Is Canadian Church OK with Atheist Pastors?
It’s been an open secret for a long time that the pulpits of the mainline Protestant churches are occupied by more than their fair share of charlatans, time-servers who don’t believe what they preach, but instead do all they can to undermine the faith of the people who pay them. In at least one instance, in the United Church of Canada’s Toronto Conference, evidently the wink-wink-nudge-nudge has gone too far even for them. The Toronto Star reports:
Gretta Vosper, the popular and controversial United Church of Canada minister who calls herself an atheist, should no longer be a minister, a review committee has recommended.
“In our opinion, she is not suitable to continue in ordained ministry because she does not believe in God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit,” the church’s Toronto Conference Review Committee concluded in a 39-page report released Wednesday.
“We have concluded that if Gretta Vosper were before us today, seeking to be ordained,” said the report, the committee “would not recommend her.”
“After prayer and much discussion,” the 23-person committee voted 19 to 4 in favour of a motion that found Vosper “unsuitable to continue serving.”
Vosper, 57, a minister at West Hill United Church in Scarborough for nearly two decades, does not believe in an interventionist, supernatural God. She preaches instead about love, kindness and human connection
Translation: she preaches therapeutic bromides (with, I’m guessing, a helping of liberal politics on the side). Apparently the ethics of niceness are not a substitute for theological or biblical truth, at least when the purveyor is so open about her disdain for Christianity. Vosper, demonstrating that she has no clue what the controversy is about, responded this way:
“My sadness is for the many clergy and members and individuals currently studying for leadership in the UCC who are now also being told they need to keep quiet about their true beliefs or risk censure,” Vosper told the Star in an email.
“The majority report said nothing about ethos and spoke exclusively to theological belief. A very sad day for the UCC.”
You know what’s really sad? When a person has so little respect for the institution for which they work that they insist on their right to continue to work for it even though they stand diametrically opposed to everything that it is built on. The United Church of Canada is notoriously liberal, at least as much the the United Church of Christ in the U.S., but apparently has not completely forgotten that it is supposed to be a Christian entity, and that that word actually means something. Of course, that could change as early as this week:
Vosper and her supporters will have a chance to respond to the report’s conclusions at a hearing scheduled for Sept. 15, before a separate, eight-member sub-executive committee of the church.
“We’re going to hear from Gretta and her congregation and it’s possible that they could say something that could cause us to go in a totally different or a slightly different direction,” David Allen, executive secretary of Toronto Conference of the United Church of Canada, told the Star.
The committee next week can accept the report’s recommendations, reject them or modify them, said Allen. A decision could be made the same day as the hearing.
If that committee wants to overturn the decision and declare the UCC-North is in fact the frozen branch of Unitarians Concerned about Christianists, it can rely on the minority report for justification:
Vosper has been an outspoken voice in a slow but growing movement within the United Church toward downplaying Jesus and the Bible, and adopting a more metaphorical interpretation of religious symbols and a greater emphasis on humanist, environmental and social justice causes.
The minority who dissented to the interview committee’s motion finding Vosper unsuitable wrote that many of her theological positions, “while not in the mainstream, are not unique amongst the ministers and lay persons of the United Church.”
Not in the mainstream. In other words, there are lots of other dishonest people bilking people out of their offerings by pretending to be Christians when they aren’t. Why should one more matter?
I’ll let you know whether our Canadian brethren decide they are a church, or a union of con-artists, as soon as they’ve made their decision.
(Hat tip: Jeff Walton of the Institute on Religion and Democracy at Juicy Ecumenism.)
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