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In his new autobiography Bishop John Shelby Spong, former rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, tells how he became one of the most controversial voices in organized religion.

Spong's Story

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Controversial ideas seldom rise from a vacuum. And controversial figures tend to be made, not born. As he reveals in his autobiography, "Here I Stand: My Struggle For A Christianity of Integrity, Love And Equality," (Harper San Francisco, $25) such was the case with John Shelby Spong, the former rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, and currently the soon-to-be-retiring bishop of the diocese of Newark, N.J. The story of how a man raised in a traditional, Southern household became one of the most controversially liberal voices in organized religion is certainly a worthwhile read. Spong tells his story by describing what he did, and when, against the twin backdrops of the events that shaped the country and the Episcopal Church. He knows how to keep the pages turning. He deftly describes his upbringing, education and career. To his credit, Spong is able to make even arcane religious and theological points accessible. Who knew that conferences of bishops, with political machinations worthy of a Senate budget debate, could be interesting? Many of the events in the book will be familiar. A substantial part of it is dedicated to the early '70s, when Spong was at St. Paul's. Spong makes the case that his time in Richmond was where the three themes that came to define his career came together: an intense desire to teach, and to address theological issues in a provocative, challenging way; a willingness to speak out on issues such as poverty, race, and later homosexuality, that transcended the church; and an active writing life that would ensure many more people than just his congregation heard his message. Just as Spong is a popularizer of Scripture in his books, writing not for the theologian but for the lay person, in this book he never forgets how wide his audience is. And he holds his audience. "Here I Stand" is an engaging, honest and forthright examination and description of the life of a man, often misunderstood, who never fails to elicit a strong reaction. Spong will talk about his new book during a signing at Borders Books and Music Saturday, Jan. 29 at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30, Spong will return to St. Paul's Church, 815 E. Grace St., for 9 and 11 a.m. services. At 10 a.m. he will conduct an education forum there. Call 643-3589 for

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