Helping the Atheist

One of our great concerns in our faith in Jesus Christ is to love our neighbour - even, should we have any, our enemies. Somewhere between neighbours and enemies perhaps, our opponents are included.  By failing to discipline Gretta Vosper we have failed to love one, and perhaps many, of our opponents.

 

Over the past couple years, the “United” “Church” of Canada wrestled with the question of what to do about an “ordained” “minister” who no longer (or, perhaps, ever) believed in God. Gretta Vosper has stated in voice and print that she does not believe, and that she thinks belief in God is worse than irrelevant, it is positively harmful. After much deliberation, Toronto Conference, the part of the "church" responsible for overseeing "ordination" within its bounds, decided to let Gretta continue in “ministry.”

As mind boggling as it seems, some have accepted the decision as sad necessity of bureaucracy, others as a good way to avoid a protracted fight, and still others have lauded it as a triumph of inclusivity.   In fact we don’t know what important point of law, doctrine or convenience was being supported by this decision, because it was cunningly wrapped up in a nondisclosure agreement, which means that the people who have to live with this decision will never know why it was made.

That being said, the truth of this decision is that it constitutes a failure by the “church” to love Gretta Vosper.

Discipline  can sound like a harsh word but it actually means training. The Goal of Discipline is to teach. Whether it’s a sermon, a Sunday School lesson, penance, or ‘time out,’ it is all discipline. We discipline those we love, as does our heavenly Father.  

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews makes this point when encouraging some 1st century Christians going through difficult circumstances:

(Hebrews 12:5–8 (NIV84):  “And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,

and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,

because the Lord disciplines those he loves,

and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

Discipline, whether, advice, instruction, encouragement or correction is an expression of love. If we fail to  discipline, we fail to love.

Gretta has stated, in various ways that she thinks most “ordained” “ministers” in the “United” “Church” think the same way she does. She has stated that all our talk of God is window dressing, that it is not of central importance for the “real” mission of the “church.” Unfortunately, by failing to remove her from ministry Toronto Conference has confirmed her belief.

If we allow a self proclaimed atheist to continue to “minister” - teach, lead and direct in the “church” - then we proclaim that we too care nothing about all the things that are missing from her teaching - hymns, scriptures, God, Christ, faith, forgiveness, salvation.

We mislead her and any other atheists who are paying attention into thinking that our faith is vain, and of no real consequence to us. Discipline here would have been an opportunity to bear witness to our hope of salvation against the emptiness of atheism.

So, have we avoided a fight? - Gretta’s loss. Has inclusivity triumphed? -Gretta’s loss. Has bureaucracy exerted its officious apathy? - Gretta’s loss.

Paul, writing to Timothy, gives an example of discipline which he once exercised, casting two people out of the church that they might learn from their errors. It sounds harsh in the language of the day, but retains that last hope - that if they have not been able to learn from their errors within the church, perhaps the desperate act of removing them will force them to take things more seriously:

1 Timothy 1:19–20 (NIV84): Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

Gretta has been abandoned by the body that chose to let her continue in her own merry way. Abandoned, not loved.  

I think that the body of Christ is more compassionate than that: that we can do the difficult discipline of love, not just the easy bits.

Do you think that we can see the difference between inclusivity and apathy, and stand up for love?