John Shelby Spong, the former Episcopal Bishop of Newark and the author of over 20 books, died at his home in Richmond, Va. on September 12. He was 90.
Richmond’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church announced news of his death on Twitter.
Spong, who served as Bishop for over 20 years, was a liberal Christian theologian and an activist for civil rights and social justice. He stirred controversy by advocating for the acceptance of LGBTQ people in the church, ordaining gay clergy, and blessing same-sex marriage.
“The cross reveals that we’re called to a deeper, fuller experience of what it means to be alive and open to new dimensions of life which our religious boundaries—creeds, atonement theologies—have kept us from experiencing,” he told PW during a 2013 interview.
Spong found a publishing home at HarperOne, and Michael Maudlin, senior v-p and executive editor at the publisher, called the author "a pioneering figure and moral visionary ahead of his time."
"We are saddened by this loss while also proud of our long association with him, publishing nineteen of his prophetic and timely works," Maudlin added. "We will endeavor to keep his voice alive through the powerful ministry of the written word.”
Among Spong's bestselling works are Jesus for the Non-Religious (2008), Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile (1998), and The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love (2006). Other notable titles include Unbelievable: Why Neither Ancient Creeds Nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today (2019) and Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell (2010).
Kelly Hughes, publicist at DeChant-Hughes Public Relations who worked extensively with Spong, described him as a "prolific, compelling, and passionate writer."
"Bishop Spong connected with hundreds of thousands of devoted readers who responded to his vision of a loving and inclusive faith. Many of his fans said they felt they could remain in the church because of him. He was a great joy to work with, a kind, compassionate witty, person with a warm pastoral side that the headlines often missed.”
The author leaves behind his wife and three daughters, according to the Religion News Service.