John Shelby Spong: Calling the Bluff of a White Supremacist

Gary L’Hommedieu‘s article The ‘Honesty’ of John Shelby Spong” is an interesting analysis, but there’s one point he might want to carry further with a little information.  The point is this:

According to Bishop Spong, Rowan Williams was “appointed to lead”, by which Spong means to manipulate the political process of the Anglican Communion. Such after all is the birthright of Westerners. They lead; others follow. His attitude toward the majority of Anglicans, and thus toward the majority of people on earth, is one of monumental condescension. This is one of the things that couldn’t have been made up, except perhaps by a White Supremacist in another era: by virtue of their inferior nonwestern socialization the majority of the Anglican primates are inferior nonetheless, and they ought to be treated so by their betters. That their pre-scientific animist “prejudices” should be given credence in the councils of the Church is indecent and shows a failure of moral leadership.

Spong’s attitude became all too apparent at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, when he actually got into a near shouting match with the Africans.

Spong, as he likes to remind us, is a Southerner, and thus is a descendant of white supremacists of another era.  (This is not an uncharitable generalisation; white supremacy was simply assumed by most people raised on that side of the racial divide in the South from the days of slavery to the 1960’s.) His transformation from that to radical is, in part, an attempt to achieve upward intellectual (and perhaps social) mobility.  Unfortunately his attitude towards the Africans shows that he is all too willing to take a leaf from his ancestors’ playbook when it suits his purpose.

The problem with racial supremacists of any kind is that most theories of racial supremacy are propagated by races working from a position of weakness relative to their neighbours.  That weakness stems from one of two sources.  The first is that the race is seriously outnumbered and surrounded by the neighbours; the best examples of this are the Germans (World Wars I and II) and the Afrikaners (apartheid.)  The second is that the race has internal problems that are most easily papered over by creating a myth of superiority, and Spong’s ancestors fall into this category, as documented in Evangelicals and Politics: Somebody Finally Gets It.

But perhaps, if we get beyond Spong and look at TEC in general, we see signs that both of the causes may be at work, thus a need to fabricate superiority.  The result is predictable:

The bitter irony of the Episcopal Church, even if it is not yet recognized by the majority, is that it has become the quintessential Ugly American. There is an instinctive sense of cultural, if not racial, superiority that is unobscured by fashionable rhetoric and staged moral confrontations. Everyone else can see it. Americans cannot. The Asian and African Primates clearly see the Western Primates as the latest expression of the White Man’s Burden voicing its indignation that its genius and good intentions are being questioned. This is the hubris of the present Episcopal Church which the retired Bishop of Newark has spread out on the world’s table.

Leave a Reply