Bill Phipps

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For other people named William Phipps, see William Phipps (disambiguation).
Bill Phipps
Bill Phipps speaking at an interfaith prayer vigil on September 14, 2001.
Born 1942 (1942)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

William "Bill" Phipps (born 1942) is a Canadian church leader and social justice activist. He was Moderator of the United Church of Canada from 1997 to 2000.

Early life and ministry[edit]

He was trained as a lawyer before entering theological college, and was ordained to the ministry in 1969. While studying theology in Chicago (McCormick Theological Seminary) he worked for noted social activist Saul Alinsky. In his career, Phipps has worked as a poverty lawyer, community organizer and pastor. From 1974 to 1983, he was minister at Trinity-St. Paul's United Church in downtown Toronto, Ontario. After leaving Trinity-St. Paul's United, he moved to Alberta to work in church administration.

Moderator of the United Church of Canada[edit]

A theological liberal, Phipps engendered controversy when shortly after becoming moderator he said "I don't believe Jesus was God", that he didn't consider the resurrection a scientific fact, and that he was agnostic on the question of an afterlife. What is important, Phipps argued, is not notions of the afterlife but fighting poverty and suffering on earth. "Your soul is lost unless you care about people starving in the streets," according to Phipps. He said that what is important is not so much whether or not the Bible is a literal historical record but the teachings and example of Jesus. This sparked great debate in the church, with some congregations passing motions asserting their faith in Jesus' literal resurrection.

During his term as moderator, he apologized to Canada's indigenous First Nations for abuse in church-run residential schools earlier in the century.

Phipps' predecessor was Marion Best and his successor was Marion Pardy.

Later career[edit]

From 1993 till his retirement in 2007, Phipps was Minister at Scarboro United Church in Calgary, Alberta.

In the spring of 2001, he was part of an Ecumenical mission to Africa.


In 2002, Phipps was the New Democratic Party candidate in the Calgary Southwest by-election contested by newly elected Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper. Phipps challenged Harper's conservative economic and social views. During the campaign, Harper commented he "despise[d]" the cleric [1], and declined to debate him. In the election, Phipps came in second with just over 20% of the vote.

In 2003, Phipps supported Bill Blaikie in that year's NDP leadership election.

Phipps is currently active with the Interfaith community's Faith and the Common Good project in Canada.

Awards and honours[edit]

On November 2, 2005, Phipps was awarded the Alberta Centennial Medal. He was nominated for the award by David Swann.

The Frederick Henry controversy[edit]

Phipps was in the news again on April 1, 2005, when he was quoted in the Calgary Herald sharply attacking the Roman Catholic Bishop of Calgary, Frederick Henry. The occasion was the laying of two human rights complaints against the bishop for reaffirming the traditional Catholic teaching on homosexuality in a letter to the Catholics of his diocese. There was some objection to the strength of Henry's statements.

Phipps was quoted as saying the following:

  • "He portrays himself as a victim. Well, please."
  • "Why are we focusing on one bishop who loves the spotlight?"
  • "This is about a group who have been maligned, who have been beaten up physically, mentally and spiritually."

Phipps' views contrasted with those of the Alberta Civil Liberties Association, and conservative Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Mormon leaders who saw the issue as one of religious freedom.

External links[edit]

Religious titles
Preceded by
Marion Best
Moderator of the United Church of Canada
Succeeded by
Marion Pardy