The Ottawa Citizen, Saturday 15 November 1997

Predecessor defends church moderator

Conservative minority doesn't represent entire congregation,
says Marian Best

By Douglas Todd
The Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER- The moderator of the United Church of Canada, who says Jesus is not God, has provoked an important discussion about the meaning of Christ in the modern world, says the past Moderator.

Ever since Right. Rev Bill Phipps made the comments three weeks a go, people have been telling Marian Best that "it's quite exciting to hear the United Church think like this," she said this week.

Mr. Phipps, who succeeded Ms. Best in August, has said Jesus is not the only way to God, and that he has no idea whether there's a Heaven or Hell.

Although some conservative congregations are calling for Mr. Phipps's resignation, Ms. Best said the United Church has "always been a diverse denomination" that welcomes a range of beliefs about Christianity.

Mr. Phipps's opposition is mostly in southern Ontario, the Maritimes and Alberta, where, Ms. Best says, the more conservative wing of the denomination tends to be concentrated. She estimates that wing at about 5% of the 800,000 members.

Ms. Best says she hasn't heard complaints about Mr. Phipps in British Columbia, where members tend to reflect the more liberal views of the largest protestant denomination in Canada.

On Monday, Mr. Phipps defended his views in Ottawa and apologized to those whose faith had been undermined by his comments Oct. 23 to the Citizens's editorial board.

He received a mixed reception form the 300 people in the audience. Some applauded, some were angry and others wept. Mr. Phipps reiterated his belief that although Jesus is unique, and represents as much of God as can be poured into one human being, he still doesn't reflect the fullness of God.

"Jesus is not all of God," he said. "in my understanding of the biblical story, that would be blasphemy."

The presbytery of Halifax, representing 47 congregations, voted this week to dissociate itself from the theological statements made by the moderator." About a half-dozen Ontario congregations have called for Mr. Phipps to resign.

It's not new for some groups within the United church to express concern about such theological views," said Ms. Best.

In some ways, the debate over the divinity of Jesus is a replay of the 1988 controversy that followed the church's General Council decision to approve the ordination of gays and lesbians.

Although Ms. Best said she's concerned some people might feel their faith is threatened by Mr. Phipps's comments, and achnowledged it can be awkward when a moderator expresses personal as opposed to church views, - she wouldn't censure him.

"He's moving us into a serious discussion of who Jesus Christ is."

Several church committees are working on reports that will stake out the denomination's understanding of how faith in Jesus Christ should be acted out in a pluralistic, multi-faith world, she said.

Theological creeds and statements about Christ always need to be interpreted, she said, arguing that Mr. Phipps is simply offering his interpretation. "We have to be a congregation that respects quite a wide range of views. That's our strength."