For the second time in 16 months, two conservative Episcopal groups have brought formal charges against controversial Bishop John Spong of Newark, N.J., claiming that the outspoken liberal cleric has “committed an immoral act” and failed to “defend the faith.”
The charges, outlined in a “presentment” to Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning, contend that Spong violated church law in a column he wrote that appeared in April, 1987.
The presentment is signed by officers of two traditionalist groups that brought the earlier charges and focuses on one sentence in the bishop’s article, published in the the Newark diocese’s publication, the Voice: “I covet for all people the joy of being sustained in the fullness of a relationship that unites two persons in mind, body and spirit, even when that relationship has not been blessed with a service called holy matrimony.”
Among other things, the critics contend that the statement violates consecration vows calling for denial of “all ungodliness and worldly lusts,” and church laws that say " . . . no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.”
Case Called Harassment
Archdeacon Leslie Smith, press officer for the Newark Diocese, called the filing of charges “a clear case of harassment” against Spong, who is known for his permissive stands on homosexuality and sex outside marriage.
The presentment was signed by executives of two groups that brought charges against Spong in 1987--George T. Smith-Winnes, executive director of the New Jersey-based Committee of Concerned Episcopalians, and the Rev. Jerome F. Politzer, president of the Prayer Book Society of Lexington, Ky., which claims to be the denomination’s largest lay organization.
Those charges, rejected by a panel of seven bishops, concerned Spong’s statements on sexuality and his stand against literal interpretations of Scripture.
The bishops rejected the charges on ground that the presentment needed signatures of at least 10 bishops--which it did not have--because the charges were “doctrinal” in nature.
In a cover letter to the presiding bishop, Smith-Winnes argued that the most recent presentment, dated Feb. 22, is “not a replay” of the earlier charges but is “based upon new evidence” and therefore should be heard by a new panel of bishops.
In a separate letter to Spong, Smith-Winnes claimed support of “over 100 priests and laity,” half of them from the Newark Diocese. Only his name and that of Politzer were made public, he said, to protect signers from “unwanted and unnecessary intrusion.”