Charges Filed against UMC Bishop Sprague. (News)

The Christian Century, February 8, 2003 | Go to article overview

Charges Filed against UMC Bishop Sprague. (News)


Official charges of heresy have been filed against the United Methodist bishop of Chicago, accusing him of abandoning some Christian doctrines.

On the basis of a speech he gave a year ago and a recently published book, 28 Methodists say C. Joseph Sprague should renounce his views or resign his office for not believing in such traditional doctrines as the virgin birth of Jesus, his bodily resurrection and his exclusive role in salvation.

Sprague gave the speech in January 2002 at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. Sprague, a prominent social activist, also laid out his beliefs in Affirmations of a Dissenter, published by Abingdon Press. "He maintains that Jesus Christ is not the only way to salvation and appears to deny the substitutionary atonement of Christ through his sacrificial death on the cross," the charges said, according to United Methodist News Service.

Sprague, who last year rebuffed calls for his resignation, recently told United Methodist News Service that he has chosen to say nothing. "There are many things that could be said, but my understanding is that the complaint process is supposed to be confidential," he said.

A preliminary investigation and mediation process will now be launched by Bishop Bruce Ough of western Ohio, the bishops' regional president. If the case is not settled there, an investigative committee could lead to a trial by 13 clergy members; nine votes would be needed for conviction.

Other bishops called the charges extreme. Bishop Timothy Whitaker of Florida, who has denounced Sprague's comments, said he does not need to resign but should further explain his beliefs. Richard Wilke, a retired bishop, reviewed a manuscript of Sprague's book and concluded that the bishop is "under the influence of Jesus. …

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