Wednesday 14 January 1998

Minister fights church view of moderator Bill Phipps

Bob Harvey
The Ottawa Citizen

An Ottawa Valley minister is trying to force the United Church of Canada to reconsider the controversial views of its moderator, Rev. Bill Phipps.

In a formal appeal to the church's judicial committee, Rev. Don Anderson suggests the national executive improperly liberalized the denomination's doctrines in November when it supported Rev. Phipps's right to say he did not believe Jesus was God.

Mr. Anderson, of the White Lake pastoral charge, said his major concern is not Mr. Phipps's personal theology, but the way the national executive "has ignored our whole policy, our whole procedure."

He said the doctrine of the church can be changed, but only by a national vote, and not by a vote of the 80-member national executive.

Mr. Anderson, a former prison chaplain and former director of Ottawa's Union Mission for Men, said the national executive's decision has also left clergy uncertain about what beliefs they must uphold.

Before they were ordained, he and Mr. Phipps and all other United Church ministers had to pledge they were in essential agreement with a doctrinal statement set out in 1925 when Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches merged to form the country's largest Protestant denomination.

That statement professes belief in Jesus as the "Eternal Son of God" and in his bodily resurrection, and Mr. Anderson says it is the only doctrinal statement recognized by the church's manual.

In October, Mr. Phipps created a national controversy when he told the Ottawa Citizen's editorial board that he did not believe in the bodily resurrection as a scientific fact and regarded Jesus not as God but as all of God that could be poured into a human being.

Mr. Anderson said the national executive failed to take into account the doctrinal beliefs demanded of clergy when it issued a four-page statement "recognizing and celebrating" the diversity of beliefs within the church.

In his appeal, Mr. Anderson also said the national executive's November statement wrongly included as part of the church's foundational statements of doctrine such documents as the new creed of 1968, a 1978 paper on the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and a 1992 statement on the authority and interpretation of scripture.

These documents are viewed as liberalizing the 1925 statement of faith.

Mr. Anderson initially refused comment on his appeal, saying it was not his intent to launch a public debate, but explained his concerns after the United Church released some of the details of his appeal.

Cynthia Gunn, the denomination's legal counsel, said the church's national executive now has about two weeks to provide a written response to Rev. Anderson's appeal.

Then the matter will go to the executive of the church's independent judicial committee, which will decide whether there are grounds for the appeal to proceed. She said a decision should be made by the end of February.

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