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Spong to deliver Baccalaureate address

John Shelby Spong

The Right Reverend John Shelby Spong will deliver the Baccalaureate address for the Class of 2006 and will receive an honorary doctorate at Lehigh’s commencement exercises the next day.

A distinguished scholar and prolific author, Spong will speak at the ceremony on Sunday, May 21 at 4 p.m. in Packer Memorial Church. University Chaplain Lloyd Steffen, who also serves as professor and chair of the religion studies department, will perform the service.

Now retired as the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, N.J., Spong is one of America’s most visible and creative religious leaders. The most published member of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Spong has written 18 books that address major challenges facing religious people, especially Christians, in the contemporary world, such as Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Why Christianity Must Change or Die and The Sins of Scripture.

“Bishop Spong has called for a ‘new reformation’ in the Christian Church even as he has criticized the church for being at times inattentive to the important issues in people’s lives,” Steffen says. “Bishop Spong has with humor and grace issued a prophetic call to change. He has been an outspoken critic of intolerance and hatred as it has been directed from within Christian communities to gay and lesbian people and he has boldly pointed out to Christians the problem of taking a 1st century Scripture literally in the 21st century.”

Steffen adds, “Bishop Spong has always been motivated by a deep love for an inclusive and humane vision of religious life, and he has dedicated his career to serving the church and advancing the message of love and peace that brought the church into being.”

Spong stands in the tradition of Anglican bishops that has included Will Scarlett, John E. Hines, and Angus Dun. However, Spong is a controversial figure in today’s Episcopal Church because of his acceptance of homosexuality and his efforts to counter literal interpretations of the Bible.

Spong has emerged as one of America’s foremost religious intellectuals, reaching wide audiences not only through his prolific writing and numerous speaking engagements but through his media appearances. He has been a frequent guest on major TV news and interview programs—ranging from Oprah to The O’Reilly Factor.

Spong has received numerous awards and honorary degrees. In 2000, he was appointed the William Belden Nobel Lecturer at Harvard and he is a widely sought speaker worldwide on issues of religious and moral significance.

Born in 1931 in Charlotte, N.C., Spong was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1952 and received his Master of Divinity degree in 1955 from the Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary in Virginia.

For more information, please e-mail Steffen or call him at (610) 758-3877.

--Bill Doherty

Posted on Thursday, April 27, 2006

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