Thinking Out Loud

August 9, 2015

The Strange Case of Rev. Gretta Vosper

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:22 am
Gretta Vosper, John Suk: Birds of a feather

Gretta Vosper, John Suk: Birds of a feather

I don’t stress the Canadian origins of this blog. I did when I started, but as the stats started coming in, I realized that both my readership and my subject matter were dominantly American, and it was easier just to blend.

So it’s always interesting to me when something taking place in your own backyard turns up as the subject matter on U.S. websites. Such was the case yesterday at Internet Monk.  Daniel Jepsen wrote:

I don’t know much about the Canadian religious scene. Perhaps some of our northern readers can weigh in on this. Apparently the largest denomination, the United Church, has been long known for its liberal leanings and inclusiveness. But one minister is testing the boundaries: The Rev. Gretta Vosper, spiritual leader of West Hill United Church in suburban Toronto, is an avowed atheist. Vosper has been upfront about this since 2001, but things came to a head earlier this year after she wrote an open letter objecting to a prayer a fellow minister had written following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. Vosper said the prayer should have acknowledged that belief in God could trigger extremism [because, ya know, all the great massacres of the 20th century (the Cultural Revolution, the Stalinist purges, the Khmer Rouge) were led by Billy Bibles]. Rev. Vosper will face a church hearing to determine whether she is upholding her ordination vows, which included affirming a belief in “God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” One proposal on the table is to trade her to the Unitarians for cash and two seminary prospects.

This is a subject close to my heart, as my vocation allows me to see the entire spectrum of United Church ministers, members and adherents; from the extreme liberals, to the churches which are very evangelical. I felt a certain responsibility to add to the comments at iMonk.

Gretta Vosper is currently grabbing headlines in Canada, but I don’t believe her situation is entirely unique. Rev. John Suk is another example. In a November, 2014 interview in the United Church Observer, the pastor of Toronto’s Lawrence Park Community Church said,

I think it’s ridiculous to talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus…All religions of the world are hopeful that this life is not all there is, and so am I. I don’t believe in heaven as it is described mythically in scripture. I hope for some kind of spiritual consciousness after I die that is loving. I’m not afraid of death; it feels like whatever happens next will be good. Even if it’s only a forever sleep, it will be a good rest.

A July article on Vosper in the Vancouver Sun states,

One of the things the Vosper case strongly suggests is the United Church has become so freedom-fixated and inclusive — often boasting “We Welcome Everyone” — that it has lost its boundaries…There is a deep spiritual issue at play here if it’s true many closet atheists toil among the United Church’s more than 3,000 clergy…

The article linked at Internet Monk’s Ramblings [akin to our Wednesday Link List] says that Vosper will be held to account as to her faithfulness to her ordination vows, “which included affirming a belief in ‘God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’” However, a visit to the denomination’s ‘Beliefs: Overview’ page on its website contains references to the teachings of Jesus, but not his divinity; there is no mention of sin, no mention of salvation.

In balance, it must be said that for every local UCC church headed by a Vosper or a Suk, there are indeed some evangelical United Church congregations. Overall however, this is a denomination that has clearly lost its way, but is no doubt capable of hanging on for another fifty years because of its vast real estate holdings and income from estates.

 

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September 25, 2012

A Response to the COEXIST Poster

source: Stand to Reason (STR) Blog

UPDATE (Dec. 4, 2012) As noted in a comment below, if you want to know more about the origin of this graphic visit contradictmovement.org

February 5, 2011

Obama’s Transparency About His Personal Faith

After hearing U.S. President Barak Obama’s speech at this week’s National Prayer Breakfast, I can say this without contradiction:  The problem is not that the president is ambigious about his faith, the problem is that most North Americans are not as clear and unequivocal about what they believe.

CNN News has very kindly provided its online readers not only with a short video providing a visual snapshot of that morning, but the full text of Obama’s speech that day.

…[L]et me tell you, these past two years, they have deepened my faith. The presidency has a funny way of making a person feel the need to pray. Abe Lincoln said, as many of you know, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.”

As well, he states categorically that faith matters transcend political differences:

It’s also comforting to know that people are praying for you who don’t always agree with you. Tom Coburn, for example, is here. He is not only a dear friend but also a brother in Christ. We came into the Senate at the same time. Even though we are on opposite sides of a whole bunch of issues, part of what has bound us together is a shared faith, a recognition that we pray to and serve the same God…

My Christian faith then has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years. All the more so, when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time, we are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us but whether we’re being true to our conscience and true to our God. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

He even provides a glimpse into his personal prayer life.

We see an aging parent wither under a long illness, or we lose a daughter or a husband in Afghanistan, we watch a gunman open fire in a supermarket – and we remember how fleeting life can be. And we ask ourselves how have we treated others, whether we’ve told our family and friends how much we love them. And it’s in these moments, when we feel most intensely our mortality and our own flaws and the sins of the world, that we most desperately seek to touch the face of God…

…When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to give me the strength to do right by our country and its people. And when I go to bed at night I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to forgive me my sins, and look after my family and the American people, and make me an instrument of His will.

I say these prayers hoping they will be answered, and I say these prayers knowing that I must work and must sacrifice and must serve to see them answered. But I also say these prayers knowing that the act of prayer itself is a source of strength. It’s a reminder that our time on Earth is not just about us; that when we open ourselves to the possibility that God might have a larger purpose for our lives, there’s a chance that somehow, in ways that we may never fully know, God will use us well.

Watch the video and read the full text at CNN’s Belief Blog.

Here are a couple of footnotes to Thursday’s speech that you’ll find as you peruse other parts of CNN Belief:

  • The annual prayer breakfast is hosted by The Family aka The Fellowship Foundation.   While thousands gathered inside, a group of about thirty protested outside, claiming the foundation is involved with supporting anti-gay legislation in Uganda.
  • A day later, on Friday, Obama released the names of twelve more Americans appointed to the White House’s multi-faith advisory council, including Nancy Wilson head of the Metropolitan Community Church, a large denomination mostly serving those who identify as  LGBT, and Lynne Hybels, wife of Willow Creek Community Church pastor Bill Hybels.  Click for a complete list and biography of all twelve appointees.
  • Spin is everything.  The executive director of the American Humanist Association, Roy Speckhardt is quoted at Secular News Daily: “President Obama’s remarks acknowledge that children can be raised with a strong moral and ethical foundation, free from the presence of dogmatic religion. He’s living proof that one can lead a successful, moral, and dedicated life of service without the drumbeat of religion in one’s upbringing. The humanist community has fought for the validation of this fact, and to hear the President of the United States echo the sentiment is gratifying.”
  • While political observers filled the blogosphere with reports on the event, my fellow Alltop Church and Alltop Christianity bloggers seemed to steer clear of it; surprising since most are U.S.-based.  The one who did comment, was actually there, but Eugene Cho commented only briefly, and the provided the text of last year’s speech by the President.
  • Other events at the prayer breakfast, including an appearance by space shuttle astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Gabby Gifford, are covered at this report at The Underground.

November 8, 2010

And Then There’s This Website…

I found this after the woman in question took a HALF PAGE advertisement in the Toronto, Canada edition of Metro, the commuter newspaper.   Half pages don’t come cheap.

It ran on October 18th, 20 days ago.  It linked to this:

www.thepeacelady.com

Nothing like a website that cuts to the chase, right?

I decided to look up the individual video clips which comprise the website at their source on YouTube.   Less than 100 views each.  Not a single comment.  (Well, maybe one.)

I figured you guys might want to help her out with her stats.

But seriously…Why do people do this?   Who is the intended audience?  What is the intended result?  How clear is the message?   What do I do (as Andy Stanley would say) to ‘discern the next steps?’

Better yet, here’s a good question for today:  Have you ever personally known anyone who was part of something religious that was, for lack of a better (kinder) term, “incredibly fringe?”  Did you ever challenge their beliefs or spiritual modus operandi?

Learn more about The Peace Lady here in this December, 2009 report.   If you live in Toronto and you’ve seen the woman on the bridges in the white robe “blessing” the traffic; yep…it’s the same person.

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