Article here about the United Church’s decision on atheist minister Gretta Vosper – https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/09/11/flock-sticks-with-atheist-united-church-minister.html
Gretta Vosper annoys the heck out of me. I had a brief e-mail discussion with her last year. Meh. I was rude at times – my bad. I found that Vosper was dogmatic about not being dogmatic as another United Church minister said. Our e-mailing didn’t last too long.
She was defensive all over the place. I understand that – obviously lots of people are asking her questions or criticizing her and etc.
Psychologically, Vosper annoys me because I intensely dislike it when someone thinks they know and they know oh so much better than anyone else knows. Vosper is pleased that she is ‘irritating the church into the 21st century’ (as per her webpage). Vosper is going to be outspoken and going to stay in the United Church because she knows the Bible is all a horrible fairytale and that is where the church should be heading- out of the concept of a spiritual being and into let’s all just love each other. I am oversimplifying, something I accuse Vosper of. Meh, tit for tat.
She also claims that many, many other United Church ministers feel the same. She speaks for them – they are too afraid to speak out (lest they lose their jobs and pension I imagine) and she is groundbreaking, she seems to think.
I have YouTubed her quite a bit – and made my brain calm the heck down when I did so that I wasn’t merely looking to be irritated by her. What she is saying is that church is about community and she wants to build that community. Her congregation – other than those that left when she came out as an atheist 15 years ago – are one hundred per cent behind her. Many folks are on her side. And as I mentioned, I imagine more than a few United Church ministers are quaking in their boots at the thought that they too could lose their employment and their pension – I have never been able to find the part where Jesus had a pension and his cell phone bill paid for. Hmmm. But I digress.
Vosper had written a few books outlining her critiques of the Bible – I read one of the books and there were interesting points in there although none of it was new or radical. It has all be said before – just not by a United Church minister. I sometimes attend a wee Bible study in my neighbourhood which is led by a United Church minister who is now on disability. She studies the Bible much like Jewish rabbis do – taking it apart piece by piece – debating the points, always open to hearing people’s views. She is a Hebrew scholar and has a great and vast knowledge of the Bible, so much so that I often feel that I am drowning a bit. She doesn’t take it literally and has a depth of understanding of the context, the time and place, and the original Hebrew and Greek. I imagine she is smarter than Vosper, although that would be hard to prove of course. No matter. For reasons I don’t completely understand, she, unlike Vosper, hasn’t seen fit to throw out the Bible or the concept of God. Be she ever so humble.
In listening to Vosper, she vastly oversimplifies what others believe about God – she seems stuck on the notion that other people believe in ‘daddy in the sky’ (per her the National interview that I couldn’t get through I admit). That simplification is to her detriment, I think. It oddly enough shows a rather black and white thinking that she looks down upon – Christians in her view all believe in a literal father in the sky. She has no room for nuance it would appear.
I imagine her church and congregation are quite loving and supportive – it sure seems that way. That is what she wants to nurture which is a laudable goal. She completely dismisses the concept of any spiritual being – of anything beyond her plane, as it were. She talks about how she was diagnosed with a deadly form of cancer which was later found to be wrong – she turned out to have a much more treatable kind. If she believed in the concept of god, she said, she would then have to believe that this god chose to heal her from some divine reason. Again, she seems to assume that that is what all Christians would think. That gets under my skin because it seem so bloody arrogant. Life can be random and awful and many people die no matter how much people are praying for them. Some don’t but many many do. Cruel, awful. I don’t believe that god chooses to heal some and not others. Etc.
I have been following some discussions about all of this on Facebook. United Church ministers getting all commenty on this article of faith and that article of faith – it all seems to me as a clergy outsider to be office politics on a large scale, jargon included. It all seems so so far away from any kind of spirituality and rather a closed club of clergy (ccc?) a. fearing for their own jobs b. trying to reconcile whether the atheist minister should be kicked out of their denomination. That gets under my skin too. Perhaps the United Church should be dismantled – if it becomes more about who gets to keep a job or this article of faith and that one – what is there really. But then again, I don’t really believe this to be the case. I have had tremendous support at various times from a United Church or two – and their liturgy is not to be scoffed at.
Hmmm. It is hard for me to write more coherently about this – my emotions get in the way.
Ooops, need another deep breath.
For Vosper to dismiss the role of a spiritual being in the lives of others strikes me as arrogant. Her position on the bible is no different than what millions of others think and what many others have expressed more intelligently. I don’t find that there is anything new to be learned intellectually from what she is on about. Emotionally, it seems she has taken her journey and come out the other side not believing what she used to believe. She has found others (followers?) who believe the same as she does, who are relieved that their minister can guide them in this new belief.
Her folly is in deciding that her belief is new, radical, and needs to be incorporated into the United Church of Canada. Rather than wrestle with the bible – which I find exhausting at best I must admit – she has taken what seems to be an easier route – dumping it completely. She vastly (arrogantly?) oversimplifies the beliefs of other Christians in order to support her narrative. Christians can indeed be darned self-righteous but ironically so is she.
Vosper has been invited by Unitarians to join them – and for sure their ideas align much more closely to her own. Yet she won’t because she believes it is her mission to bring the United Church into the 21st century. I suspect she will stubbornly hang on like a dog with a bone. She is all ready booking up speaking engagements. The American daytime talk show The View wants to have her on. She wants her voice to be the voice of the United Church of Canada.
Were she to humble walk away of her own accord – maybe continue ministering (hmmm, wrong word) to those in her congregation in some way – that would seem to be divine intervention, yes?