TORONTO — An apostate minister with the United Church of Canada who identifies as an atheist will not be defrocked after an agreement was reached just before she was to be put on trial over her rejection of biblical orthodoxy.
While the details of the settlement have not been made public, the United Church of Canada released a brief statement on Wednesday simply remarking that the “Toronto Conference, Gretta Vosper, and West Hill United Church have settled all outstanding issues between them.”
“Vosper will remain in ordained ministry at West Hill,” it said. “We acknowledge the faithful work of all of those who have been involved in the process.”
As previously reported, Vosper believes that the Bible is “mythology,” and denies that Jesus is the Son of God.
“The billions who profess belief in a supernatural being are not comforted by this-worldly security. They will work, argue, fight and die for a security for which there is no proof other than that which they have been taught by the Church or one of the other multitude of religions that barter the wares of the afterlife,” she wrote in her 2008 book “With or Without God: Why the Way We Live Is More Important Than What We Believe.”
“This spiritual dimension causes us to explore what is utterly beyond description; we try to pin it down with words such as spirit, the Ground of All Being, Ultimate Concern, the Divine, and God. The question of whether or not these ideas or names point to actual entities either outside of within us is outside the scope of this book,” she said. “… I know no proof of God beyond personal experience, and I cannot acknowledge that proof as substantial.”
Vosper, 60, 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.
In 2015, 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.”
She was soon reported to the United Church of Canada, which launched an investigation into her “effectiveness” as a minister. Soon afterward, Nora Sanders, general secretary for the UCC General Council, provided the denomination with standards on which to determine whether Vosper should stay or go.
In 2016, a review committee determined that Vosper was 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. “We have concluded that if Gretta Vosper were before us today, seeking to be ordained, we would not recommend her.”
She was to have faced a defrocking trial this month, which she and others dubbed a “heresy trial,” but that was cancelled due to the settlement between the Toronto Conference, West Hill United Church and Vosper.
“Both parties took a long look at the cost-benefit at running a heresy trial and whether it was good for anyone [and] the results speak for themselves,” Vosper attorney Julian Falconer told The Canadian Press. “They recognized there’s a place for Gretta, and that there is no reason to separate the minister and the congregation.”
However, the United Church of Canada also released a statement outlining that the settlement “doesn’t alter in any way the belief of The United Church of Canada in God, a God most fully revealed to us as Christians in and through Jesus Christ.”
“The church’s statements of faith over the years have all been grounded in this understanding. Our most recent statement, A Song of Faith, begins with the words ‘God is Holy Mystery,’ recognizing that as humans we will never fully understand the nature of that mystery,” it wrote. “We continue to hold Toronto Conference, Gretta Vosper, and the members of West Hill United Church in prayer.”
The late Princeton Seminary professor B.B. Warfield once said, “If everything that is called Christianity these days is Christianity, then there is no such thing as Christianity. A name applied indiscriminately to everything, designates nothing.”
Jude 1:3-4 also states, “[I]t was needful for me to write unto you and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”