Taking Christ out of Christianity

WithoutGod 01When the Jeremiah Wright scandal first broke, I was one of the voices here calling for more context. Well, I'm done with contextualizing. Sometimes it's nice to just get a news story that asks hard questions while treating a subject fairly. Charles Lewis, writing for Canada's National Post, writes about what "Christianity without Christ" looks like. His hook is a new book by Pastor Gretta Vosper. She doesn't believe the Christian creeds, rejects miracles and thinks the Resurrection is a fraud. Here's how he begins:

There is a Bible on a pedestal in Gretta Vosper's West Hill United Church in Toronto. She would prefer it did not have a special place, she said, because it is just a book among other books. In a similar way, the cross that is high above the altar has no special meaning, but there are a few older congregants for whom the Bible and the cross are still nice symbols so there they remain.

Though an ordained minister, she does not like the title of reverend. It is one of those symbols that hold the church back from breaking into the future -- to a time "when the label Christian won't even exist" and the Church will be freed of the burdens of the past. To balance out those symbols of the past inside West Hill, there is a giant, non-religious rainbow tapestry just behind the altar and multi-coloured streamers hang from the ceiling.

"The central story of Christianity will fade away," she explained. "The story about Jesus as the symbol of everything that Christianity is will fade away."

The story is very fair to Vosper. But unlike so many stories about recently published books, Lewis digs a bit deeper. He asks the head of the United Church of Canada, Vosper's mainline denomination, what he thinks. Rev. David Giuliano says it's not his job to condemn and that the church is broad enough to encompass a wide range of theologies.

Even Rev. Giuliano agrees that the name Christian -- which carries the baggage of colonialism and other ills -- should probably be phased out.

Lewis provides many details of what Christianity without Christ looks like. Vosper does not believe in the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the miracles and the sacrament of baptism. Nor does she believe in the creeds, the presence of Christ in communion or that Jesus was the Son of God. There's more:

In With or Without God, her book that was formally launched this week, she writes that Jesus was a "Middle Eastern peasant with a few charismatic gifts and a great posthumous marketing team."

The Bible is used in her services, but it gets rewritten to be more contemporary and speak to more people. Even the Lord's Prayer -- also known as the Our Father -- does not make the cut because it creates an image of a God who intervenes in human existence. And then there is the "Father" part that is not inclusive language and carries with it the notion of an overbearing tyrant who condemns people to hell.

By this point in the article, everyone reading is wondering, why, exactly, she calls herself a Christian, much less a minister. So he writes:

So why exactly does she still call herself a Christian, let alone a minister?

She gives a somewhat ambiguous answer, including this part:

"The church is extremely important because it can be a transformative element in individuals' lives and communities," she said. "And that was the root of what the Christian Church was about: transforming the way people see themselves in relation to the communities around them and in relation to each other and about living that in community. Christianity took over that story and manipulated it into a very different story."

He gives her many quotes to explain herself but he doesn't try to overcontextualize it. He mentions that Vosper chairs a group that aims to do a complete overhaul of Christian beliefs. But he lets her defend herself. It's just a very fair article with a healthy amount of skepticism. It would be nice to see more stories look critically, instead of glowingly, at such deviations from orthodoxy.

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