEN YOU SEE THE BULLETINS
THAT CHURCHES PUT OUT.
THOSE BULLETINS DURING LENT
FREQUENTLY HAVE NAILS AND WHIPS
AND WE DON'T MUCH THINK ABOUT
THAT, WE DON'T RAISE THAT TO
CONSCIOUSNESS.
BUT SO MUCH OF THE CHRISTIAN
STORY HAS BEEN TOLD THROUGHOUT
THE AGES IN SUCH A WAY AS TO
DIMINISH YOU.
IN THE UNITED STATES PEOPLE SAY
THAT THE MOST POPULAR HYMN IN
AMERICA IS "AMAZING GRACE,"
THAT MAY BE TRUE IN CANADA.
BUT WHY IS GOD'S GRACE AMAZING
IN THAT HYMN, HAVE YOU
LISTENED?
IT'S BECAUSE THAT GRACE SAVED A
WRETCH LIKE YOU, YOU WRETCHED
PEOPLE.
IS THAT GOOD NEWS?
IS THAT LIFE GIVING?
AND HOW DO YOU SQUARE THAT WITH
THE WORDS THAT JESUS IS
PURPORTED TO HAVE SAID, THAT I
HAVE COME THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE
LIFE AND THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE IT
ABUNDANTLY.
WHAT WE HAVE DONE IN CHRISTIAN
HISTORY IS THAT WE HAVE
SEPARATED GOD FROM THE WORLD.
WE HAVE ISOLATED GOD UP IN SOME
HEAVENLY REALM, WHICH FOR YEARS
WE JUST THOUGHT OF AS JUST
ABOVE THE SKY.
SO IN ORDER FOR GOD TO GET INTO
LIFE IN THE PERSON OF JESUS, A
LANDING FIELD HAS TO BE CREATED
AND WE CALL THAT LANDING FIELD
THE VIRGIN BIRTH.
THAT'S HOW GOD GETS IN.
AND ONCE GOD GETS INTO THE
WORLD, YOU'RE NOT REALLY
COMFORTABLE HAVING GOD LIVING
QUITE THAT INTIMATELY WITH YOU,
SO YOU'VE GOT TO GET A WAY FOR
GOD TO GET OUT, WHEN THE WORK
OF SALVATION IS DONE, SO YOU'VE
HAVE TO CREATE A LAUNCHING PAD.
AND THE STORY OF JESUS' COSMIC
ASCENSION IS THE LAUNCHING PAD.
SO THIS EXTERNAL GOD HAS A WAY
TO GET INTO THIS WORLD, DO GOD-
LIKE THINGS, DIE IN ORDER TO
BRING YOU INTO GOD'S PRESENCE,
AND THEN EXIT THE ROLE TO BE
BACK WITH GOD ABOVE THE SKY.
AND THAT'S THE WAY WE'VE TOLD
THE CHRISTIAN STORY, AND WE'VE
LITERALISED THE ENTRY STORY AND
THE EXIT STORY, AND WE SUDDENLY
DISCOVER THAT THEY DON'T QUITE
TRANSLATE INTO THE 21st
CENTURY.
THE ENTRY STORY DOESN'T
TRANSLATE BECAUSE WE DISCOVERED
IN 1724 THAT WOMEN HAVE AN EGG
CELL.
THE VIRGIN BIRTH STORY ASSUMES
THAT THE WOMAN IS JUST A VESSEL
THAT DOES NOT CONTRIBUTE
ANYTHING TO THE LIFE OF JESUS,
SO ALL YOU HAVE TO GET RID OF
IS THE HUMAN FATHER, BECAUSE HE
WAS THE SOURCE OF THE DIVINE
LIFE.
SO YOU GET RID OF THE HUMAN
FATHER AND YOU REPLACE THAT
WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND
JESUS' HUMANITY IS NOT
CORRUPTED BECAUSE THE VIRGIN
MARY ONLY LENDS THE NURTURE OF
HER WOMB.
SHE DOESN'T CONTRIBUTE.
BUT NOW WE KNOW THAT SHE HAD AN
EGG CELL.
AND THAT 50PERCENT OF JESUS GENETIC
CODE CAME FROM HIS MOTHER, AND
SHE, TOO WAS A CHILD OF ADAM,
SO SHE PASSED ON THE FALL, AND
SUDDENLY OUR UNDERSTANDING OF
JESUS IS SHATTERED.
THAT'S WHY 100 YEARS AFTER WE
DISCOVERED THE EGG CELL IN A
WOMAN, WE HAD TO HAVE A NEW
DOCTRINE CALLED THE IMMACULATE
CONCEPTION OF THE VIRGIN SO
THAT SHE COULD GET CLEANED UP
OF ADAM'S SINS, SINCE WE NOW
KNOW SHE WAS A CONTRIBUTOR TO
THE LIFE OF JESUS.
THEOLOGY HAS ALWAYS BEEN ABLE
TO ADAPT IF YOU GIVE THEM
ENOUGH TIME.
[Audience Laughter]
AND ON
THE OTHER END OF THE STORY, THE
COSMIC ASCENSION HAS BECOME
SOMETHING THAT'S BEYOND OUR
UNDERSTANDING, BECAUSE THAT
ASSUMES THAT THE WAY YOU GET TO
HEAVEN IS TO RISE UP IN THE
SKY, AND GO THROUGH THE
KEYHOLE, AND BEYOND THAT THE
ROOF, THERE'S HEAVEN.
BUT WHAT
SENSE DOES THAT MAKE IN THE
SPACE AGE?
IT WAS A GREAT AMERICAN
ASTROPHYSICIST WHO SAID TO ME
ON ONE OCCASION, "DO YOU KNOW
IF JESUS REALLY ASCENDED INTO
THE SKY, AND IF HE TRAVELLED A
THE RATE-- AT THE SPEED OF
LIGHT, 136,000 MILES PER
SECOND, HE HASN'T YET ESCAPED
OUR GALAXY.
[Audience Laughter]
AND BECAUSE THIS ASTROPHYSICIST
HAPPENED TO BE NAMED CARL
SAGAN, HE WENT ON TO SAY, AND
OUR GALAXY IS ONLY ONE OF
BILLIONS AND BILLIONS AND
BILLIONS OF GALAXIES.
I THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO HAVE
A RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE, HE WAS
SO CARRIED AWAY.
[Audience Laughter]
THE STORY DOESN'T QUITE MAKE
SENSE, AND IT IS TRYING TO
CARRY A BURDEN THAT MAYBE WE
OUGHT TO LOOK AT AGAIN.
IN 1859, AN ENGLISH BIOLOGIST
WHO WANTED TO STUDY TO BE AN
ANGLICAN PRIEST EARLY IN HIS
LIFE, NAMED CHARLES ROBERT
DARWIN, WAS INSTEAD GIVEN A
SLOW BOAT RIDE TO THE GALAPAGOS
ISLANDS, AND HISTORY HAS NEVER
QUITE BEEN THE SAME.
AND WHEN HE PUBLISHED HIS BOOK,
"THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES THROUGH
NATURAL SELECTION," HE SUDDENLY
CONFRONTED THE CHRISTIAN
CHURCH, NOT WITH A THREAT TO
THE SEVEN DAY LITERAL CREATION
STORY, THAT'S WHAT THE
CHRISTIANS UNDERSTOOD THE
THREAT TO BE, BUT DARWIN'S
THREAT WAS TO THE WHOLE
UNDERSTANDING OF HUMAN LIFE.
DARWIN SAID THERE NEVER WAS A
PERFECT CREATION.
NONE OF US EVER STARTED
PERFECT.
AND IF THERE'S NO PERFECT
CREATION, THERE COULD NOT HAVE
BEEN A FALL.
YOU CAN'T FALL UNLESS YOU ONCE
HAD PERFECTION.
NO, HE SAID, HUMAN LIFE HAS
EMERGED OVER 4 AN A HALF BILLION
YEARS, FROM LOWER FORMS OF LIFE
INTO HIGHER FORMS, AND FINALLY,
PROBABLY NOT MORE THAN A
MILLION OR SO YEARS AGO, INTO
SOMETHING THAT WE WOULD
RECOGNISE AS HUMAN.
NOW IF DARWIN IS ACCURATE, AND
THE DNA EVIDENCE AVAILABLE TO
US MAKES US FAIRLY SURE THAT
DARWIN IS ACCURATE, THEN WE CAN
NO LONGER TELL THE STORY OF THE
ORIGINS OF HUMAN LIFE AS
PERFECTION CORRUPTED.
INSTEAD WE'VE GOT TO SEE HUMAN
LIFE AS EMERGING.
NOW WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
THAT MEANS THAT WE NO LONGER
CAN TELL THE STORY OF GOD
COMING INTO THIS WORLD IN THE
PERSON OF JESUS TO RESCUE THE
FALLEN SINNER, TO RESTORE THE
FALLEN SINNER TO WHAT GOD
INTENDED THAT SINNER TO BE.
AND THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE
WHO THINK THAT ONCE YOU EMBRACE
THAT, YOU CAN NO LONGER TELL
THE CHRISTIAN STORY, BUT MAYBE
THERE'S A DIFFERENT WAY.
MAYBE YOU CAN TELL THE STORY OF
GOD'S LOVE BEING SO POWERFULLY
EXPERIENCED IN THE LIFE OF ONE
JESUS OF NAZARETH, THAT IT
CALLED AND EMPOWERED US TO DARE
TO BECOME MORE FULLY HUMAN.
I DON'T THINK I'M LOOKING OUT
TONIGHT ON A GROUP OF FALLEN
SINNERS.
I THINK I'M LOOKING OUT ON A
GROUP OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT
YET BECOME FULLY HUMAN.
AND THAT'S A VERY DIFFERENT
POINT OF VIEW.
AND SO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH IS
NOT TO RESCUE FALLEN SINNERS,
WHERE, IN ORDER TO MAKE THEM
UNDERSTAND THE GREAT GIFT OF
GOD, YOU'VE GOT TO CONSTANTLY
BEAT UP ON THEM AND TELL THEM
HOW WRETCHED AND MISERABLE THEY
ARE, BUT IF YOU ARE INCOMPLETE
HUMAN BEINGS, WHAT YOU NEED IS
NOT SOMETHING THAT MAKES YOU
FEEL MORE INADEQUATE, AND MORE
INCOMPLETE.
WHAT YOU NEED IS SOMETHING THAT
EMPOWERS YOU TO BECOME SO FULLY
HUMAN THAT YOU NO LONGER HAVE
TO BUILD YOURSELF UP BY TEARING
SOMEBODY ELSE DOWN.
MAYBE THAT'S THE WAY TO TELL
THE CHRIST STORY, AND MAYBE WE
CAN BEGIN TO ESCAPE SOME OF THE
TERRIBLE TEXTS OF THE BIBLE,
BECAUSE THOSE TEXTS ARE ALL
DESIGNED TO SAY, I'M BETTER
THAN YOU.
AND IF YOU DON'T BECOME LIKE
ME, YOU WILL REMAIN IN YOUR
WRETCHED STATE.
SO WITH
THAT BACKGROUND, LET ME ASK YOU
TO LOOK AGAIN AT THE BIBLICAL
PORTRAIT OF JESUS.
BUT SCRAPE AWAY FROM THAT
PORTRAIT THE LAYERS OF
INTERPRETIVE DATA BASED ON THAT
PREVIOUS UNDERSTANDING OF HUMAN
LIFE.
AND SEE
IF IT'S NOT POSSIBLE TO LOOK AT
THAT CHRIST FIGURE FROM A VERY
DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE.
ONE OF THE WAYS THAT HUMAN
BEINGS BUILD THEMSELVES UP BY
TEARING SOMEBODY ELSE DOWN, IS
TO DEVELOP TRIBAL IDENTITY.
WE CALL IT NATIONALISM, WE
SOMETIMES CALL IT PATRIOTISM.
IT'S A WAY OF SAYING, MY NATION
IS GOD'S CHOSEN PEOPLE.
SO ANYBODY MY NATION HATES, GOD
MUST SURELY HATE.
AND WE HAVE THAT KIND OF STUFF
GOING ON ALL OVER THE WORLD.
BUT JESUS LIVED IN A WORLD
WHERE JEWS AND GENTILES WERE
DEEPLY SEPARATED.
JEWS CALLED GENTILES UNCLEAN.
JEWS WOULD NOT EAT WITH
GENTILES LEST THEY BE
CORRUPTED.
WHAT DOES JESUS DO ABOUT THAT
BOUNDARY THAT SEPARATES THE JEW
FROM THE GENTILE, THE SAME
BOUNDARY THAT SETS NATIONS
AGAINST ONE ANOTHER IN OUR
WORLD TODAY?
WELL GO BACK AND READ THE JESUS
STORY FROM A DIFFERENT
PERSPECTIVE.
I FIND IT FASCINATING THAT IN
THE SECOND BOOK OF THE NEW
TESTAMENT, THE EPISTLE TO THE
GALATIANS, WRITTEN AROUND 51,
PAUL, CAUGHT UP IN THE ECSTASY
OF WHATEVER THE JESUS MOVEMENT
WAS, WRITES THE MOST ASTOUNDING
THING FOR THE FIRST CENTURY.
HE SAYS ONCE YOU'RE INSIDE THE
CHRIST POWER, THERE IS NOT JEW
OR GENTILE, THERE IS NOT JEW OR
GREEK.
YOU'RE LIFTED BEYOND THE
BOUNDARY OF YOUR SECURITY
SYSTEM INTO A NEW HUMANITY.
I ALSO FIND IT FASCINATING THAT
IN THE FIRST GOSPEL, MARK, MARK
TELLS THE STORY OF JESUS
COMPLETE TO THE PLACE WHERE HE
IS DEAD ON THE CROSS, AND MARK
PUTS A GENTILE AT THE FOOT OF
THE CROSS TO INTERPRET THAT
DEATH.
THAT'S AN ASTONISHING THING.
IT'S A GENTILE CENTURION.
AND THE GENTILE CENTURION LOOKS
AT THAT CHRIST LIFE, THAT HAS
GIVEN ITSELF AWAY WITHOUT
GRASPING TO CONTAIN OR
CONTINUE, AND THE GENTILE
SOLDIER SAYS, QUOTE -- AT LEAST
THIS IS THE WAY WE TRANSLATE
IT, "TRULY THIS MAN IS THE SON
OF GOD."
AND WE'VE INTERPRETED THAT TO
MEAN THAT THIS GENTILE HAD A
MAGNIFICENT INSIGHT INTO CREDAL
THEOLOGY THAT DIDN'T DEVELOP
FOR ANOTHER 300 YEARS.
[Audience Laughter]
WHAT THIS MAN WAS SAYING WAS
THAT WHEN YOU SEE A LIFE SO
FULL SO FREE SO WHOLE, THAT
THIS LIFE CAN GIVE ITSELF AWAY
TOTALLY, THAT'S WHEN YOU SEE
GOD PRESENT IN HUMAN HISTORY.
AND THEN YOU GO TO MATTHEW.
MATTHEW IS THE FIRST -- IN THE
BIBLE IT'S THE FIRST GOSPEL,
BUT IT'S THE MOST JEWISH
GOSPEL.
IT'S MORE CLOSELY IDENTIFIED
WITH SYNAGOGUE LIFE.
AND YET EVEN MATTHEW SAYS THAT
WHEN JESUS WAS BORN, A STAR
APPEARED IN THE SKY TO ANNOUNCE
THAT BIRTH.
WHAT'S SO UNUSUAL ABOUT A STAR?
WHAT'S UNUSUAL IS, THE STAR
DOESN'T JUST SHINE OVER THE
LAND OF THE JEWS.
PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD
COULD SEE THAT STAR.
AND THAT STAR DREW THE WORLD
TOGETHER BY DRAWING THE WORLD
TO THIS CHRIST FIGURE.
THAT'S WHAT THE MAGI ARE ALL
ABOUT.
THEY'RE NOT THREE GUYS WHO
HOPPED ON CAMELS TO FOLLOW A
WANDERING STAR, THEY'RE
GENTILES BEING DRAWN TO THE
BRIGHTNESS OF GOD'S RISING.
AND THEIR A WAY OF
DEMONSTRATING THAT IF YOU GET
INSIDE THE POWER OF THE LOVE OF
GOD EXPERIENCED IN CHRIST
JESUS, THAT THE BARRIER BETWEEN
JEW AND GENTILE, THE TRIBAL
BOUNDARIES THAT SEPARATE US ALL
FROM OTHER PEOPLE, THEY BEGIN
TO DISAPPEAR.
THEN WHEN
MATTHEW CLOSES HIS STORY, HE
HAS THE RISEN CHRIST SAY ONLY
ONE THING TO THE DISCIPLES, AND
WHAT IS THAT?
HE SAYS YOU'VE GOT TO GO INTO
ALL THE WORLD AND PREACH THE
GOSPEL.
AND WE'VE
TAKEN THAT AS SORT OF A
MISSIONARY IMPERATIVE THAT
WE'VE GOT TO GO AND CONVERT THE
WORLD.
BUT THAT'S NOT WHAT WAS MEANT.
JESUS WAS SAYING, NOW THAT YOU
UNDERSTAND WHO I AM, WHAT MY
POWER IS, YOU'VE GOT TO GO
BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES OF YOUR
SECURITY SYSTEM.
YOU'VE GOT TO GO BEYOND YOUR
TRIBAL IDENTITY.
YOU'VE GOT TO GO OUT INTO THE
WORLD WHERE THE GENTILES LIVE,
AND THE GOSPEL YOU PROCLAIM IS
THAT GOD'S LOVE IS NOT BOUNDED
BY TRIBAL IDENTITY.
GOD'S LOVE SWEEPS OVER ALL OF
OUR MANMADE OR HUMAN MADE
BARRIERS AND CALLS US INTO A
NEW HUMANITY WHERE THERE IS NO
DIVISION BETWEEN TRIBE, BETWEEN
JEW AND GENTILE.
THERE ARE LOTS OF OTHER PLACES
I COULD GO TO ILLUSTRATE THAT
POINT, BUT LET ME MOVE ON.
BECAUSE ANOTHER WAY THAT WE
DEAL WITH OUR INSECURITY AND
OUR SENSE INADEQUACY IS THAT WE
DEVELOP PREJUDICES.
THE SOLE PURPOSE OF A PREJUDICE
IS TO MAKE THE PREJUDICED ONE
FEEL GOOD.
I AM NOT LIKE YOU.
AND WE DEFINE PEOPLE ACCORDING
TO OUR STANDARDS.
FOR CENTURIES PEOPLE OF WHITE
SKIN DEFINED PEOPLE OF NON-
WHITE SKIN AS NON-WHITES.
THAT'S ALMOST A NON-PERSON.
PREJUDICE HELPS BUILD OURSELVES
UP.
WHY DO YOU NEED TO BUILD
YOURSELF UP?
IF YOU NEED TO BUILD YOURSELF
UP, SOMEONE IS ALWAYS GOING TO
BE YOUR VICTIM.
AND YOU HAVE TO CONVINCE
YOURSELF THAT YOU ARE, BY GOD'S
CREATION SUPERIOR, TO JUSTIFY
TREATING PEOPLE AS YOUR
INFERIORS.
SO THAT'S DEEP IN THE HEART OF
ALL OF US HUMAN BEINGS.
AND WHAT JESUS SEEMED TO
UNDERSTAND IS THAT PREJUDICE
NOT ONLY VIOLATES THE VICTIM,
PREJUDICE VIOLATES THE
PREJUDICED ONE.
YOU CANNOT BE HUMAN AND BE
PREJUDICED.
YOU'RE SO BUSY BUILDING
YOURSELF UP AT SOMEONE ELSE'S
EXPENSE, THAT YOUR OWN HUMANITY
IS IMPAIRED IN THE PROCESS.
NOW GO TO THE JESUS STORY WITH
THAT UNDERSTANDING.
THE MOST PROMINENT PREJUDICE IN
THE ANCIENT WORLD, IN THE
JEWISH WORLD, WAS THE HATRED
THE JEWS HAD FOR SAMARITANS.
WHAT WAS A SAMARITAN?
A SAMARITAN WAS A HALF BREED
HERETIC.
THEY WERE HALF BREED JEWS WHOSE
WORSHIP HAD BEEN CORRUPTED BY
GENTILE ALIEN FORCES THAT HAD
COME IN WHEN THEY HAD
INTERMARRIED OUTSIDE OF THEIR
TRIBE.
AND THE JEWS HATED THE
SAMARITANS WITH A PARTICULAR
PASSION.
AND JESUS LIVES IN A WORLD
WHERE THAT KIND OF PREJUDICE
TRIES TO MAKE SOME PEOPLE
SECURE AT SOME OTHER PEOPLE'S
EXPENSE.
NOW WHAT DOES JESUS DO WITH
THAT?
WELL THERE ARE LOTS OF STORIES,
BUT LET ME JUST PICK ONE.
THERE'S A PARABLE IN LUKE THAT
SAYS A CERTAIN TRAVELLER WENT
OUT ONE DAY FROM JERUSALEM TO
GO TO JERICHO, AND HE FELL
AMONG THIEVES AND THEY BEAT HIM
TO WITHIN AN INCH OF HIS LIFE,
AND THEY LEFT HIM A BLOODY HEAP
AND UNCONSCIOUS ON THE SIDE OF
THE ROAD.
AND ALONG CAME A LEVITE.
A LEVITE IS AT LEAST ONE OF THE
GOVERNING MEMBERS OF THE
CHURCH'S GOVERNING BODY, A
VESTRYMAN, A LAY READER,
SOMEBODY REALLY IN THE KNOW,
SOMEBODY IN THE UPPER CRUST OF
RELIGIOUS IMPORTANCE.
AND THAT LEVITE KNEW THAT THE
FIRST REQUIREMENT OF THE LAW,
THE LAW OF GOD, IS THAT YOU
SHOW MERCY UPON PEOPLE IN NEED.
BUT IN THIS STORY WE'RE TOLD
THAT THE LEVITE PASSED BY ON
THE OTHER SIDE.
AND THEN ALONG CAME A PRIEST,
AND EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT
PRIESTS ARE HOLIER THAN JUST
ORDINARY PEOPLE, AND IF YOU
DON'T BELIEVE THAT, WE'LL TELL
YOU.
[Audience Laughter]
WHY ELSE DO YOU THINK WE PUT
THE NAME, THE REVERED ONE IN
FRONT OF CLERGYS' NAMES?
THAT'S WHAT REVEREND MEANS, WE
ARE THE REVERED ONE, AND WE
WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT.
IN MY CHURCH AND IN THE ROMAN
CATHOLIC CHURCH, WE'VE EVEN
DEVELOPED THE HABIT OF PUTTING
A LITTLE CROSS BY YOUR NAME TO
MAKE SURE THAT PEOPLE KNOW THAT
YOU'RE HOLIER THAN THOU.
[Audience Laughter]
AND OF COURSE WHEN YOU GET TO
BE A BISHOP, YOU GET TO PUT THE
CROSS IN FRONT OF YOUR NAME,
BECAUSE EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT
BISHOPS ARE FAR HOLIER THAN
JUST ORDINARY PRIESTS, THAT'S
THE LAW OF--
THAT'S
THE LAW OF AN INSTITUTION
SEEKING POWER.
LOOK AT HOW WE DRESS OUR
BISHOPS.
WE PUT A ROYAL CROWN ON THEIR
HEADS, AND ROYAL CAPE ON THEIR
BACKS, AND A ROYAL RING ON
THEIR FINGER, AND A SIGNET
MEDAL, CALLED A PECTORAL CROSS
AROUND THEIR NECKS.
AND WE
GIVE THEM A ROYAL STAFF AND WE
SEAT THEM IN A CHAIR CALLED THE
BISHOP'S THRONE, AND HE LIVES
IN A HOUSE CALLED THE BISHOP'S
PALACE.
AND THEN WE TRY TO CONVINCE
ANYBODY THAT WE'RE IN THE
MINISTRY OF SERVANTHOOD.
[Audience Laughter]
NO, THE SYMBOLS DON'T WASH,
THEY JUST DON'T WASH.
SO ALONG COMES A PRIEST WHO
STUDIED AT THEOLOGICAL ACADEMY,
WHO MUST KNOW THAT THE
REQUIREMENT OF THE TORAH IS
THAT YOU SHOW MERCY UPON PEOPLE
IN NEED, AND EVERYTHING ELSE IS
SUBSERVIENT TO THAT.
AND THE PRIEST WALKS BY ON THE
OTHER SIDE.
PERHAPS THE PRIEST ALSO KNOWS
THAT PART OF THE TORAH THAT
SAYS, IF YOU TOUCH A DEAD MAN,
YOU BECOME UNCLEAN, AND HE KNEW
THAT HIS HOLINESS JUST COULDN'T
STAND BEING UNCLEAN, AND HE
DIDN'T KNOW WHETHER THIS GUY
WAS DEAD OR ALIVE, AND HE
DIDN'T WANT TO RISK IT.
AND THEN JESUS SAYS, ALONG
COMES A HALF-BREED HERETIC, A
SAMARITAN.
HE WOULDN'T KNOW THE LAW OF GOD
IF YOU PUT IT IN HIS HANDS AND
SAID THIS IS THE TORAH.
BUT THIS HALF BREED HERETIC IS
A HUMAN BEING, AND HE
RECOGNISES ANOTHER HUMAN BEING
IN NEED.
AND HE GOES TO HIM AND HE CARES
FOR HIM.
AND AFTERWARDS, JESUS SAYS TO
HIS DISCIPLES, THE ONE WHO IS
NEIGHBOUR AND DOES THE ACT OF
LOVE THAT THE TORAH REQUIRES,
THAT PERSON IS MORE DEEPLY THE
CHILD OF ABRAHAM THAN THE
LEVITE OR THE PRIEST.
THAT WASN'T DESIGNED TO MAKE
JESUS VERY POPULAR.
BUT JESUS KNEW THAT PREJUDICE
KILLS NOT JUST THE VICTIM BUT
THE PREJUDICED ONE.
AND SO HE SAYS, INSIDE THE
EXPERIENCE OF THE LOVE OF GOD,
YOU'VE GOT TO COME TO SUCH AN
ACCEPTANCE OF YOUR HUMANITY
THAT YOU NO LONGER HAVE TO USE
YOUR HUMANITY TO LOOK DOWN UPON
ANOTHER HUMAN BEING.
AND THAT'S A CALL TO A NEW
HUMANITY AND THEN I HAVEN'T GOT
TIME TO DEVELOP IT, BUT IN THE
WORLD THAT JESUS LIVED IN,
WOMEN WERE CLEARLY VIEWED AS
INFERIOR TO MAN.
AND SO NO MAN WOULD ACTUALLY
ENGAGE A WOMAN IN CONVERSATION.
WOMEN WERE SORT OF IN EXISTENCE
ONLY FOR BREEDING PURPOSES.
YOU NEVER HAD A RELATIONSHIP OF
SIGNIFICANCE WITH A WOMAN.
AND YET WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE
STORY, JESUS HAS A CONVERSATION
WITH THE SAMARITAN WOMAN BY THE
WELL.
JESUS SEEMS TO BE A FREQUENT
GUEST IN THE HOME OF MARY AND
MARTHA.
ON ONE OCCASION, HE EVEN
CHALLENGES MARTHA WHO IS
CRITICAL OF MARY BECAUSE SHE'S
TAKEN THE ROLE OF A STUDENT
SITTING AT THE FEET OF A
TEACHER, SOMETHING A WOMAN WAS
NOT ALLOWED TO DO.
AND JESUS CLEARLY HAD FEMALE
DISCIPLES.
THE CHURCH HAS HAD A HARD TIME
WITH THAT, BUT THEY'RE THERE IN
THE BOOK, YOU CAN'T GET RID OF
THEM.
AND THEY BECOME VISIBLE IN THE
CHRISTIAN STORY ONLY BECAUSE
ALL THE MALE DISCIPLES HAVE
FORSAKEN HIM AND FLED.
THAT'S WHY YOU SEE THE WOMEN IN
THE CRUCIFIXION SCENE AND THE
RESURRECTION SCENE, THE MEN
HAVE ALL FLED.
AND JESUS IS CONSTANTLY CALLING
PEOPLE TO STEP BEYOND THE
GENDER BOUNDARY OF TRYING TO
PROVE MALE SUPERIORITY BY
DEMONSTRATING FEMALE
INFERIORITY.
AND THE CHURCH, IN LARGE
MEASURE, HAS NOT LEARNED THAT
LESSON YET.
WHEN I WAS A CHILD GROWING UP
IN MY ANGLICAN CHURCH, DO YOU
KNOW WHAT WE CALLED THE WOMEN
OF THE CHURCH?
WE CALLED THEM THE AUXILIARY.
THAT'S REVEALING ISN'T IT?
[Audience Laughter]
THE WOMEN'S AUXILIARY.
THE CHURCH WAS MALE, WOMEN WERE
THE AUXILIARY TO THE CHURCH.
THEY WERE SORT OF LIKE ROTARY
ANNES.
THEY WEREN'T QUITE MEMBERS OF
THE ROTARY CLUB.
AND WE'VE DENIGRATED WOMEN IN
EVERY CONCEIVABLE WAY.
BUT YOU CAN'T BE HUMAN AND LOOK
DOWN OR JUDGE 50 PERCENT OF THE HUMAN
RACE TO BE SOMEHOW INFERIOR TO
YOU.
A NEW HUMANITY ENABLES YOU TO
NOT HAVE TO PUT SOMEBODY ELSE
DOWN IN ORDER TO ELEVATE
YOURSELF.
AND THE LAST THING THAT JESUS
DOES, WHICH I THINK IS
ASTOUNDING, BUT WE NEVER SEE IT
BECAUSE WE'RE SO BUSY ARGUING
ABOUT THE MINUTIA OF
LITERALISM, AND THAT IS THAT
JESUS RECOGNISES THAT RELIGION
IS ONE OF THE MOST DIVISIVE
FORCES IN HUMAN HISTORY.
AND SO JESUS IS ALWAYS CALLING
PEOPLE TO STEP BEYOND THE
BOUNDARIES OF THEIR RELIGION.
JESUS LIVED IN A WORLD WHERE
HIS RELIGION SAID THAT A LEPER
WAS UNCLEAN, SO JESUS EMBRACES
THE ROTTING FLESH OF THE LEPER.
JESUS LIVED IN A WORLD WHERE IT
WAS SAID THAT A MENSTRUATING
WOMAN WAS UNCLEAN.
AND JESUS IS PORTRAYED AS
ALLOWING THE TOUCH OF THE WOMAN
WITH THE CHRONIC MENSTRUAL
LEAK, AND INSTEAD OF BECOMING
UNCLEAR, AS THE LAW SUGGESTED,
THE WOMAN BECAME WHOLE IN THE
EXPERIENCE OF HIS LOVE.
HIS RELIGION SAID THAT HUMAN
BEINGS HAD TO ADAPT THEIR LIVES
TO THE MEANING OF THE SABBATH.
AND JESUS SAID, YOU'VE GOT THAT
ALL WRONG.
THE SABBATH WAS MADE FOR THE
ENRICHMENT OF HUMAN LIFE.
HUMAN LIFE WASN'T MADE FOR THE
ENRICHMENT OF THE SABBATH.
EVERY TIME HE HAS AN
OPPORTUNITY, HE STEPS BEYOND
HIS RELIGION.
HIS RELIGION SAID THAT A WOMAN
TAKEN IN THE ACT OF ADULTERY IS
TO BE STONED UNTIL DEAD.
AND JESUS
STEPS BETWEEN THAT WOMAN AND
HER ACCUSERS.
RELIGION IS ONE OF THE SECURITY
SYMBOLS THAT WE HUMAN BEINGS
HAVE ADOPTED IN ORDER TO MAKE
OURSELVES FEEL SUPERIOR.
THAT'S
WHY, IN OUR RELIGIOUS
TRADITIONS, WE ALWAYS DEVELOP
AN INFALLIBLE AUTHORITY.
BECAUSE IF YOU DON'T HAVE AN
INFALLIBLE AUTHORITY, YOU CAN'T
REALLY CLAIM THAT YOU HAVE THE
ULTIMATE TRUTH, AND ANYBODY
THAT DISAGREES WITH YOU IS
WRONG.
SO IN THE CATHOLIC TRADITION, WE
HAVE OUR INFALLIBLE POPE, AND
IN THE PROTESTANT TRADITION, WE
HAVE OUR INHERENT BIBLE, AND IN
ALL RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS, THE
CLAIM IS MADE THAT WE, AND WE
ALONE, ARE THE TRUE CHURCH, WE
HAVE THE TRUE FAITH.
NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER
EXCEPT THROUGH MY RELIGIOUS
TRADITION.
WHAT INCREDIBLE ARROGANCE.
THAT HUMAN BEINGS CAN TELL GOD
THROUGH WHAT MEANS GOD MUST
DRAW HUMAN BEINGS TO GOD SELF?
WHAT INCREDIBLE ARROGANCE.
AND YET, WE FIGHT AND KILL ONE
ANOTHER ON THIS BASIS ALL THE
TIME.
WHAT I'D LIKE TO SUGGEST TO YOU
IS THAT DIVINITY DOES NOT MEAN
THE INVASION OF A POWER FROM
OUTSIDE THIS WORLD, THAT MAYBE
DIVINITY IS IN THE HEART OF
HUMAN LIFE, AND IF WE WOULD
JUST LEARN TO LIVE AND LOVE AND
BE, WE MIGHT DISCOVER DIVINITY
ALL AROUND US.
CHARLES WESLEY WROTE A
CHRISTMAS HYMN THAT I REALLY
CANNOT STAND TO SING, CALLED,
"HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING."
YOU ALL KNOW IT.
ONE OF THE LINES OF THAT SONG
SAYS THAT JESUS WAS NOT REALLY
HUMAN, HE WAS VEILED IN
FLESH... THE GODHEAD SEE.
HE WAS MASQUERADING AS HUMAN.
IT WAS GOD INVADING HUMAN LIFE,
BECAUSE HUMAN LIFE WAS SO
BROKEN, SINFUL, FALLEN AND
INADEQUATE.
NOW IT THINK WE'VE GOT TO TURN
THAT AROUND.
GOD IS IN HUMAN LIFE.
SOME OF YOU REMEMBER PALL MALL
CIGARETTES.
I HAVEN'T SEEN THEM RECENTLY,
BUT WHEN THEY PUT A FILTER ON
PALL MALL, THEY HAD AN
INTERESTING AD.
THEY SAY PALL MALL FILTERS,
FILTER THE SMOKE, OVER, UNDER,
AROUND AND THROUGH.
AND THAT'S HOW I THINK WE'VE
GOT TO START TO THINK OF GOD.
NOT AS AN EXTERNAL SUPERNATURAL
POWER LIVING IN THE SKY, BUT AS
THE DIVINE QUALITY OF THIS
WORLD, THAT IS OVER US IN THE
SENSE THAT IT IS BEYOND
ANYTHING THAT WE CAN IMAGINE.
IT'S UNDER US, THE ROCK, THE
GROUND OF BEING UPON WHICH WE
STAND, IT'S AROUND US AND
THROUGH US, AND GOD LIVES IN
US.
AND MAYBE THE DIFFERENCE
BETWEEN BEING HUMAN AND BEING
DIVINE, IS NOT THE DIFFERENCE
BETWEEN TWO THINGS, MAYBE IT'S
THE DIFFERENCE IN A SPECTRUM.
MAYBE THE WAY TO BECOME DIVINE
IS TO BECOME SO FULLY HUMAN
THAT YOUR LIVE BECOMES OPEN,
AND THE INFINITE PRESENCE OF
GOD CAN FLOW THROUGH YOU IN AN
UNFETTERED AND UNBROKEN WAY TO
BRING ABOUT WHOLENESS IN THE
HUMAN WORLD.
WE HAVE TAKEN TEXTS FROM THE
BIBLE AND WE HAVE USED THEM TO
INSULT OUR HUMANITY, TO
DENIGRATE OUR HUMANITY AND TO
CAUSE HUMAN BEINGS TO BE
PLASTERED WITH GUILT AND A
SENSE OF INADEQUACY.
AND SOMEHOW WE THINK THAT IF WE
CAN MAKE PEOPLE FEEL BAD ENOUGH
ABOUT THEMSELVES, THAT THAT
WILL IMMEDIATELY TRANSLATE INTO
THINKING HOW GREAT GOD IS, THAT
GOD CAN LOVE A WRETCH LIKE YOU
AND ME.
NO, I THINK WE'VE GOT THAT ALL
WRONG.
AND WHEN YOU GET UNDERNEATH THE
LITERAL TEXT OF THE BIBLE, AND
BEGIN TO LOOK AT THE CHRIST
EXPERIENCE, WHAT YOU DISCOVER
IS THAT THE CHRIST EXPERIENCE
CALLS PEOPLE TO STEP BEYOND THE
BOUNDARIES OF THEIR LIVES.
TO STEP BEYOND YOUR TRIBAL
IDENTITY SO THAT YOU CAN NO
LONGER SAY, IF YOU AREN'T MY
PEOPLE, YOU ARE MY ENEMY, SO
THAT YOU CAN NO LONGER JUSTIFY
THE PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE AGAINST A
NATION THAT HAS NOT ATTACKED
YOU.
YOU'VE GOT TO GET BEYOND TRIBAL
THINKING.
IN AMERICA, WE NOW SING, "GOD
BLESS AMERICA" EVERY TIME WE
CAN STAND UP.
IT'S SORT OF A RESPONSE TO 9-
11.
AND I'M IN FAVOUR OF "GOD
BLESSING AMERICA," DON'T
MISUNDERSTAND.
BUT THAT'S A TRIBAL SONG, AND
THAT SONG SUGGESTS THAT THE
BLESSING OF GOD SHOULD BE
LIMITED TO THE BOUNDARIES OF MY
NATION.
THERE'S A
BETTER WAY TO SING THAT SONG.
THE PROPHET MALACHI SAID, YOU
REALLY DON'T UNDERSTAND GOD
UNTIL YOU UNDERSTAND THAT FROM
THE RISING OF THE SUN TO ITS
SETTING, EMBRACING THE WHOLE
WORLD, THE NAME OF GOD SHALL BE
GREAT AMONG THE GENTILES.
AND IN
EVERY NATION, INCENSE SHALL BE
OFFERED TO GOD'S NAME.
DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT HUMAN
BEINGS LIVING IN FIERCE TRIBAL
LOYALTIES WILL NOT ULTIMATELY
DESTROY THEMSELVES AND THE
WHOLE HUMAN ENTERPRISE?
WE DON'T NEED TO BE RESCUED, WE
NEED TO BE EMPOWERED TO BECOME
MORE FULLY HUMAN.
AND THAT'S THE CHRIST FUNCTION.
AND THAT'S WHY I BELIEVE THAT
PEOPLE SAW THAT IN THE LIFE OF
THIS JESUS, THE PRESENCE OF GOD
WAS OPERATING IN A WAY THAT
THEY DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO
PROCESS.
AND SINCE THE ONLY THING THEY
UNDERSTOOD ABOUT GOD WAS A
DISTANT FORCE OUTSIDE THE
WORLD, THEY TRIED TO EXPLAIN
THEIR GOD EXPERIENCE OF
HOLINESS, OF BEING CALLED
BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES OF TRIBE,
BEYOND THE KILLING PREJUDICES
OF OUR HUMANITY, BEYOND THE
GENDER GAMES WE PLAY BETWEEN
MEN AND WOMEN, AND BEYOND THE
RELIGIOUS GAMES THAT WE USE TO
SET OURSELVES APART FROM OTHER
RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS.
YOU GOTTA GET CALLED BEYOND ALL
OF THOSE, AND THE POWER OF GOD
TO ENTER YOUR LIFE AND TO
AFFIRM YOU AND TO ENABLE YOU TO
BECOME SOMETHING YOU'VE NEVER
BEEN, A HUMAN BEING WHO IS FREE
TO GIVE YOUR LIFE AND YOUR LOVE
AWAY.
THAT BECOMES THE PLACE WHERE WE
SEE GOD WHO IS IN CHRIST, AND
THAT'S THE PLACE WHERE WE SEE
GOD WHO IS IN YOU AND GOD WHO
IS IN ME.
AND WHEN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
BEGINS FINALLY NOT TO INSULT
YOUR HUMANITY, BUT TO EMPOWER
YOU TO BE FULLY HUMAN, THEN I
THINK THERE WILL BE A GREAT
REFORMATION.
YOU SEE, I DON'T BELIEVE THAT
MY RESPONSIBILITY AS SOMEONE
WHO LIVES INSIDE THE CHRIST
STORY IS TO TAKE MY STORY AND
IMPOSE IT ON OTHER PEOPLE.
I THINK MY RESPONSIBILITY IS TO
DO EVERYTHING I CAN DO TO
ENABLE EVERYBODY IN THIS WORLD
TO LIVE MORE FULLY, AND TO LOVE
MORE WASTEFULLY, AND TO HAVE
THE COURAGE TO BE ALL THAT THEY
CAN BE, APART FROM THE DEFINING
AND LIMITING DEFINITIONS THAT
WE HAVE IMPOSED UPON ONE
ANOTHER.
AND WHEN WE SEE THAT AS OUR
MISSION, THEN WE HAVE THE BASIS
FOR CREATING A HUMAN FAMILY, A
HUMAN UNITY BEYOND ALL OF OUR
BARRIERS AND WE CAN BEGIN THE
TASK OF ACCEPTING AND LOVING
PEOPLE INTO THE PROCESS OF
BECOMING ALL THAT THEY CAN BE.
THAT'S MY UNDERSTANDING OF THE
CHRISTIAN FAITH, AND THAT'S THE
DIVINE LOVE OF GOD THAT I THINK
WE'VE GOT TO GET TO AFTER WE
HAVE TRAVELLED BEYOND THE
TERRIBLE TEXTS OF THE BIBLE,
THE TEXTS OF HATRED TO DISCOVER
THE GOD OF LOVE.
WELL THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR
GIVING ME YOUR ATTENTION
TONIGHT.

The audience applauds.

Watch: Bishop John Shelby Spong on The Sins of Scripture