Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, in a book published Friday that is bound to spark controversy, speculates that the Apostle Paul - an unmarried man plagued by an unnamed weakness - was a secret homosexual.
``Nothing else,' wrote Spong, ``could account for Paul's self-judging rhetoric, his negative feeling toward his own body, and his sense of being controlled by something he had no power to change.'Spong said in a telephone interview from his Newark, N.J., diocese that Paul's words about ``the war going on inside of him is a fairly classic description of what I have come to understand in repressed gay males.'
The provocatively liberal bishop, a Charlotte, N.C., native, stirred a fire storm through the denomination more than a year ago when he ordained an openly gay man to the priesthood - an act that resulted in his censure by fellow bishops in a close vote last summer.
The Rt. Rev. Edmond Browning of New York, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, said in an interview that he has not read Spong's book, ``Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism' (Harper), and could not comment on its content.
But Browning predicted three types of reaction to Spong's thesis about Paul:
``For some people that kind of courage offers them a hope. (Some) ... will find it offensive. For those opposed (to endorsing homosexual behavior), it will be more fodder for their guns.'
One strong critic of liberal trends in the Episcopal Church said that he thought many Christians would quickly dismiss Spong's arguments.
``As far as I know there is no scholarly opinion that Paul was a homosexual,' said the Rev. Jerome Politzer of Monterey, Calif., who recently stepped down as president of the Prayer Book Society.
Spong said that the possibility of Paul being homosexual was raised as a question in 1937 in a book by New Testament scholar Arthur Darby Nock.
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