Thursday 11 December 1997

Phipps agrees to cancel CBC taping

Area United churches vote 119-1 against moderator appearing at town hall meeting

Bob Harvey
The Ottawa Citizen

The Ottawa area's United churches have persuaded their controversial moderator not to come to town next week for the taping of a CBC television program.

Rev. Bill Phipps cancelled his appearance at a scheduled town hall meeting next Monday after the Ottawa presbytery voted 119-1 Tuesday to ask him to withdraw. The presbytery includes 59 Ottawa Valley churches on both sides of the river.

"There was complete unity that this was not the appropriate time or location for him to come back and speak about this," said Rev. Brian Copeland, chair of the Ottawa presbytery.

He said Mr. Phipps's controversial remark that "Jesus was not God" has sparked a revival of interest in Christ, to the extent that even a downtown hot dog vendor has been asking his customers what they think about Jesus.

But Mr. Copeland said some church leaders felt it was inappropriate to renew the controversy over Jesus's identity as man or God during the Christmas season. Others felt congregations needed more time to continue their own discussions of a United Church document that asks "Who is Jesus for today?"

Mr. Phipps "recognizes his presence in the city politicizes that debate," said Mr. Copeland.

He said some United Church leaders were also concerned about the location the CBC chose for the taping: the Unitarian Church on Cleary Avenue.

"It's a good building with good sound and visuals, but the optics are bad at another level," said Mr. Copeland. "In some quarters, it has been suggested that his views are more aligned with the Unitarian church. As some people said to me, there were good United Church locations available."

The Unitarian movement began with a rejection of the deity of Christ and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity; today the denomination accepts a wide range of religious views, from atheism to Christianity.

Mr. Phipps has been criticized by some United Church members and congregations as undercutting the denomination's traditional doctrinal statements in remarks he made to the Citizen's editorial writers in October. In that discussion, he doubted the scientific reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and said that although Jesus represents all of God that could be poured into a human being, "Jesus was not God."

The church's national executive later backed Mr. Phipps's views as falling within the wide range of views accepted and celebrated by the denomination.

Phil Jenkins, executive producer of Newsday, the CBC's local television news program, said he was disappointed by Mr. Phipps's decision.

"We were looking forward to the opportunity to talk about the real meaning of Christmas," he said.

Mr. Jenkins said they had already received more than 100 calls from viewers who had hoped to be part of the audience at the taping of the townhall meeting. The hour-long program was to have been broadcast later next week.


Copyright 1997 The Ottawa Citizen