A Word to the Spiritual Seekers
From: Don Murray
So, shoot the messenger is still in vogue, at least within the church. We are used to hearing that Roman Catholics have been ex-communicated because they did not fit into the doctrine of the church. Conservative churches can be guilty of “shunning” – giving non-conformists the cold shoulder. But here is a committee of a liberal, inclusive, church, born out of the union of several churches, recommending that an ordained minister “be placed on the discontinued service list” – fired, defrocked. It is my own church, The United Church of Canada.
The minister in question is Rev. Gretta Vosper; a warm, highly intelligent, compassionate person supported by her congregation as an excellent pastoral minister and leader ofServices. She is personally known to Emily and me, and we heartily support her congregation’s view.
The rub comes in that she calls herself an atheist. This is a statement that does not easily fit within the traditional doctrine of the church.
“Atheism” can be an often misunderstood and confusing word. For most of us who call ourselves progressive, it means that the view of God as the big-daddy-in-the-sky who is in control of things and can intervene at will is gone. We are a-theists. We do not believe in an all-controlling deity who is there to judge and condemn if we don’t toe the line. It is vaguely based on the Bible, but comes with a great variety of interpretations. Many of us were brought up believing in that deity, but our experience of life and the evolution of society has caused the demise of that image of whatever the ultimate Mystery might be.
“Atheism” can also mean that there is no creative, evolving, force behind it all. The death-of-God of the nineteen sixties leaned toward that view, as I did for a time away back then. Many who hear the word “atheism” put Gretta in that category. Anyone who reads her thoughts and her prayers knows she passionately believes that love and compassion are at the heart of everything and that a community of caring people is what is required of us.
The church has asked Gretta to reaffirm her ordination vows. This boils down to, “Do you believe in God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Not many of us in progressive mode could affirm that statement without much discussion and interpretation. We really object to those words and can’t understand why they are still used at ordination Anyone who breathes the air of Western culture knows that to name God as father is a demonic statement. It means the support of patriarchy and the denigration of women. As Emily keeps saying, “as long as God is thought of as male there can be no equality for women.”
The church, however, finds it difficult to change. Ever since Constantine forced the church to nail down orthodoxy we have had a one-track mind as far as what we are to believe is concerned. Even the Protestant reformation didn’t change the basic story that Jesus died or our sins so that we might enjoy eternal life; which makes no sense to our understanding of how life works. Oh for the rich variety of approaches to Jesus and religion that existed in the early years of the church.
Our question to the church is “How can we grow and evolve in our experience and understanding of the Mystery of the universe if we close our ears and minds to the creative voices that push us beyond the traditional views?” We must be prepared to engage not only the thinkers in the church but also the scientists, artists and all the forces that mark our evolving culture. If we don’t, we simply hive off into a little enclave of our own and have nothing to offer the growth in consciousness and understanding that is our only hope for long-term survival.
Gretta has not yet been ousted. It is the recommendation of a committee which must be approved by the courts of the church. There is still hope. A growing movement of support for Gretta is underway. If you would like to add your name to a petition in support of Gretta, go tohttp://www.ipetitions.com/
petition/reject-vosper- recommendations. Join the four dissenting voices, on the committee of twenty-three, who affirmed that “the growth of our doctrine is not complete.”