A provocative retired Anglican bishop who supports gay rights within the church is to give give a series of talks in the UK.

John Shelby Spong, a bishop with the Episcopal Church in Newark, New Jersey, for 24 years, is conducting a world tour in support of his book Jesus for the Non-Religious.

He has already toured New Zealand and flies to South Africa afterwards his UK appearances.

Bishop Spong will be holding public lectures in churches and libraries around the UK, finishing with a talk in St John’s Church, an Anglican parish church opposite London’s Waterloo station, on Saturday 20th October.

The liberal theologian has aroused criticism from high ranking members of the church such as the Archbishop of Canterbury due to his controversial views about the future of the Anglican church and Christianity in general.

As well as gay rights, 76-year-old Bishop Spong encourages feminism and racial equality within the church, and he called for a new Christian Reformation in which some of the religion’s core beliefs should be challenged.

This includes a point where he says that all human beings must be respected for who they are as they all bear God’s image, and so no external description of anyone, including their sexual orientation, should be used for basis of rejection or discrimination.

In one of his essays on his website he compares the Church’s treatment of homosexuals to that of slavery saying:

“If you substitute the word homosexuality for the word slavery, that is what is present today in the main line churches.

“If homosexuality is a given not a chosen way of life, the continued violation of gay and lesbian people, in order to preserve unity with the Church’s homophobic constituency, is simply immoral.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who was the Bishop of Monmouth at the time, wrote a response to Spong’s beliefs where he could not see how it would be possible for Spong’s wholesale changes would be able to create an interesting or defensible future for Christianity.

The Archbishop did say he could see where Spong’s argument was coming from, admitting:

“I think I understand the passion behind all this, the passion to make sense to those for whom the faith is at best quaint and at worst oppressive nonsense.”

There is widespread feeling that there are deep divisions within the Church of England, with Dr Williams fighting to keep liberal American bishops within the church after conservative members of the clergy put pressure to expel them after the ordaining of the first gay bishop in 2003, Gene Robinson.

Asavin Wattanajantra