Why Gretta Vosper Isn’t the (Main) Problem

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We here at “Context” have been looking again at the Gretta Vosper phenomenon, especially the “church refuses to defrock aggressive atheist” oddity that has garnered a lot of attention in the secular media as well.

The United Church has taken a hit on this story, to be sure. But the main problem of the Christian Church in Canada isn’t here. It isn’t that Christians don’t mean what we say. It’s that we all too often do.

Child-molesting priests can and should be protected “for the sake of the church.”

Philandering preachers can and should be quickly investigated and then reinstated in the name of “forgiveness” and “grace.”

Other people’s religions are to be written off as simply wrong, ideally to be replaced entirely by ours.

Women aren’t fit to lead our churches or to share leadership in our homes.

And sexually diverse people are wicked and need to straighten up (so to speak) before we will treat them civilly.

Just as bad, however, and perhaps even worse, is that we also mean what we don’t say.

It’s okay that many homeless people—most of them suffering some combination of mental illness, sexual abuse, injury, disease, and addiction—roam our streets and waste their lives. Evidently, we think we’re already doing enough for them, so we don’t mention them.

It’s okay that many First Nations reserves are squalid pits of despair, drug abuse, domestic violence, petty crime, wasted resources, and exploitative leadership. Evidently, we think we’re already doing enough for them, so we don’t mention them.

It’s okay that many women and girls suffer unwanted flirting, condescension, sexual harassment, and sexual assault—even in our Christian homes and churches, as too many studies now prove. Evidently, we think there’s nothing to talk about here, too.

The public face of Christianity in Canada today has nothing to do with the face of Jesus Christ and everything to do with the legacy of white Christian males in Canadian culture. And yet we Christians wonder why our neighbours aren’t streaming into our churches while we worry whether they will want to put up with us much longer.

To be sure, more Christians are addressing more problems in Canada today than ever before in our history. We here at “Context” try to get the word out about such good news. And history shows that Canadian Christians have always been in the forefront of addressing at least some needs among street people, First Nations, and women.

Still, if a team of social scientists were to analyze the themes of the last three years of sermons preached in Canada, the balance sheets revealing how congregations spent their money, the org charts showing who has led Christian organizations, and the calendars of church events indicating to what we devoted our time together, would it be apparent that Canadian Christians are prioritizing the needs of these very large numbers of people who are suffering daily all around us?

It didn’t used to be only the Salvation Army and the Mennonites who were known for their impressive charity as Christians. Yet until Canadian Christians make a significant difference among these significant populations, the media stories and the general impression of Canadian Christianity will remain as they are.

And the likes of Gretta Vosper will remain among the least of our worries.

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 800 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book has been released this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).