January 26, 1998
Response of the Executive of the General Council
K. Virginia Coleman, General Secretary
I assume that the Ground for Appeal being argued is that the Decision was wrong in law. I will address the issues raised by Mr. Anderson on the last page of his Notice of Appeal (page 4) and then the arguments made in the Gist of the Argument section (pages 1-5).
Notice of Appeal, page 4
1. "... the response of the Executive of the General Council failed to recognize the requirements of Order of Ministry...".
The Presbytery is the body charged with the oversight responsibility in terms of membership in the Order of Ministry and the Conference is the court charged with determining fitness. The Executive of the General Council has no mandate to discern fitness for ministry or to comment on matters of oversight of particular members of the Order of Ministry. A Moderator, Ordered or Lay, makes reports to the Executive of the General Council, and to the General Council itself, as an exercise of accountability as its Moderator.
2. "... the response of the Executive wrongly included as statements of doctrine and other "doctrinal standards" which The Manual does not reference as Doctrine..."
Nowhere do I find an indication that the Doctrinal statements contained in the Basis of Union are the only place where the doctrine of the United Church is to be held, nor that the Articles of Faith are the only statements of doctrine which the United Church is permitted to have. It is obvious from the Basis of Union 2.0 that even the Articles which follow in 2.1 through 2.20 are a "brief summary of our common faith" and the section makes reference to such other doctrinal statements as those laid out in the "great creeds of the ancient Church" and "the evangelical doctrines of the Reformation" (Basis of Union, Sec. 2.0). It is my understanding that the process of a Remit would be required to make changes to the Articles of Faith as they appear in the current Basis of Union but that there is nothing in the polity of the United Church which prevents further expressions of our doctrine and faith. The Executive of the General Council may have been wise to have used another word than "doctrine" in the first line of its recommendations, but there was no intent to supersede the Doctrine as articulated in the Basis of Union.
All of the documents and statements referenced in the response of the Executive were approved by a meeting of the General Council.
3. "... that Executive of General Council failed to resolve the issues of complaint..."
The Executive of the General Council had before it the duly transmitted Petition from the Bay of Quinte Conference, many pieces of correspondence from individuals, and some from Pastoral Charges. Many points of view, both opposed and in favour of the Moderator's comments, were contained in the correspondence. The Sessional Committee dealing with this matter read each and every piece of correspondence and considered the Petition. In its recommendations the Executive of the General Council took action to facilitate the resolution and to be clear that there are procedural options open to those who wish to pursue the matter by the laying of a charge or through a duly transmitted Petition.
4. "... ask the Judicial Committee of the United Church of Canada to declare what is Doctrine and what is not..."
I would argue that the only body competent to determine this request is the General Council itself and that a declaration of this nature is not within the mandate of the Judicial Committee.
5. " to affirm as the Doctrine of the United Church of Canada the doctrinal statements set forth in the Basis of Union, or in the alternative, to require the Executive of the General Council to immediately seek amendment to the Basis of Union and immediately seek approval of the New Doctrine by way of remit to all Pastoral Charges and Presbyteries."
The Executive of the General Council is explicitly denied the authority to authorize a remit. I believe the Executive affirmed the Articles of Faith as being United Church doctrine. (See also my response to # 2 above.) These were the statements which summarized the agreements made at the time of Union. It is my understanding that the General Council is empowered to make statements which expand these summaries but which do not contradict the Articles or the Holy Scriptures.
6. "to require the Executive of General Council to publish the findings of the Judicial Committee."
The Judicial Committee is already required to transmit to each party of each case, a copy of the Decision of the panel and to report its work, including its Decisions, to the General Council.
Gist of the Argument, pages 1-5
1. The requirements of The Manual make no specific reference as to how concerns raised about statements of a Moderator shall be disposed.
2. The Executive understood itself to have reflected, in its response, the Doctrine and Polity as found in the Basis of Union and bylaws and to have made reference to further expressions of the Articles of Faith.
3. The correspondence received and reviewed by the Executive of the General Council was varied in terms of content: some correspondence did request the General Council Executive to remove Mr. Phipps as the Moderator; some suggested that Mr. Phipps should take the initiative and resign; some praised the Moderator for his comments; some indicated agreement with the theological viewpoint expressed by the Moderator and raised concern about whether or not a Moderator, when speaking publicly, is seen to be expressing personal opinions and beliefs or is always seen to be expressing the opinions and beliefs of the United Church itself. The Petition, duly transmitted from the Bay of Quinte Conference, did not request the Executive to act to remove Mr. Phipps as Moderator. Following the Executive meeting, all of the letters were answered and people were advised as to the procedural options open to them should they wish to pursue the matter further.
4. The "Theological Understandings" part of the report does use the word, "rarely", and I think does allow for times when the church requires such things as profession of faith at the time of full membership or essential agreement at the time of ordination/commissioning/admission to the Order of Ministry. The Basis of Union 5.8.1. which Mr. Anderson cites refers to those members of the church who are entitled to all church privileges because they are full members. Article VI (2.6) indicates that in the Gospel God "freely offers His all-sufficient salvation to all men".
In response to Mr. Anderson's "therefore" in number four, I repeat that the Executive of the General Council has no mandate to consider fitness for ministry, status of membership in the Order of Ministry, or oversight of a particular member of the Order. Those responsibilities rest with either the Presbytery or Conference as assigned by the General Council.
5. In its action I do not understand the Executive of the General Council to have imputed that there a doctrinal standard which supersedes the Articles of Faith. There was a clear recognition by the Executive of the importance and place of the Articles of Faith within the Basis of Union and much of the discussion of Recommendation #1 of the Executive's statement was about the need to affirm the Doctrine as laid out in the Basis. The Statement of Faith (1940), the "New Creed (1968, revised 1994), the Lordship of Jesus (1978) and the Authority and Interpretation of Scripture (1992), as approved statements of the United Church, are all in essential agreement with the Doctrine section of the Basis of Union. I do believe that the wording of the first recommendation, which indicates that the 1940 Statement of Faith is doctrine, should have indicated that the Executive affirmed the doctrine as set out in the Basis of Union and that the 1940 Statement of Faith should have been included in the "and expressed further" part of the sentence. Part of this came in the form of an amendment on the floor and, I agree, is not worded well. The recommendation was in no way intended to change the Doctrine as it appears in the Basis of Union and I am able to state with confidence, having been present for the discussion, that the Executive did not understand it's action as making that kind of change.
6. The Executive of the General Council did not make a change to the doctrine, worship, membership and government of the Church.
7. The Executive of the General Council did not "set forth several documents as if they were doctrine": With the exception of the Statement of Faith (1940), Recommendation #1 of the Executive's statement indicates that the Doctrine is further expressed in the "New Creed", "The Lordship of Jesus", and the "Authority and Interpretation of Scripture". It does not indicate that the Doctrine was altered. At no time did the Executive of the General Council ignore the Doctrine as contained in the Basis of Union as being in substance agreeable to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. The Moderator is in essential agreement with the Articles of Faith as contained in the Doctrine section of the Basis of Union.
8. The Executive of the General Council did, and continues to, use the Manual sections relating to the resolution of conflict. The Executive acknowledged the pain, and took steps aimed at resolving the conflict: it called the Church to continue the conversation about Christology through the use of "Reconciling and Making New"; affirmed the Moderator's intention to communicate directly and directed him to send a pastoral letter; endorsed the production of a pastoral video; and, directed the General Secretary to communicate the actions of the Executive widely. The Executive also directed the General Secretary to respond to the letters requesting the removal of the Moderator from office, specifically informing the writers of the procedural options open to them. I have done so, indicating that individuals could pursue the laying of a charge (S. 072) or individuals and courts could initiate a Petition.
9. As I indicated above, my understanding of the mandate of the Judicial Committee (S. 543 - 549) is that it would not be the body competent to make the declaration of what is and what is not doctrine in terms of The United Church of Canada.
The Executive of the General Council is expressly prohibited from authorizing a remit (S. 524 (e)).
10. The Judicial Committee is bound to publish a report all of its actions to the General Council (S. 543 (f) and S. 548) and is required to transmit to each party of each case, a copy of the Decision of the panel should an Appeal be heard.
As I read The Manual S. 076 (e) "Grounds for Appeal", I am unclear on which of the five grounds listed Mr. Anderson is appealing.
I believe the Executive of the General Council heard the matter as completely as practicable. There was one sessional committee which considered each and every piece of correspondence which was received by mail, email, and fax by 6:00 p.m. on Sunday evening, November 23, 1997, including the duly transmitted Petition from the Bay of Quinte Conference. The full Executive heard comments from the Moderator with regard to his theological understandings; engaged in a process of theological reflection and discussion; prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their deliberations and actions; considered each of the recommendations separately; and, permitted sufficient time on the agenda for the matter to be heard.
I do not believe there was an injustice in the disposition of the matter.
Having considered all of the correspondence, the Petition, and having heard directly from the Moderator, I do not believe the action of the Executive was against the evidence and the weight of the evidence.
To my knowledge, no newly discovered evidence has become available which would have an important bearing on the case.
I assume, therefore, that Mr. Anderson considers the action to be wrong in law. I assume that Mr. Anderson understands that changes were made to the Basis of Union without a remit being issued. The Executive neither made nor understood itself to be making changes to the Basis of Union,
K. Virginia Coleman, General Secretary, General Council