Bishop Spong: UCC Encouraging Pastors to 'Press the Edges,' Could Lead to Reformation of Christianity

(Photo Credit: Scott Griessel)Retired Episcopal Church Bishop John Shelby Spong, of the Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, speaks during CrossWalk America 2006 on September 3, 2006.

Retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong believes the United Church of Christ denomination could inspire a reformation of the Christian faith, saying the national denominational leadership is encouraging local pastors to "press the edges" on cultural issues.

The comments came in a recent post to his online blog entitled "A Salute to the United Church of Christ." Rev. Spong visited churches Wichita, Kan. (Plymouth UCC), Greely, Colo. (First Congregational UCC), Norman, Okla. (mayflower UCC) and Hendersonville, N.C. (First Congregational UCC).

"Perhaps, I thought, this church can be the one Christian denomination that will inspire, bring about and participate in the necessary reformation required to break the Christian faith out of its dying patterns, no longer believable theological understandings and its medieval worship practices," Rev. Spong wrote.

He commended the four churches he visited, saying they each had a "well-educated" senior pastor.

"Each was linked to a national denomination that encouraged them to press the edges. Each had drunk deeply of that denomination's courage in the public arena on the right side of the cultural issues of our day," he wrote.

Rev. Spong said he saluted the leadership of the denomination, stood in awe for what they meant to him and Christianity.

Bishop Spong's Theological Views

Rev. Spong, who led the Episcopal Diocese of Newark in New Jersey for 24 years before his retirement in 2000, has previously argued against biblical literalism, and has challenged mainstream notions of the virgin birth and Jesus' resurrection. He has also advocated for equal rights for women and does not oppose same-sex marriages.

Rev. Spong cites the Jesus Seminar's conclusion that only 16 percent of the sayings attributed to Jesus in the gospels are authentic portrayals of what Jesus really said.

In a 2009 "manifesto," Spong also rejected the voting power of a denomination, stating he "will also no longer act as if I need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church."

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