Canadian minister, Revd Gretta Vosper, looks increasingly likely to be defrocked on theological grounds. The Toronto regional conference of the United Church of Canada has decided that she is not suitable to continue as a minister of the church at West Hill in Toronto city. Her case will now go before a formal panel of the church’s national General Council.
The findings which led to this outcome were outlined in a report from the ‘Interview Committee’ delegated to question Gretta Vosper about her beliefs. Having read their recomendations, I was struck by the possibility that the eight reasons given for defrocking Gretta Vosper might be thought of by many as a reasonable starting point for evolving a new Christianity for the 21st Century. OK so perhaps not all of them, but at least five of them, in my opinion.
Here is their list of the 8 shortcomings of faith and practice of which Gretta was accused.
“Ms. Vosper told the Committee that she
1. does not believe in a Trinitarian God. Instead, by ‘god/God’ she means what is created between people in relationships, but does not exist separate from us, and the construct is not divine.
2. does not use the word ‘God’ because its use is a barrier to some people.
3. does not believe that Jesus was divine. He is not the Son of God. Jesus is not her Saviour.
4. no longer calls herself a Christian.
5. does not believe that there is a Holy Spirit.
6. does not believe that there is a God who calls anyone to ministry.
7. does not administer sacraments.
8. does not consider scripture to be the primary source, but merely one source of information amongst many.“
When Gretta Vosper addressed a joint conference of PCN Britain and Sea of Faith in 2014, the spiritual warmth of the event was widely appreciated. And PCN Britain has for some time supported Gretta and her church at West Hill in Toronto as they seek to keep her as their minister. A year ago we made the following statement,
“PCN is sensitive to the fact that not all trustees or members agree with her theology, (or atheology). Yet we believe the vast majority of our members recognise the worth of her ministry and believe that a trial based on loyalty to credal statements is a backward step for faith.” (Read the full letter).
What do you think of this list of Gretta’s offences, both its nature and its content? On how many of these counts would you be found guilty? (Give yourself a score out of 8). Where would you part company with Gretta Vosper, if indeed you would?
Be assured, nothing in this list should disqualify you from joining PCN Britain.
Whiled there are quite a few of the points listed that I personally would not be comfortable with, I think it’s disappointing that the denomination has taken this decision, especially in the light of the fact that her church is actively seeking to retain her in her current position.
Her own church have a much better understanding of her personal faith and spiritual position, rather than making a judgement according to her responses to a set of doctrinal positions.
We all have different understandings of God and none of us can claim to be an authority on the subject, there needs to be room for understanding and tolerance.
Thanks for posting this Andy.
Rather than say too much, too quickly, I think it is worth reflecting on the consequences of defining views creedally. The Buddha is widely belived to have refused to discuss certain questions known as the avyakata or unanswerable..
When asked why he remained silent, he described such questions as a net of theories, speculations and dogmas. It was only by freeing oneself from bondage to such theory and dogma that he escaped fever, unease, bewilderment and suffering.
This trial has similarities to those unanswerable questions. It is a mistake to enter a dialectic creedal discussion. It leads to contention and antagonism.
For many people this trial will be remiscent of ‘angels on pinheads’ and of similar relevance to their lives. If Gretta is valued by her community for her compassionate ministry, they should retain her.
The church exists for the community, not the community for the church.
There is some interesting material contained in earlier posts on this. If you’re not familiar with the background, the extracts below will give a feel for previous discussion:
Comment from Angela Smith explaining the PCN Trustees letter of support to Greta Vosper:
‘...On becoming aware of what amounts to putting Gretta on a heresy trial, I sent an email of support to Gretta with the approval of the trustees of PCN Britain. PCN is sensitive to the fact that not all trustees or members agree with her theology, (or atheology). Yet we believe the vast majority of our members recognise the worth of her ministry and believe that a trial based on loyalty to credal statements is a backward step for faith.’
‘... This could have been a tremendous opportunity for dialogue and conversation (which was offered by West Hill and Gretta to the church) but instead has been squandered in a strict legalistic approach that is causing tens of thousands of dollars to be spent on lawyers’ fees on both sides. It is severely draining to Gretta’s financial resources and it affects the career of not only Gretta but of all United Church clergy for whom this newly created post-ordination theological test will be a requirement.’
The tendency towards acrimonious legal dispute is why we need to be careful about this. Rather than accept an agenda that requires creedal definition and affirmation (orthodoxy). It would be wiser to establish and affirm a way of life (othropraxy). John Churcher makes a similar point in recent post introducing his study course.
‘...The encouragement is for each individual to describe her or his sacred experiences…as we move from the orthodoxy of words into the orthopraxis of living costly, sacrificial lives of love…
Confused? Try the Belief-O-Matic quiz: http://www.beliefnet.com/entertainment/quizzes/beliefomatic.aspx
Welcome to the forum. I tried the Belief-o-Matic quiz. It was quite a challenge as the questions cover such a range. I was worried that it wouldn’t make sense of me, since my responses didn’t strike me as entirely consistent. Turned out it got me just right, suggesting that I should be a liberal Quaker, which is what I happen to be.
I scored five and a half. If I had scored more than that I would wonder what I was doing ministering in a Christian church rather than in, say, a purely secular place, which would be just as good.