Ontario

O, Canada! And no, this 'God optional' story isn’t from The Onion or the Babylon Bee

O, Canada! And no, this 'God optional' story isn’t from The Onion or the Babylon Bee

Maybe you saw this headline, or variations on it: “Clergy No Longer Need to Believe in God, Liberal Protestants decide.”

That looks like a satirical “news” headline from TheOnion.com or its religion equivalent, BabylonBee.com. However, it’s a real-life precedent set by the United Church of Canada — an event with considerable interest for religionists and journalists. The progressive UCC (not to be confused with the edgy United Church of Christ in the United States) has allowed ample flexibility on much else, but the optional God is brand new.

The Rev. Gretta Vosper (see www.grettavosper.ca), far more publicized in Canada than the U.S., is the pastor of West Hill United Church in Scarborough, Ontario. She faced a church tribunal this month over her atheism. But a terse announcement Nov. 7 said Vosper and the UCC’s Toronto regional body “have settled all outstanding issues” and she “will remain in ordained ministry.” Further explanation of the deal is sealed by court order.

Vosper, who took over West Hill in 1997, says she “came out as an atheist” in 2001, stripping language about any supernatural God from prayers and hymns, followed by her 2008 book “With or Without God.” She openly embraced an “atheist” identity in 2013. Meanwhile, her congregation officially defined itself as “theists, agnostics and atheists” with “roots in the Judaeo-Christian tradition” who seek truth and justice.

There’s no mention of any role in this for Jesus or the Bible

The UCC was formed in 1925 through a union of Canada’s Congregationalists, Methodists and a majority of Presbyterians. On paper, it still enshrines an orthodox founding creed that includes worship of “the one and only living and true God, a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being and perfections.” The United Church of Canada was a celebrated ecumenical milestone, the world’s first major Protestant union across denominational lines. In 1962, U.S. “mainline” Protestant churches launched a similar merger effort that fizzled.

As with U.S. “mainliners,” the UCC has suffered steady decline in numbers and vitality. By government data, Canadians identifying with this body went from 3,769,000 in 1971 to 2,008,000 in 2011. The number of congregations dropped a third over those years to the current 2,894. Currently, the church reports only 424,000 full “communicant” members and average attendance of 139,000.

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Catholic school students 'forced' to study their faith, says Globe & Mail

Catholic school students 'forced' to study their faith, says Globe & Mail

"Catholic schools force students to study religion despite court order," says the Toronto Globe and Mail.

That's not an op-ed. It's the headline of a hard-news article by education reporter Kate Hammer that gives ample voice to disgruntled parents of students at Ontario Catholic schools while failing to solicit comment from those on the other side of the issue.

The story begins:

Catholic schools in Ontario are requiring students to take religious courses despite a recent court decision that ruled they can’t be forced to attend.
In multiple correspondences reviewed by The Globe and Mail, Catholic school board officials from across the province have denied requests from Catholic high-school students that they be excused from religious studies on the basis that their parents are Catholic school ratepayers.

Yes, I know that line about "Catholic school ratepayers" is confusing to an outsider. It has to do with the fact that Catholic schools in Ontario are fully funded by the state. Bear with me and all will be made clear.

First, let's look at the "multiple correspondences" that the article cites to back up the lead. It seems that at least three parents provided the Globe and Mail  with the letters they received denying their requests to exempt their children from religion courses. The article gives no indication of how the newspaper came to receive correspondence from all three at the same time. Did they put out a call for such information? Was the story given to them by some sort of advocacy organization?

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