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Church ready to ditch 'Father, Son, Holy Spirit'
United Church proposal outrages traditionalists
The Ottawa Citizen
It refers to Mother and Father God, changes Father, Son and Holy Spirit into Creator, Liberator and Healer, and suggests a good alternative to "husband and wife" is "life partners."
The draft version of a new United Church book of service has sparked howls of protest from conservative groups within the church, who suggest that Celebrate God's Presence reflects "the ideologies of radical feminism and the gay/lesbian/bisexual agenda."
Under the section devoted to the Covenant of Marriage and Life Partnership, official service orders are general enough to include same sex relationships. By including the word partner, they can be adapted to any non-conventional relationship.
"There is no doubt at all that it permits any number of scenarios to unfold," said Fred Graham, the program officer for worship at the United Church of Canada head offices in Toronto. "Whether that is the traditional male-female one or a same gendered one, it is opening up the language to help people explore their own relationship regardless of what it is.
"If the book goes to publication, it will be the first time in the United Church of Canada that such broad language has been used."
That broad language is unacceptable, says Rev. Don Faris, senior minister at North Lonsdale United Church in North Vancouver, B.C. "I know that the vast majority of United Church members would object to these things," he said.
In an article in the church newsletter Concern, published by the conservative Community of Concern within the United Church of Canada, Mr. Faris suggests that if published, the new service book will include "prayers and services which are nothing less than an attack on the Father, the Faith, and the Family."
He goes on to describe his objections to prayers included in the book. "In the first 100 pages of prayer," he writes, "only one is addressed to the Father. Instead we get the generic 'God,' or the politically correct 'Mother and Father' or simply 'Mother God.'
"This scorched earth policy with regard to the Father causes great confusion and opens the door to the worship of the mother goddess," said Mr. Faris, "which is quite frankly another religion."
But Mr. Graham does not see the omission of Father as a problem. In a letter to a concerned congregation member, he wrote, "the draft document includes many images for God including Father, Mother, Redeemer, Rock, etc. in keeping with established church policies regarding varied imagery to name the Divine."
Replacing Father with God and Mother Goddess panders to a radical feminist agenda say critics, and is another step towards the abandonment of scripture.
Much of the blame is being laid at the door of the liberal wing of the church. That same liberal wing was involved in heated debate over Voices United, a modern collection of hymns, psalms and prayers, and the ordination of homosexuals. The United Church was one of the earliest to acknowledge that sexual orientation should not be a barrier to ordination.
In Mr. Faris's opinion, the decision to allow practising homosexuals to become ministers has left "the United Church out on the end of a branch which is being sawed off," as other Christian churches refused to allow similar practices.
And worse still, in his opinion, the United Church is now affirming gay, lesbian and bisexual life relationships, as well as "those couples who have little familiarity with the church's traditions."
In the Concern newsletter, Mr. Faris goes on to express his consternation over proposals to change the baptismal formula, replacing or adding to the traditional 'in the name of the Father, of the Son and the Holy Spirit.' Suggestions from a working document, under review by the general council executive, include suggestions such as "N., you are baptized in the name of God, Source of Love; in the name of Jesus Christ, Love incarnate; and in the name of the Holy Spirit, Love's power." In the admission of those drafting the document, "this formula has no ecumenical recognition and is weak on the nature of God."
"This divides Christians from within the United Church. For example, if somebody comes from me to another United Church and they say that they were recently baptized, we would have to ask if they were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, or in some other name, because the baptismal formula is important," said Mr. Faris. "They would have to be re-baptized."
"The problem we are trying to address is that there are already many ministries that are not using the traditional Trinitarian formula," said Mr. Graham, "and the committee is proposing that there are many Trinitarian theologies. Perhaps it is time to give expression to some of those several theologies."
But for Mr. Faris, the proposed changes in the new services book are cause for a more serious concern. They may give the World Council of Churches ammunition to eject the United Church from the organization.
"It is clear that what is celebrated in this new service book, Celebrate God's Purpose, are the ideologies of radical feminism and the gay/lesbian/bisexual agenda. We will break ourselves away from other denominations, we will divide our own church, we will in fact become an isolated cult."