The Living Church

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The Living ChurchAugust 16, 1998Sort of Sorry by David Kalvelage217(7) p. 2

This is turning out to be quite a year for Bishop John S. Spong. The Bishop of Newark has written another book, engaged in a feisty exchange of letters with the Archbishop of Canterbury over the agenda for the Lambeth Conference, watched as his successor was elected [TLC, June 28], published his 12 theses [TLC, May 17] and said some not-so-nice things about African Christians. Now he's issued an apology to those he offended. Sort of.

The latest controversy erupted after an interview in Church of England Newspaper with deputy editor Andrew Carey (yes, that Carey family) which appeared in the paper's July 10 issue — just in time for Lambeth. Here's a sampling of the remarks about African Christians made by Bishop Spong in that article:

"They've moved out of animism into a very superstitious kind of Christianity. They've yet to face the intellectual revolution of Copernicus and Einstein that we've had to face in the developing world: that is just not on their radar screen."

When Mr. Carey told Bishop Spong that Third World bishops might feel patronized by such remarks, the bishop said:

"If they feel patronized that's too bad. I'm not going to cease to be a 20th-century person for fear of offending somebody in the Third World."

Naturally, those remarks have had wide circulation on both sides of the Atlantic. They were shown to African bishops and others attending Lambeth and wound up leading to an unusual event a few days before Lambeth. In a hall during a leadership conference, 50 or so Americans, led by the Rt. Rev. Alex Dickson, retired Bishop of West Tennessee, apologized to Africans for the remarks made by Bishop Spong.

Meanwhile, Bishop Spong apparently decided an apology might be in order, so, a week after the opening of the three-week Lambeth Conference, he expressed regret for his earlier statements.

"I've been heard to insult Africans, for which I am really sorry," he said in an interview. "That is certainly not my intention." As for his use of the word "superstitious," "that was an unfortunate word and I think it communicated an unfortunate message."

There is a slice of irony in the fact that Bishop Spong made the remarks to Church of England Newspaper. That publication has been running a promotional ad with Bishop Spong's picture in it. In that ad, the bishop says the newspaper "is probably the worst and most irresponsible ecclesiastical newspaper that I have ever read."

I guess that lets us off the hook for a couple of weeks.

David Kalvelage, editor

Archbishop Alberto Ramento of the Philippine Independent Church on his country's debt burden of $46 billion: "We are paying for the shoes of Imelda Marcos."