The presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, has begun describing the mission of our branch of the “Jesus Movement” as “loving, liberating, and life-giving.” This alliterative summary of the qualities desired of Christians will prove, I believe, very helpful. Just as it was recently when Bishop Curry said, in a not-so-veiled reference to the current climate of the presidential election process,”If it’s not about love, it’s not about God!” Just so.
The First Letter of John is the New Testament says that “God is love” and an ancient, but familiar Christian chant reads, “Ubi caritas et amor; ubi caritas Deus ibi est.” Where love and charity are, there is God. The Jews have always known that they were recipients of the love of God and even a cursory read through the four Gospels will reveal their central figure, Jesus of Nazareth, as one motivated by love of God and love of other people. This can be seen in his words and in his actions…which were often one and the same.
Liberation, of course, is a theme throughout the entire Bible. From the people of Israel being led out of slavery into freedom to Jesus’ non-violent resistance to the Roman occupation of Palestine and his own peoples’ leaders as complicit in their own oppression, to Paul’s dramatic statement in Galatians that “there is longer Jew nor Greek, no longer slave nor free, there is not longer male and female; for all of your are one in Christ Jesus.”
And the giving of life is likewise a dominant biblical category. The ancient creation story speaks of God breathing life into humankind. The prophet Ezekiel has a vision of God’s spirit breathing new life into the dry bones of Israel. And, according to Christian teaching, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead becomes a kind of “first fruits” of the general resurrection awaiting all of us on the last, great day.
Love, liberation, and the giving of life. Qualities of the Jesus Movement articulated by our presiding bishop.
There is another bishop of The Episcopal Church who has reached a similar conclusion albeit by a somewhat different path. John Shelby Spong (happily now recovering from a recent severe stroke during a preaching mission to the Diocese of Norther Michigan) has been pilloried for years by many inside and outside The Episcopal Church for his controversial positions on many issues.
Most shocking to many has been his call for a fundamental rethinking of Christian belief away from certain traditional doctrines. He has even posted, in Martin Luther fashion, “Twelve Points for Reform” which shake traditionalists to their core (and go considerably father than I myself am willing to go, while recognizing the legitimacy of many of his observations).
Nonetheless, Spong has mellowed somewhat over the years and, in any case, has been proven to be on the side of the angels in most of the controversies which have faced our church over the last decades from civil rights to the ordination of women to, famously, his early advocacy for the equal place of gays and lesbians in the church. In his recent books, Spong returns again and again to his own tripartite summary of Christianity at its best.
He often writes, “If God is the Source of Life, we should live fully each day. If God is the Source of Love, we should love wastefully each day. If God is the Ground of our Being, we should strive to be all that we can be each day.” Life…Love…Being all that we can be. Sound familiar? While in a different order, I believe they line up pretty well with Michael Curry’s contemporary challenge:
Curry: Loving Spong: Love Wastefully
Curry: Liberating Spong: Be all that you can be
Curry: Life-Giving Spong: Live fully
Two bishops. Each seeing themselves as “evangelists” to today’s culture. Formed in the same generous Anglican tradition. Different in so many ways. United in the important ones.