The Atheist – I

She was back in the news again. I’ve tried to ignore the story, but maybe it is time to raise the questions.

Gretta Vosper is a minister with the United Church of Canada, the biggest Christian denomination in the country. The United Church, as its name implies, was created in the 1925 merger of three traditional churches, the Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists.

The purpose behind creating this megachurch was (Canadians take my word for this) to build a better church for the evangelization of the country. Today the United Church is known for social activism and not for concern for lost souls, but that isn’t why the church was created. What you become doesn’t always reflect your roots.

The seed for the drift was planted in the merger agreement. The Congregationalists were late to the dance (talks had been ongoing for decades) but happy to join in, with one condition. They insisted that the 20 point Articles of Doctrine, a solid summary of evangelical belief, need not be affirmed by clergy. In other words, United Church leaders didn’t have to agree with church theology.

Which is how today we have Ms Vosper, an avowed atheist, as pastor of a United Church congregation. From an organizational perspective there is theoretically no issue that she does not believe in God or the divinity of Jesus Christ. After all, she’s not required to.

Ms Vosper has made headlines more than once with her unique perspective on Christianity. She seems to have the support of the majority of her congregation. Belief is not a requirement for them either. They like the message they hear at church each Sunday. As one put it: “It’s not about coming to her that I’m a sinner. That is so yuck.” I guess she never read the Articles of Doctrine either.

I don’t know whether to be saddened that non-belief in the existence of God is not a problem for so many in the United Church, or to be encouraged that there are a large number of people who see the incongruity of a Christian church leader who disavows Christianity. An official church committee has looked at her beliefs and has recommended to the national church that she be found to be unsuitable for ministry. Needless to say, in today’s society this is not the end of the story. There will be meetings, there will be protests and I am certain lawyers will be getting richer as the church gets poorer.

(Part II on this topic is coming tomorrow.)

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