Christians have used the Bible’s Gospel of St. John as “the foundation of identifying creeds and doctrines and dogmas” — many of which don’t communicate well with modern educated men and women, according to retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong. It is this literal interpretation of the Gospel that Spong hopes to challenge in a series of lectures this week.
The Bible is one of the world’s most read books. People turn through its pages in moments of despair or elation. The holy text is present at baptisms, weddings, funerals and the moments that punctuate life in between.
The Department of Religion of Chautauqua Institution recently received a Bible that has seen many such moments. Earlier this month, Judith Burrows, a retired Episcopal priest, gave a 511-year-old Bible to the institution.
“This wonderful institution was built on a religious foundation. It’s right for it, it’s where it should be,” Burrows said.
The Gospels were not written down until at least 40 to 50 years after the death of Jesus Christ. The words attributed to him are not exact quotes.
“What we have in the New Testament are the remembrances of the person, colored by tradition and lengths of time, except for two experiences, where I think we can safely say they are remembered word for word,” said the Rev. Kenneth Chalker at the Monday morning 9:15 a.m. Devotional Hour.
Maybe President Obama’s motivation for “coming out” and affirming his support for same-sex marriage was politically calculated. Perhaps the president’s statement, as hard as it may be to imagine, had nothing to do with politics. Maybe, the president’s statement supporting an opportunity for a lesbian or gay couple to enter into a legally recognized, binding, civil, marriage covenant and contract was an expression of his true conviction.
But whatever his motivation, President Obama’s statement of support for same-sex marriage is far more genuine than the unholy response of opposition his statement has received from too many clergy. To be sure, the statements of ordained pastors — African-American in ethnicity or otherwise — thundering their opposition based on their view that God, through the Bible, teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman is just not true.
Before coming to Chautauqua to help George Vincent in presiding over the Institution, Arthur Bestor Jr. had studied at Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, Wis., and graduated from University of Chicago in 1901. According to Theodore Morrison’s book, Chautauqua: A Center for Education, Religion, and the Arts in America, Bestor had taught history and political science at Franklin College in Indiana and lectured on political science in the University Extension Division, established by William Rainey Harper. He came to Chautauqua in 1905.
A decade later, in the summer of 1915, the Great War was a year into its duration. In 1914, a symposium had been hastily arranged to give various perspectives on the brewing conflict: German, English and French. In the 1915 Season, The Chautauquan Daily communicated various perspectives on war, but that summer they were framed from a particularly Chautauqua point of view.
“If you want a crash course on the story of water in the Bible, pretend you are invited to be the chaplain at Chautauqua for Water Week,” said the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor at the beginning of her sermon at the Tuesday morning Devotional Hour.
She continued, “List all the stories you remember about water. Once you have the obvious contenders, leave a lot of space at the end of the list for the stories that keep floating up to the surface. Choose five, because that is all you get. Until I made that list, I never realized that the story about the baby in the bulrushes was not in the common lectionary.”
Taylor’s title was “The Water Baby,” and her text was Exodus 2:1-10.
“I am not looking out today on an audience of fallen sinners. I am looking out today on an audience of human beings who have not yet achieved the fullness of their humanity,” said retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong during Friday’s Interfaith Lecture.
In the final lecture of his weeklong series, Spong challenged the notion of original sin and recast the meaning and role of Jesus Christ for Christians living in the 21st century.
In the 2 p.m. lecture in the Hall of Philosophy, Spong traced the ancient and biblical history that called for the development of a divine Christ-like figure, the life and way of Jesus Christ, and ultimately defined what he believes it means to be a Christian today.
Returning for his sixth trip to the Institution, Spong will lecture every day this week on the theme “Reclaiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World,” named after his 2011 book of the same title.
“I study (the Bible) every day of my life, I’ve read that book from cover to cover more than 25 times, some parts of it many more times than that, but I am one priest and bishop in the church who is no longer willing to read that book through stained glass lenses,” he said.
During Monday’s lecture, Spong discussed the impetus for his weekly column and book, and the 13 bullet points he will focus on during his lectures this week.