Correspondence Related to Media Report
Executive of General Council Response to Issues raised by the Interview of the Moderator, the Right
Reverend Bill Phipps, with the "Ottawa Citizen."
1. Having heard the petition from Oshawa Presbytery, transmitted with Concurrence from Bay of Quinte Conference Sub-Executive, and;
2. having carefully considered all letters, faxes, E-mails, responses from table groups at the Executive of General Council, November 21 - 24, 1997, and;
3. having consulted a submission from the Conference Presidents and Leading Elder, an edited transcript of the complete interview of the Moderator by the Editorial Board of the Ottawa Citizen, the "Manual" and the document, "Public Statements and The United Church of Canada," and;
4. having consulted with the General Secretary of the General Council and the General Secretary of Theology, Faith and Ecumenism and with the Chair of the Moderator's Advisory Committee;
the Sessional Committee presents the following acknowledgments, affirmations and recommendations for the consideration of the Executive of General Council:
We, the Executive of General Council, acknowledge that the recently reported statements of our Moderator have elicited a wide range of responses. We have heard from some who have experienced pain, alienation, anger, frustration. For them it has been a difficult time. They have expressed their sense that the Moderator's remarks are a challenge to deeply held personal beliefs and United Church of Canada doctrines.
Others have reported gratitude for the Moderator's statements. They talked of experiencing a sense of encouragement and support for the diversity of ways in which Christian faith is understood and appreciation for the courage and honesty of the Moderator. Some of them have also been distressed over the public criticisms of the Moderator.
We acknowledge that there is pain in the body of Christ.
We express gratitude to the many people of the United Church who, regardless of their personal positions, have offered their prayers for our church and for our Moderator.
We express our concern for our Moderator in light of the stress, accusations and personal criticisms that have been directed toward him. We also recognize the stress and the demands that have been made on church leaders in this time.
We call upon members and adherents, in keeping with our tradition and ethos, to listen to and to respect the varying understandings of faith within this United Church of ours.
Three words are helpful in clarifying the place of doctrinal standards in The United Church -- continuity, context and diversity.
The doctrine of The United Church of Canada is set forth in two basic documents, the Basis of Union (1925) and the Statement of Faith (1940). As well, "A New Creed" (1968) is an affirmation of faith used widely in our worship. These standards are authorized by General Councils and belong uniquely to the unfolding life of the United Church. Yet we do not seek to stand alone. As members of one body of Christ, we acknowledge our Reformation heritage and the teaching of the creeds of the ancient church (particularly the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds). Our membership in the World Council of Churches today links us to a fellowship of churches "which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures". Above all, we trace our continuity in faith to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, whose witness is the ultimate standard for Christian faith and life.
The Statement of Faith of 1940 reminds us that "the Church's faith is the unchanging Gospel of God's holy, redeeming love in Jesus Christ". It also declares that each new generation is called to state this gospel afresh, "in terms of the thought of their own age and with the emphasis their age needs". The call to renew our confession has led us not only to the Statement of 1940, but also to "A New Creed" and to other statements such as "The Lordship of Jesus" (1978) and "The Authority and Interpretation of Scripture"(1992). No single statement or creed can capture all that may be required of the church to make the good confession in a new context. Our claim that "Jesus is Lord" must be a timely one. The journey of a pilgrim people goes on.
Based on the understanding that the Bible is the ultimate standard for our faith, the creeds and confessions formulated by the church can only possess a "subordinate authority". Thus, membership in the church is based on a profession of faith and not on a creedal subscription or test. New members are asked to profess their faith in the triune God and to commit themselves to faithful conduct in church and world. What is required additionally of those being ordained or commissioned in the United Church is "essential agreement" with the doctrinal articles of the Basis of Union.
We have doctrinal standards and attempt to set them forth in continuity with the Biblical faith. But our grasp on the truth of God is finite and fallible, and we do not believe that faithfulness consists in assenting to particular statements. Rarely, if ever, do we use doctrinal standards to exclude anyone from the circle of belonging. Rather we lift up Jesus Christ and his way, saying to all who seek God's grace and service, "Come and see."
Role of the Moderator
1. We affirm section 511(a) of The Manual and the statement approved by the April, 1997 meeting of the Executive of General Council that it is the role of the Moderator "to bring inspiration, vision and wisdom to the whole Church during the term of office, to call the Church to faithfulness and obedience to Christ........and to lift up the wholeness of the Church with all its diversity, interpreting the parts to each other." (page 198, GCE Executive, April 1997)
2. We affirm that officers of the courts of the Church, including the Moderator, have the same right as other members of the church to express personal points of view. At the same time, we acknowledge that, by virtue of their role as spokespersons for the Church, this freedom to express personal views must be tempered by the need for congruence with stated policies and statements of The United Church of Canada. ("Public Statements and The United Church of Canada," December, 1991)
3. We affirm that, as a conciliar church, official statements regarding the faith and order of the Church are made by the courts of the Church. No individual, including officers of the court, can usurp this role of the community in the articulation of the faith.
4. We affirm that the Moderator does not exercise an episcopal role but is chosen by the community to exercise his or her particular gifts on behalf of the community.
1. The Executive of General Council affirm the doctrine of the United Church as set forth in the two basic documents, the Basis of Union (1925) and the Statement of Faith (1940) and expressed further in such documents as the "New Creed" (1968, as further revised in 1994), "The Lordship of Jesus" (1978) and the Authority and Interpretation of Scripture (1992), recognizing and celebrating the diversity of interpretation of these official statements and documents within the membership of The United Church of Canada.
2. That the Executive of General Council acknowledge that there is pain in the body of Christ in the midst of our diversity and that we commit ourselves to work towards dialogue and healing.
3. That the Executive of General Council express gratitude and respect for the unique gifts our Moderator brings, and for the contribution that he will be able to make to the Church during his term of office.
4. That the Executive of General Council call the Church to continue the conversation about Christology through the use of the study document, "Reconciling and Making New."
5. That the Executive of General Council affirm our Moderator's intent to communicate directly and in a pastoral way with all the people of the church so as to acknowledge the effects of the statements as reported in the interview with the Ottawa Citizen and that this be done in a pastoral letter sent to Secretaries of Pastoral Charge Boards/Councils, Presbytery/District Secretaries, Conference Offices, specialized ministries, theological schools, education centres and the United Church Web Page.
6. That the Executive of General Council endorse the recommendation of the Conference Presidents and Leading Elder that as a pastoral response a video be produced and distributed to Presbyteries/Districts and theological schools and education centres.
7. That the Executive of General Council request the General Secretary of the General Council to communicate to pastoral charges, specialized ministries, theological schools, education centres, Presbyteries/Districts and Conferences regarding the actions of the Executive with respect to this matter.
8. That the Executive of General Council request the General Secretary of the General Council to circulate to Conferences and Presbyteries/Districts the document, "Public Statements and The United Church of Canada".
9. That the Executive of General Council request the General Secretary of the General Council to respond to letters specifically requesting that the Moderator be removed from office by informing the writers of the actions of the Executive of General Council and of the options available to them.
10. That the Executive of General Council adopt section 2: Correspondence Related to Media Report of Sessional Committee #5 Report, and ask that the report and its recommendations be translated into various languages and communicated to the Church.