TO: My Collaborators in the United Church (Confidential)
RE: Why we must keep atheists in our pulpits. (An Imaginary Memo)
You may have heard objections to the Toronto Conference (TC) settlement with an aggressively atheist pastor. It is suggested that TC settled to save the cost of litigation and it is wise to maintain this façade. No one can know the real reason for the settlement, since TC wisely sealed it in a non-disclosure agreement.
The anger generated by this decision – its lack of transparency, its defiance of the Conference Interview Board recommendation, its disregard for the place of God in the very definition of church – this anger is to our benefit.
It has been rightly observed that any financial savings the national church experiences through avoiding this litigation will be negated by the loss of membership from congregations, and resultant loss of income. Don’t worry: that’s the congregations’ problem, not ours.
We will ultimately benefit from this outcome.
In outlining our strategy for the survival of the United Church of Canada, we must face some uncomfortable facts.
- The membership of the church is dropping precipitously
- Mission and Service Funds are drying up
- The Church can no longer count on Congregations for support of its upper level government.
Following from these facts, in our recent national reorganization, we were able to eliminate Presbyteries which were largely ineffective voluntary organizations that controlled a great deal of income from sales of congregational properties. Unfortunately they often directed those proceeds to local causes, and even to the support of other congregations. Obviously Presbyteries had to go. We have absorbed their property revenue stream into the national level where paid staff can properly direct funds to secure staff positions. In addition we have taken over the Presbytery assessment process, at the national level, allowing us to get a greater percentage of Congregational giving to the national offices where it is most needed. These are great wins for the Church.
However, our plummeting membership means the Assessment of 4.5% of all congregational income will never support our head office ambitions. As expected, Regional Councils will need to enact additional assessments, as we reserve our national income for national purposes. Even this assessment will fall short, as we anticipated, and we will implement the tactic of designating some Regional and National staff as “Ministry” positions, so that we can continue to pay them from the beleaguered Mission and Service Fund. It is our position, however that even these measures will be insufficient.
We face an increasingly restive membership, who somehow believe that what they are doing in their local congregations is important. They want local funds to be used locally in Worship, preaching the Gospel, helping the poor, and building community. They show little compassion or commitment to their true mission, which is, of course, to support the denominational staff. They are giving to ‘reputable’ global missions organisations, instead of funding our pet projects through the M&S. They are considering withholding assessments as leverage to get us to “do our job,” such as ensuring that ordination, ministry training, and national initiatives support the beliefs and objectives of the Basis of Union (that troublesome, archaic document that still insists that God has something to do with our existence). We can not count on congregational apathy as we have in the past.
In this context, we must remember the reasons we do everything we do. We must ensure that the Church continues to fund our priorities, our just causes, our political influence and our salaries.
By ensuring that we have atheists in our pulpits, and ensuring that the congregations know we have agreed to allow it, we accomplish two related goals: we weaken the faith of the membership through antichristian teaching, and we offend members to the point of leaving their congregations. Together this should accelerate the rate at which congregations fail, and when they fail, their properties will be ours to sell.
It takes no genius to see that keeping congregations afloat will not meet the financial needs of the Church, but that the billions of dollars released to us through the sale of church buildings will keep us going indefinitely.
WE are so close to our Utopia – a fully funded National Church, completely free from meddlesome congregations and that troublesome God and his Son.
When Toronto Conference public declared that they were satisfied to have atheists in United Church pulpits, they did the Church a great service: accelerating congregational decline will ultimately serve our purposes very well.
As another, quite innocently, declared, “I am thankful for all of the work that has been done by these groups to find resolution.”