United Church of Canada Review Committee Recommends Atheist Minister Be Defrocked

Vosper-compressedTORONTO — A review committee with the United Church of Canada has recommended the removal of an ordained minister who identifies as an 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 2015, 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 in April a denominational committee announced that it had rejected the request.

Now, a review committee has determined that Vosper is unfit to serve as a minister.

“In our opinion, she is not suitable to continue in ordained ministry because she does not believe in God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit,” the Toronto Conference Review Committee wrote on Wednesday. “We have concluded that if Gretta Vosper were before us today, seeking to be ordained, we would not recommend her.”

It then voted 19 to 4 that Vosper is “unsuitable to continue serving.”

However, denominational leaders are giving Vosper and her congregation a chance to reply to their conclusion.

“We’re going to hear from Gretta and her congregation, and it’s possible that they could say something that could cause us to go in a totally different or a slightly different direction,” David Allen, the executive director of the Toronto conference, told the Toronto Star.

“My sadness is for the many clergy and members and individuals currently studying for leadership in the UCC who are now also being told they need to keep quiet about their true beliefs or risk censure,” Vosper also remarked to the outlet. “The majority report said nothing about ethos and spoke exclusively to theological belief. A very sad day for the UCC.”

Vosper’s congregation gave her a standing ovation on Sunday.

A decision is expected in the matter within the week.


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