Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love, and Equality

Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love, and Equality

by John Shelby Spong


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The legendary Episcopal Bishop tells of his lifelong struggle to champion an authentic christianity based on love, not hatred.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060675394
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/03/2001
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 480
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

John Shelby Spong, the Episcopal Bishop of Newark before his retirement in 2000, has been a visiting lecturer at Harvard and at more than 500 other universities all over the world. His books, which have sold well over a million copies, include Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy; The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic; Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World; Eternal Life: A New Vision; Jesus for the Non-Religious, The Sins of Scripture, Resurrection: Myth or Reality?; Why Christianity Must Change or Die; and his autobiography, Here I Stand. He writes a weekly column on the web that reaches thousands of people all over the world. To join his online audience, go to He lives with his wife, Christine, in New Jersey.

Read an Excerpt

Setting the Stage:
The Parameters of the Debate

"Your words are not just heresy, they are apostasy. Burning you at the stake would be too kind!"
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
"Your book was like manna from heaven -- God-sent! I cannot adequately express my gratitude. "
Richmond, Virginia
"You rail against the Church's doctrines and core beliefs while you accept wages from her. Even whores appreciate their clients. You, sir, have less integrity than a whore!"
Selma, Alabama
"You have made it possible for me to remain in the Church and have taught me how to believe honestly its creeds even in the twentieth century. "
Boston, Massachusetts
"Bishop Spong, you are full of sh-t. We are going to clean you up.
An orthodox Chris
"Reading your book is like eating a delicious Black Forest cherry birthday cake. It has made me vulnerable while increasing my desire to worship. "
British Columbia, Canada
"Remember, as you prance about disguised as a minister of the gospel, that you will pay for your sins eternally in the lake of fire."
Charleston, South Carolina
"Your book is a transcendent work of brilliance and, I am sure, permanence."
Pasadena, Cal
"I hope the next plane on which you flycrashes. You are not worthy of life. If all else fails, I will try to rid the world of your evil presence personally."
Orlando, Florida
"I believe you are a prophet and I will strive with you to answer God's call to live fully, love wastefully, and be all that I can be. Thank you, thank you, and may your life continue to be blessed."
Grosse Point, Michigan

These are excerpts from but a tiny few of literally thousands of letters I have received in my career as a bishop. They clearly reveal the diversity of responses my life, ministry, and writings have elicited over the years. If someone had told me years ago that I would create these enormous levels of both appreciation and hostility in my ordained life, I would have been dumbfounded, shocked, and probably deeply hurt. How did it happen? What created these twin emotions of praise and anger, of gratitude and fear? What forces pushed me, compelled me, or led me to play my particular role in the struggle to make the Christian Church respond to the issues of our century, and indeed to open new dimensions of spirituality to the citizens of this century? That is the story I seek to tell.

March 6, 1976, was a crisp, sunny late winter Saturday in Richmond, Virginia. It fell in the midst of a busy weekend in my life. On Friday, the fifth, I had indulged my passion for sports and secured, through my politically well connected cousin, tickets to the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament, which was being played in Landover, Maryland. My alma mater, the University of North Carolina, was playing my daughters' alma mater, the University of Virginia, in one of the two semifinal games on that date. To be a Tar Heel while living in Virginia and serving St. Paul's Episcopal Church, the historic "Cathedral of the Confederacy," in downtown Richmond made me about as popular as Kentucky Fried Chicken's Colonel Sanders at a chicken farm. The commitment of old-line Virginians to the Cavaliers of the University of Virginia was deep. Even my two older daughters would choose to go to the University of Virginia and to be grafted into the Virginia tradition. So I watched this particular game in a sea of Virginia alumni. One of them, sitting just behind me, was my friend Sidney Buford Scott, whose family had given Scott Stadium to the University of Virginia and Scott Lounge to the Virginia Theological Seminary. He was one of the few in those stands who was aware that I was at that moment a nominee for the position of bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Newark in the state of New Jersey and the choice would be made the next morning. That night, as my university was being eliminated by his, he inquired about that process.

"Any chance you'll be elected?" he asked.

"Somewhere between slim and none." I replied. "I believe I'll get enough votes not to be embarrassed, but not nearly enough to be elected. It's not something in which I have any great investment."

That was an honest assessment. That was also the only time that evening that the Newark election entered my consciousness.

The Sunday of that same weekend was also to be a big day in my life. I was engaged in a series of dialogue sermons that were to last for three Sundays on the wide-ranging subject of medical ethics. This was my attempt to address theologically a concern that had been brought to the public's attention by the case of one Karen Quinlan, who had been in a coma for months, kept alive by mechanical devices. Her parents had petitioned the courts for permission to remove these artificial support systems and allow this young woman, their child, to die. The courts had refused this request, and a national debate had ensued.

St. Paul's Church in Richmond was only three blocks from the Medical College of Virginia. We had over eighty doctors in the congregation. Occasionally I used the sermon period for a dialogue on vital public issues. This allowed me to Invite people who possessed an expertise that I did not to engage both me and the congregation in debate. Whether a hopelessly brain-dead young woman should be kept breathing by medical devices seemed tailormade for such an approach. A young internist associated with the Medical College of Virginia and active at St. Paul's named Daniel Gregory had agreed to be the medical member for this dialogue...

Table of Contents

Preface ix
Setting the Stage: The Parameters of the Debate
Beginnings in the Segregated South
"The Man of the House": Shaping Memories
Rejection at School, Acceptance at Church
The University Years: Philosophy, St. Mark's, and Wedding Bells
Priestly Formation on the Holy Hill
My Pastoral Education in Durham
Not Popular but Right: Racial Issues and Leadership Lessons in Tarboro
A Bible Class, the Press, and More Racial Conflict in Lynchburg
Something for Everyone in the Cathedral of the Confederacy
Pushing St. Paul's Outward While Inwardly Grappling with Prayer and Pastoral Tragedy
Professional Highs, Personal Lows
Breaking Tradition: Jewish-Christian Dialogue and Christpower
Transition to the Episcopate and Developing a World View
The Heart Cannot Worship What the Mind Rejects: Entering a Dark Valley
Rising from the Ashes
The Battle Lines Form
Marriage and the Year of Years
Triumphs: The Koinonia Statement, Victory in the Heresy Trial, and Worldwide Invitations
From Lambeth's Ignorance and Fear to Harvard's Promise of a New Career
Appendix A: A Statement of Koinonia 447(6)
Appendix B: Twelve These 453(2)
Index 455

What People are Saying About This

Desmond Tutu

The poignant account of someone who loves the church deeply and has frequently been misunderstood.

Peter J. Gomes

Bishops today are thought to be harmless ceremonial figures who do little, say less, and exhibit a modicum of administrative skill. Once upon a time, however, bishops were the spiritual and intellectual artillery of the church militant. With a courage and imagination unintimidated by conventional wisdom, Bishop Spong has chosen to fight for the reconciliation of the mind and heart of the church in the contemporary world. Refusing to accept the status quo as the equivalent of divine truth, Spong stands in the great iconoclastic traditions of St. Augustine, Bishop Colenso, and Bishop John A. T. Robinson, each of whom riled the settled convictions of the day, and who, for their troubles, were regarded as turbulent priests. This turbulent bishop, regarded by many as a threat to faith, has made it possible for many more to believe with integrity. This story of his life's pilgrimage is both a rare and compelling exercise in spiritual and intellectual autobiography.

Karen Armstrong

This autobiography, which shows the courage and integrity that we have come to associate with Bishop Spong is more than a personal testimony. It shows how Christianity is not simply a received faith but one which constantly grows in interaction with the world; Spong demonstrates how it is possible to make the faith a force against the injustice and lack of compassion in our modern society.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes

The remarkable story of a soul raised in the segregation and racial prejudice of North Carolina, who garnered the sensibility and courage to stand for genuine equality—risking all in order to bring a clear vision into the Church he loves so much.

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