Thinking Out Loud

August 20, 2012

United Church of Canada Elects Openly Gay Moderator

Following in the steps of some Anglican national groups,  on August 16th, the United Church of Canada (UCC) Canada’s second largest religious denomination has elected Rev. Gary Patterson to its top post.  Patterson has been in a high-profile gay relationship for thirty years. You can read more, and see a video interview at BDBO.

The UCC was formed in 1925 through a merger of Presbyterian, Congregational and Methodist churches; though each denomination also survived in some form with congregations that did not submit to the merger. My father once said, “When you try to merge three denominations, you end up with four,” and certainly that proved true here.

Although the phrase consisting of the last 75% of its name, “Church of Canada” isn’t heard too often, the vision was to create something that would form a national brand church in the same way Anglican churches are referred to in Britain as “Church of England.”

However, on the spectrum between conservative Evangelicalism and liberalism, the UCC has been progressing toward the latter. Some would argue that statement and say it’s more of a progression from orthodoxy toward universalism.  A Wikipedia article notes the church’s inter-faith stance:

“The church believes that there are many paths to God. The United Church’s path is through Jesus Christ, but the church also recognizes that Christians’ understanding of this is limited by an incomplete comprehension of God; their belief is that the Holy Spirit of God is also at work through other non-Christian faiths.”

There are however some very evangelical congregations currently under the UCC umbrella. This raises the question as to whether or not they will wish to continue in the denomination or if this leadership vote constitutes a ‘last straw.’  In 2002, the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) diocese of New Westminster created a rite for the blessing of same sex marriages.  This resulted in a backlash both nationally and from two African countries who felt they couldn’t continue in an Anglican body that would permit that position. 

As a result, there have been numerous breakaway congregations in the ACC –  forming alternative denominations or just becoming independent — and some feel this trend could surface in the UCC over this choice of moderator. The problem in both cases is that the denomination claims title to land and buildings; groups that leave are left with nothing in terms of property or facilities. 

But others note that land and buildings are all the denomination has. Certainly attendance is flagging, and many churches meet their bottom line each year only because of bequests from parishioners who have died. (The UCC congregation where this writer did pulpit supply occasionally over the past three years was staying afloat through rentals to two ethnic churches and the income from a Montessori school and daycare.  Attendance averaged 25-30 adults with no children or teens present.)

There was a record field of 15 candidates for the UCC Moderator position and news reports did not mention the sexual orientations of other individuals the 350 delegates could have chosen.

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5 Comments »

  1. We should not be surprised. The United Church of Canada began its descent down the slippery slope of unorthodoxy and compromise 50 years ago or more. This is just another slip or slide. Sad!!!

    Comment by David Fisher — August 20, 2012 @ 8:26 pm

  2. At last! A Moderator that might lead the United Church of Canada away from the “slippery slope” of being unclear about its dogma and beliefs for years. It is time for the church to be relevant to the post modern period. We don’t worship the Bible; we worship God. God is Love. What is Love? Start there, my friend, David Fisher. Love is itself a slippery slope that needs a lot of exploration and questioning. When we know Love and embrace it unquestionably, we will know God. PLEASE let us move away from orthodoxy and dogma and away from a supernatural God, into a belief system that brings the metaphor of God alive. The Spirit lives within each one of us, regardless of our dogmatic belief.

    Comment by lumbylad — August 24, 2012 @ 12:18 am

    • You reminded me of a quote by E. Stanley Jones:

      When we say we worship God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God. Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

      In my work, we refer to the G-word as meaning so many different things to so many different people. But if you really want to clear a room — or send your dinner guests home early — start using the J-word, as in Jesus.

      What we know about Jesus we know largely through the Bible. We don’t worship the book as such, but we do respect its authority. Like a frame that draws us in to the image it surrounds, all of the Bible, both Old Covenant and New Covenant points to Jesus Christ. II Tim 3:16 reads like this in the NIrV:

      God has breathed life into all of Scripture. It is useful for teaching us what is true. It is useful for correcting our mistakes. It is useful for making our lives whole again. It is useful for training us to do what is right.

      Your profile says, “Jesus did his best but died. A Bummer because he was on the right track.” Jesus didn’t just do “his best” but he completed all that had been planned for since before the beginning of time itself. That’s the “good news” of the Christ story. He wasn’t just a great moral teacher, he was God incarnate, God with us.

      You also say in your profile, “dogma is not important … we can examine morality, not set it, and get rid of dogma.” Then there is no absolute truth? I hope if you ever step onto an airplane that the pilot is very dogmatic when it comes to the laws of science and aviation. If he believes that 2 + 2 might equal 5, you need to change planes quickly before takeoff.

      The wonderful thing about being a Christ follower is that although we walk in faith, God lets us in on just enough of His big picture that there are things we can place our trust and confidence in. There are things we can know, and know that we know. God is asking, “Do you trust me?”

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — August 24, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

      • Thank you for your important thoughts, Paul. Although I am a “senior”, I realize I am not the traditional Christian, but perhaps what we might call the new Christian if we opened our doors a bit wider. We might start with the truism that we cannot know God is It’s/His/Her fullest sense. We use our words to try to approximate our meanings. When you say “God has breathed life into all of Scripture,” I ask you to reflect if God has lungs and a mouth to do this. If not, don’t use these words. It drives those who need to enter our church away. I agree that there are scientific principles that we have defined to be true. When it comes to what is essential to discovering our meaning of life, nothing is true at all except that there is a TRUTH somewhere and we call it God. My truth is not your truth. My relationship to my God is different to yours. Is one better? No. Just as we can see a tree (a true thing?) is 100 different ways, so it is with God. Dogma from the various churches only reflects our need to “know for certain”, but it also drives people away from the church. The church must adapt if it is to survive. Jesus had no church and managed quite well, and we can IF we can use him as our model.

        Your view of Jesus as God incarnate is pretty common. I cannot prove or disprove it. It is a perception and you express your belief in Jesus as the son of God in your way. I am also one of the sons of God. We are meant to be as Jesus was. God is within me from my creation. It is understood from the Bible that the Holy Spirit came through Jesus, but I think mankind had God within before Jesus’ death. His death was important, don’t get me wrong. Without his death, we would not have Christianity, I suspect. To believe, however, that God planned all of this as we plan events, is a bit of that supernatural that I think is foolish. God does not plan earthquakes to teach us a lesson or drown our child accidentally to teach us better parenting. God is within US. We are his stewards. God created us. We now continue to co-create with God. Does God intervene in creation? Yes, through us. If we goof off on God, our world will end (and God will perhaps move on to find another planet to play with?). It’s time for us to speak it terms that all can understand. Most of life is about faith and belief. We KNOW little for sure. What we know is from the laws of creation, now principles of Science. As for God, when Science is able to prove how something can be created from nothing, will God survive? I believe it will. Love and Life are the miracles of Christ. They come from the God-chip (Spirit) within each of us that was there since the beginning of mankind. That is my belief. I like what you say, but it keeps us from moving forward.

        Comment by lumbylad — August 24, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

  3. One more thing, Paul. The G-word does not clear a room because we are all God’s people. Even Jesus said that he came to clear up this misconception of the Jewish people that they were so special. The J-word clears a room because it stands for the lack of inclusion. Jesus is JUST for Christians. How can he be also God incarnate? I don’t want an answer to these questions or concerns because we are only doing our best to understand in a way that makes our relationship with our God true and comfortable. I believe that the United Church needs to become more inclusive. We are known for what we do; for social justice and tolerance of diversity, etc. We are followers of Jesus. But some may see him as a human teacher rather than the son of God. The latter viewpoint is one that drives people out of our churches. Perhaps we need to, as Rev. Gary Patterson, our moderator says, meet together and deeply discern just what we believe in each church, so that we can speak to God as a group. It is not the teachings of Jesus that clear a room, but our insistance that he must be part of a supernatural Trinity.

    Comment by lumbylad — August 24, 2012 @ 6:44 pm


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