The 20 participants in the interactive workshop engaged in several lively discussions on a wide range of topics including: the concept of Father God, the history of patriarchy in the church, the importance of inclusive language, sex and gender, homophobia and the possibility of an Olympic boycott.
In his presentation for the workshop McKibbin contrasted two different theological perspectives to church work. “The Reverend Pat Robertson head of the Christian Television Network speaks of a God that is active in the world. Reverend Robertson once warned the city of Orlando that they risked hurricanes and possibly a meteor if Disney World went ahead with gay days. Reverend Robertson has made many statements about what God does or does not want. But suffice it to say that the theology says that if you don’t follow God that God will interfere in the world. The question then becomes how do we tell what God is doing and what God is not doing? Where is God interfering in the world? Why is God not interfering there? And how do we know? For the Christian Right seeking answers to these questions demonstrates a lack of faith. Faith for them means wedding doctrine to literalism.”
After reading a passage from the first chapter of Isaiah McKibbin continued, “Are Isaiah and Pat Robertson saying the same thing? Are they on the same page? Are they the same kind of prophet? Or is Isaiah talking about something else? Is Isaiah talking about the natural consequences of turning away from the path of God and following instead the path of kings and rulers?”
The central question he posed was “Is the United Church a church of belief or a church of faith in action” and which one is preferable? Workshop participants agreed that the United Church was more a church of faith in action than anything else.
“And this makes us different from other faith groups – certainly different from the Christian Right” said McKibbin.
“Like the prophets for us believing is not enough. As a matter of fact some of our critics say we don’t believe in anything. They usually cite a litany of complaints from father God to virgin birth. And they’re right because we don’t require people to believe in either. Our theology is discerned through faith in action.”
Workshop participant, Reverend Wilson Gonese, a member of the church’s Comprehensive Review Task Group emphatically agreed. “Yes, faith in action”, he said.
On the question of Father God most participants agreed that the use of inclusive language was important. At the same time as former AOTS president Ernie Paddock stated it was important to recognize the Lord’s Prayer as an exception to this rule.
Opinion was evenly divided about an Olympic boycott. Marvin Bildfell of Grace United, Sarnia and AOTS treasurer wholeheartedly supported the boycott. Former president George Bishop of Trinity United, Newmarket supported protest action but felt that boycotts do not work.
All in all participants thoroughly enjoyed the practical theological discussions. McKibbin closed the session by encouraging everyone to investigate and support an initiative developed by eminent theologian Karen Armstrong and the Charter of Compassion.