Bishop John Spong vs Bill O'Reilly

O'REILLY: All right. With us now is John Shelby Spong. So I'm basically saying that African-Americans owe loyalty. And this is racist?

JOHN SHELBY SPONG, BISHOP, NEW CHRISTIANITY FOR A NEW WORLD: Well, what you said, it seems to me, was that Al Sharpton and other black people should say that they were better off because they were in America than if they had stayed in Africa.

O'REILLY: Well...

SPONG: And Bill, I sort of grew up of that stuff.

O'REILLY: Hold, it. Here's what I said exactly so that the audience knows. All Americans realize, I guess I was wrong on this, "all Americans realize that African-Americans are much better off in the United States than they would be with their brethren back in Africa." And you think that's a racist statement?

SPONG: Yes, on several levels. I think it's racist in that it doesn't take into consideration what has happened to black Americans in this country, the history of slavery and segregation. It also doesn't take into consideration what the colonial powers have done to Africa over the centuries.

O'REILLY: Bishop, I'm just stunned. All Americans, all right, I say, agree -- and I'm wrong on that, because obviously you don't. All right. You would not say that black Americans are better off in the U.S.A. than they would be if they were in Africa? You say that's an erroneous statement?

SPONG: Bill, when I was a child growing up in North Carolina, one of the ways slavery was justified was to say blacks are so much better off by being brought over here to be civilized and to be made Christians.

O'REILLY: We're not talking about the 19th century. We're talking about 2002. There is no slavery anymore.

SPONG: That's right, but we have the heritage of that. And we have slavery's bastard step-child, segregation, that has been effective in this country and is still effective.

O'REILLY: But we don't have segregation now.

SPONG: Well, you don't legally. You don't legally. But in this country, the black people still need a leg up to get to be equal.

O'REILLY: All right, that's fine. But again, I'm going to go back. Are black Americans not better off living here in the U.S.A., where life expectancy is 76, than in Africa where life expectancy is 49?

SPONG: Well, life expectancy for black Americans is not equal to life expectancy for white Americans.

O'REILLY: It's over 70. It's 49 in Africa. That's more than 20 years difference, bishop.

SPONG: But you cannot go back and say that what has happened in Africa -- we don't know what would have happened in Africa had it not been colonialized.

O'REILLY: I'm dealing with reality. I'm dealing with 2002.

SPONG: I am dealing with reality, too.

O'REILLY: You know, I was very offended by your column. And I think you're way out of base, calling this a racist statement. I deal in facts. And the fact of the matter is that black Americans in the year 2002 are better off in the United States than they would be if they were living in Africa. That is a fact.

SPONG: No, no, you call this a no-spin zone.

O'REILLY: Correct.

SPONG: And that's a spin.

O'REILLY: It's not a spin. It's a fact.

SPONG: Everything is a spin on this program. There's nothing wrong with that. You do it with great style. You're sort of a Rush Limbaugh with perfume.

O'REILLY: Well look, you're living in a dream world, bishop.

SPONG: No, I'm not.

O'REILLY: And if you want to live in that world, that's fine. Now you say "O'Reilly demanded a yes or no answer from Al Sharpton." OK?

SPONG: As you've just done from me.

O'REILLY: No, I didn't. I just said you're living in a dream world. And you are. "To what is regarded as the ultimate test of truth, are black people better off today, today," and you even say that in your column, in America than they would be in Africa? There is no question -- but there's no question that they are. So what are you dragging up the racism thing for? What are you dragging that up for?

SPONG: Well, do you want to be proud of where we are in race relations in this country? I'm proud of some progress we've made, but we've got a long way to go.

O'REILLY: Well, we have a long way to go in every country on earth, all right. There's no good country or perfect country. Everybody works. But here we go. And this is my basic tenet. If you're an African-American, a black American or a Chinese-American, or a Native-American or whatever you are, Irish-American, doesn't matter, you owe your country loyalty. Am I wrong there?

SPONG: No, I don't think you're wrong there, but...

O'REILLY: But that's my basic tenet.

SPONG: No, no, but there's a great big but. Remember, Africans didn't come here voluntarily. Your ancestors and mine did. Your ancestors and mine ancestors came looking for a better life. Blacks came to make your ancestors and my life -- my ancestors have a better life. There's a very big difference. And we need to address that.

O'REILLY: Address it how?

SPONG: Well, I think in all sorts of ways. Affirmative Action programs would help. The voting rights act, which finally gave black people the chance to vote. A wonderful story about how George Wallace stopped campaigning against blacks and started campaigning against Communists because they were 250,000...

O'REILLY: All right. So you're basically saying that America owes black people whatever.

SPONG: Oh, I think we do. But I also think...

O'REILLY: OK. And if you say that black, like I did, that black people owe loyalty to America because of the opportunities, do you know that 80 percent, that black married couples that stay together in America earn 80 percent of what white married couples earn? OK? And it's skewed because most black couples, most black people live in the south where salaries are lower. You're telling me that's not parity there, bishop?

SPONG: No, they don't have parity yet by a long shot.

O'REILLY: OK, so that statistic is bogus?

SPONG: Yes, I think...

O'REILLY: You don't believe that statistic?

SPONG: Well, statistic...

O'REILLY: Even though it comes out of the Census. You, Bishop Spong, don't believe it.

SPONG: No, but if I were say I've got -- statistics can prove anything.

O'REILLY: But that statistic is rock solid.


O'REILLY: 80 -- oh, OK, the Census statistic is no good. We'll throw that right out, because you, Bishop Spong, don't believe it. We'll throw that out the window. Come on.

SPONG: I don't think that's the proper statistic to be -- we can take statistics to prove anything.

O'REILLY: You want economic parity? It looks like black, married couples have economic parity to whites, but you don't believe that.

SPONG: I think we've come a long way. I think we've got a long way to go yet.

O'REILLY: All right.

SPONG: And I would be proud of this country when we arrive.

O'REILLY: So will I. I think everybody wants fairness for all Americans. Now I was so disappointed that you raised this racist card, because that is the most bogus argument. I don't -- we've had you on this program many times. And you and I -- you're a very liberal guy. You think that I'm Rush Limbaugh. That's fine. We disagree on many issues, but we respectfully disagree.

SPONG: I think so.

O'REILLY: You throwing in that racist canard here, that racist accusation, that shatters any respect because that's not true.

SPONG: Well, you see, I interpret racism to be a lot broader than you do. I think it's in the very air that we breathe. I think it's like alcohol. I think I am a recovering racist, like persons might be recovering alcoholics. I think you've got to be on guard against racism in your assumptions all the time. I was the bishop in the city of Newark, which is an overwhelmingly black city. And I had to constantly be aware of the things in my past that would come up and continue to distort, not my actions so much as the assumptions that were there. I think racism is a sickness that will take generations, maybe centuries to...

O'REILLY: Well nobody's arguing that. But you, a bishop, a man of God, leveling a racist accusation at me, based upon a comment that says blacks should be loyal to the U.S.A., I mean, that's just -- number one, you're wrong, OK? But number two, it's unfair. It's blatantly unfair to do it.

SPONG: I understand that you think it's wrong, but I don't believe that it is because...

O'REILLY: But you're making a judgment about me. And you don't even know me. You don't know what I do, who I help, and how I deal with people. You just don't know.

SPONG: That's true. But Bill, I only know and your personal persona. Indeed, that's the only way you know me. And I have to judge on that. And it should not surprise you that people are critical. You...

O'REILLY: Oh, I don't mind you being critical, but when you say this is a racist statement and you couldn't back it up here, I guarantee you, I'll send the mail. You're going to get fileted tomorrow.

SPONG: That's OK.

O'REILLY: You can't back it up. It just diminishes you. I know you're a good man, but that charge diminishes you.

SPONG: See, I'll get a lot of mail, too, that will be supportive.

O'REILLY: Maybe.

SPONG: Because we have different audiences.

O'REILLY: And we'll let the audience decide as always.

SPONG: And I expect your audience will be voting in favor of you.

O'REILLY: I hope so, because I have the facts on my side.

SPONG: I don't think so.

O'REILLY: And that's what always matters.