This is a problem facing the United Church of Canada (UCC). During the 1950s, the UCC was a growing evangelical church. Things started falling apart when one of the church’s lead evangelists, Charles Templeton (1915-2001), walked away from the faith in 1957 embracing Liberalism — rejecting Christ’s Deity and the Bible as the inerrant Word of God.
The fall of Templeton shook the United Church to its core.
Templeton who also worked with Youth for Christ was a close friend of Billy Graham and they even preached together during evangelistic crusades. Graham believed God intended Templeton to be the evangelist that Billy Graham ended up becoming. Templeton was God’s first choice according to Graham.
In fact, Templeton, who had attended a Liberal seminary, tried to convince Graham the Bible was no longer the inspired Word of God. This led to a crisis of faith for Graham, but one he passed and Billy went on to become one of the greatest evangelists the world has ever seen.
But the United Church never recovered from Templeton’s fall. The church leadership began to embrace liberalism and today its attendance is in a free fall and according to Religion News it is closing on average one church a week.
But in a move that has caught everyone off guard, the church is scrambling to draw a line in the sand on faith.
That line was caused by Rev Gretta Vosper , 57, who pastors West hill United Church in Toronto.
Ordained as a United Church minister in 1997, she came out as an atheist in a 2001 sermon to her congregation. Though her lack of faith was well-known in United Church circles, because of the church’s message on tolerance and diversity, the church basically ignored Vosper.
When Vosper first announced her atheism to her congregation nothing seemed to happen, but in 2008 when she decided to remove the Lord’s prayer from the church service 100 of her 150 member congregation walked away. It was also the same year she published her book “Without God.”
But everything came to a head this year when Vosper wrote a letter to the United Church leadership questioning the prayer a fellow minister had written after the Charlie Hebdow massacre in Paris on January 7, 2015 when two Muslim terrorists killed 11 magazine staff after the satirical magazine published cartoons of Muhammad.
Vosper felt the prayer should include a reference that belief in God could cause violence. It was this confession that pushed the United Church to finally move on its atheist pastor.
But Vosper doesn’t want to leave. She believes a person can still pastor a church while an atheist.
In an interview with the Canadian Press, Vosper said, “I don’t believe in the god called God. Using the word gets in the way of sharing what I want to share.”
For the first time in about 50 years, the United Church has put a limit on “unbelief.” Though the church doesn’t necessarily believe in the Bible, it still believes in God of some kind. The church has started a process that will result in her eventual dismissal.
Essentially, the church will ask Vosper to re-confirm her vows which she made at her ordination that affirmed her belief in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. If Vosper is unable to do this, she will most likely be dismissed.
- Atheist pastor battles to keep post at Protestant church: Charisma News
- Atheist minister fighting United Church’s effort to fire her: Globe and Mail