Hearing Bishop John Spong speak in Sydney in 2007 was memorable for me.
I’m not usually one to avail myself of the opportunity of a question time. Prodded on by others, I felt this was a good chance to draw on the wisdom of the retired Bishop. After all, he’s been an amazing advocate for LGBTQ equality in the Episcopal Church and the church at large for decades. I was a relative novice.
I joined the queue of questioners and rehearsed my question over and over in my mind to make sure it was clear and I didn’t make a fool of myself.
Taking the microphone, I posed my question.
“Bishop Spong, we know that eventually the church will realise they have been wrong about gays and lesbians as they have been wrong about so many issues, including the role of women. I wonder though, from your experience, if you could suggest what we could do that would hasten the day and what things would hold up the progress.”
I thought it was a fair question.
“Once the question is asked, the debate is over. Walk in the victory”, Bishop Spong replied slowly, with a great sense of authority, in his strong educated, American accent.
It was a strange answer, certainly not the one I was expecting. I was expecting more information.
As I returned to my seat, I almost felt a tad rebuked, like somewhere along the line I’d missed the point.
The statement “walk in the victory” was a statement I’d expect from a Pentecostal preacher, not from a retired Episcopal bishop.
What he said that day sunk in and stayed with me. It influenced my mindset and approach. There is a lot of truth in what Bishop Spong said. Once the question is asked, then the end has begun. The first question begins to erode the error and heralds the arrival of a new understanding and consciousness.
In the past, people dared to challenge common beliefs and ask questions like.
- Are women equal to men and should they be given the right to vote?
- Are white skinned human beings really superior?
- Is it right to make interracial marriages illegal?
- When two people love each other, are gender or skin colour relevant?
- And many more questions that were the catalysts for change.
And 50 years ago, people dared to ask, “Can a person be gay or lesbian AND a Christian?”
Spong’s words stayed with me for days. A shift happened after that encounter. My posture changed. I shifted from a defensive and apologetic position to a more confident and assertive position. It worked. People listened.