A few months ago I wrote an article on the case of Gretta Vosper, a United Church minister who is an avowed atheist. The United Church of Canada, formed in 1925, has long been known as the bastion of mainline Protestant liberalism. But you might think that atheism is a bit much, even for the United Church. A few days ago CBC Radio’s The Current broadcast a twenty minute documentary on Vosper’s case which you can listen to here.
What most struck me about the documentary is how Vosper, under the aegis of inclusivity, marginalized orthodox Christians within her own congregation. (In this case, I’m defining “orthodox” very modestly as believing that God exists and is uniquely revealed in Jesus Christ.) For example, Vosper recalls how she had decided that the Lord’s Prayer was irrelevant and so she began prefacing her public recitation of it with this pandering qualification:
“I would introduce it and invite people for whom the words had meaning to say them with me and then I started to introduce it saying, ‘Those for whom these words have meaning, I invite you to say them together, and those for whom they do not I invite you to think of you know, something that’s important to you.'”
Imagine a leader of a local chapter of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who stands up to introduce PETA’s plans to oppose the upcoming slaughter of baby harp seals in eastern Canada, and he prefaces the report with this disclaimer:
“For those of you who care about baby seals, I’ll invite you to pay attention. The rest of you think of something that’s important to you.”
Now try to picture that a large portion of the group cared nothing for animal rights and only met together every month because they liked the PETA community. Even more unimaginable. And yet, that’s the absurdity of Gretta Vosper and her church. They’ve rejected the heart of Christian faith — incarnation, atonement, even theism — and have decided that they simply like meeting together. The PETA community that cares not for baby harp seals is a PETA community in name only. And the Christian community that cares not for Jesus Christ is Christian in name only.
To preface the words of Jesus with “Those for whom these words have meaning” isn’t broadminded inclusivity, it’s a slap in the face to the disciple who has gathered in this place precisely because the words of Jesus have meaning, and authority, and power.
A bit of good news: the documentary also features an irenic, thoughtful, and — so far as I can hear — orthodox United Church minister named Connie denBok whose interview begins with a refreshing if slightly apologetic disclaimer of her own: “We actually believe all that stuff…”