‘Vitriol’ among United Church members as atheist minister closer to being dismissed in formal hearing
Douglas Quan | September 22, 2016 | Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press
Rev. Gretta Vosper — who has said she doesn't believe in “the god called God” — is facing to a review of whether she is following her ordination vows.A United Church of Canada minister who is a self-professed atheist and has been the subject of an unprecedented probe into her theological beliefs is one step closer to being removed from the pulpit.
Sub-executive members of the church’s Toronto Conference announced Thursday they have asked the church’s general council, the most senior governance body, to hold a formal hearing to decide whether Rev. Gretta Vosper, who does not believe in God or the Bible, should be placed on the disciplinary “Discontinued Service List.”“Some will be disappointed and angry that this action has been taken, believing that the United Church may be turning its back on a history of openness and inclusivity,” it said in a statement. (Has Vosper ever heard of Unitarianism? She might find a better fit for her beliefs among them.)“Others have been frustrated that the United Church has allowed someone to be a minister in a Christian church while disavowing the major aspects of the Christian faith. There is no unanimity in the church about what to do.” (When you abandon reason for relativism, your compass no longer points in any meaningful direction.)Vosper, who presides over a congregation of about 120 people on a typical Sunday at West Hill United Church in Toronto, said in a statement, “In spite of the many letters of support and concern about this process, the sub-executive has continued down a path that can only result in division.” (Why is it that the guilty always point the (middle) finger at others? Does she not see that she has made herself the cause for division? How is the UCC to blame for insisting that its ministers conform to UCC tenets?)In our opinion, she is not suitable to continue in ordained ministry because she does not believe in God.In her appearance before the sub-executive, Vosper said she took pride in the fact the United Church embraced diverse perspectives and was always willing to leave one chair empty at the table for those people “from whom they least want to hear.” (Apparently, Vosper doesn't see the obvious disconnect between her atheism and the UCC which is, however vaguely, still a religious community with a few folk who still believe in God.)Her lawyer, Julian Falconer, said it was troubling the church would “choose discipline over dialogue.” (Is there a point to dialogue with someone who has publicly renounced the beliefs she is supposed to uphold?)“This should not be about legal hearings and an adversarial process. This should be about inclusion and support for a very healthy ministry,” he said. (An atheist demands a seat at the table while rejecting the very tenets of her ecclesial community?)In its statement, the sub-executive acknowledged the continuing probe has been a source of division and “vitriol” in the church. Proceeding to a formal hearing will be costly in terms of “emotional and spiritual energy” and “time and finances,” it said.“At the same time, the sub-executive moved forward believing that a clear answer was required.”The recommendation for a formal hearing comes after a report this month by a Toronto Conference committee found Vosper was “not suitable” to continue as an ordained minister with the United Church.According to the report, Vosper said in an interview that she stopped using the word “God” in her ministry because it was a barrier to participation in the church. Even if she were given incontrovertible proof that a god does exist, the disparity, tragedy, illness and anguish in the world would prevent her from worshipping it. (Sounds like Vosper has given in to despair. Perhaps she blames God for man's sins.)In that same interview, Vosper said she never calls herself a Christian; prefers to hold Sunday “gatherings,” instead of worship; and uses the term “community sharing” in place of prayer at her church. (If she doesn't look like, walk like, talk like or pray like a duck, maybe she's not a duck.)“We have concluded that if Gretta Vosper were before us today, seeking to be ordained, the Toronto Conference interview committee would not recommend her,” the report said.“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. Ms. Vosper does not recognize the primacy of scripture (Vosper is not the only UCC minister to deny the authority of Scripture), she will not conduct the sacraments, and she is no longer in essential agreement with the statement of doctrine of the United Church of Canada.”More than 1,100 people have signed an online petition supporting her. (Perhaps those 1,100 supporters will form her new congregation when she is kicked out of the UCC... ?)“The freedom to explore all angles of our Christian beliefs is necessary for us to grow,” one supporter wrote. “This witch hunt is unjust.” (Well, they got the witch part sorta right. Perhaps the 'witch' label is a little unfair... to wiccans. At least most if not all wiccans are honest enough to admit they are pagans.)“Gretta has opened new and exciting opportunities for understanding. … No wonder the Church is being seen as irrelevant,” another wrote. (The UCC is irrelevant because it is little more than a religious social club that holds relativism as its highest virtue.)