United Church of Canada Rejects Atheist Minister’s Attempt to Stop Review, Possible Defrocking

Vosper-compressedTORONTO — An ordained minister with the United Church of Canada has lost her appeal to stop an official review of her qualifications to be a church leader as she is a professing atheist.

“I don’t believe in … the god called God,” Gretta Vosper told the Globe and Mail last year. “Using the word gets in the way of sharing what I want to share.”

As previously reported, Vosper believes that the Bible is “mythology,” and denies that Jesus is the Son of God.

“God, as the source of goodness, and as the way that goodness comes into the world, and as the promise that everything is going to be good in the end, whether in this lifetime or in the afterlife—that God doesn’t exist anymore,” she states. “We have to recognize that we are only way that good is going to come into this world. We are the definers of what is good. [But] what’s good in one community won’t be good in another.”

Vosper, 57, and who was ordained in 1993, first came out as an atheist in 2001. However, her congregation still supported her until 2008 when she sought to do away with the use of the Lord’s Prayer and lost approximately 100 members of her 150-member congregation.

Last year, Vosper wrote an open letter asserting that a belief in God can compel people to commit evil, referencing the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France.

“That didn’t go over well,” Vosper, who also founded the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity, told reporters. “[But] if we are going to continue to use language that suggests we get our moral authority from a supernatural source, any group that says that can trump any humanistic endeavor.”

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She was soon reported to the United Church of Canada, which launched an investigation into her “effectiveness” as a minister. In May, Nora Sanders, general secretary for the UCC General Council, provided the denomination with standards on which to determine whether Vosper should stay or go.

Attorneys for Vosper filed an appeal of the review, consisting of over 1,600 pages, but on Thursday a denominational committee announced that it had rejected the request.

“After fully and thoroughly considering all submissions by the appellant and respondent, the executive of the judicial committee decided that the appeal did not meet the grounds for an appeal,” the one-page decision said in part.

She will now have to face a special committee to give account for her actions and beliefs.

“At the end of the process, [Vosper] will have had a full and fair opportunity to speak directly to the church about her position,” David Allen, executive secretary of the Toronto conference, told reporters. “[The] Toronto conference—based on the review process—will have good reasons why she should continue in ministry or good reasons why she should not.”

Vosper told reporters that she will be disappointed if she is defrocked.

“I will be really sad that my fitness for ministry is based entirely on whether or not I can affirm an archaic doctrinal statement that describes God in a way that is incomprehensible and no longer has meaning for me or many within the United Church,” she told CBC News this week.

“I will feel betrayed by the Church because it has created who I am,” she said. “It has been a major force in my life. It has taught me what I know. It has given me the tools to explore. It has demanded that I do that and so I’ve done that and here we are.”


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