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Sidebar: Theologians respond

By Elena Gritzan

Rev. Don Schweitzer, professor of theology, St. Andrew’s College:

“[Vosper] stated strong opinions that are considerably different from the stated beliefs of the church as an institution, and so it’s come to the point where it’s a matter of integrity for the church. The way she’s effectively broadcast her opinions into the public sphere, the church has to take a stand on those . . . . She’s really forcing it to define itself.”

Rev. Sandra Beardsall, professor of church history and ecumenics, St. Andrew’s College:

“[Vosper has] chosen to step outside the big tent that is the United Church. And so it isn’t that the church is rejecting anyone, it’s that the church says if you’re going to stand in a place that doesn’t even remotely represent what we call our doctrine, then you’re just not United Church. You’ve chosen to leave.”

Rev. James Christie, professor at The United Centre for Theological Studies, University of Winnipeg:

“This is not about freedom of thought, it’s not about freedom of faith, it’s not about freedom of dissent. It’s about having undertaken particular obligations that Ms. Vosper has come to believe she cannot fulfil. It would have been better, I think, for everyone had she simply withdrawn from the ranks of United Church ministry without things going to this, quite frankly, ridiculous extent.”

Rev. Harold Wells, professor emeritus, Emmanuel College:

“Any community of people has a right to define some boundaries, especially in its leadership. I think there’s lots of room for doubt and questioning in the church. . . . It’s good that we have lots of freedom of thought in the United Church and lots of different theologies. They jostle together quite creatively in the church, but there has to be a boundary somewhere. Otherwise we entirely lose our identity.”

Kevin Flatt, associate professor of history, Redeemer College, and author of a history of the United Church in the 1960s:

 “It seems to me that [drawing the line here] raises further questions. So if you decide atheism is outside the bounds, what concepts of God are and aren’t acceptable? . . .  When somebody says, ‘I do believe in God,’ what do they mean? And because it has to do with differing interpretations, people can put on those words. It becomes quite a thorny business.”

Rev. Christopher Levan, former principal, St. Stephen’s College:

“Gretta Vosper is entirely within the United Church ethos when she claims she is an a-theist. What self-respecting pastor can be otherwise? And what distresses me most is the theological bias of our church bureaucracy and leadership. Have they forgotten their theological training? Perhaps they’ve not had enough. Gretta is a product of that training, and she speaks with both clarity and consistency.”

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