Post-Synod Issue – The Art of the Possible


On August 11, 1867, in a remark to Meyer von Waldeck, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of Germany stated that “Politics is the art of the possible.” Indeed, if Bismarck is correct, then the unfinished meeting of the General Synod of the ARP Church (GSARPC) was a success in many ways, in that the possible was achieved.

In this issue of ARPTalk, the Editor is not going to attempt a “blow-by-blow” account of the unfinished meeting of the GSARPC. That has already been done by Don Clements of The Aquila Report, and the Editor encourages the readers of ARPTalk to read what Mr. Clements has written.

The GOAL of the Editor is to do something that Mr. Clements cannot do; that is, the Editor is going to attempt a commentary from an insider’s perspective. So, that which follows is how the Editor of ARPTalk views the unfinished meeting of the GSARPC.

Better Or Good?

Once again, “Politics is the art of the possible.” In other words, political process often effects what is “good,” not what is “best.” The desire of many in the ARP Church is immediate and systemic change at Erskine College and Seminary. At this time, that is not possible. So, where are we? Some will suggest that we are where we were before the “Snow Synod” in March. However, that is not the case. “Pandora’s box” is now open. The Synod is very different from what it was. Issues are now being addressed openly. Understandings have been reached. Promises have been made. The direction of the GSARPC is self-consciously Reformed and evangelical in its Christian practice. The inerrancy of the Bible is NOT going to be rejected. Indeed, it was very heartening to hear Dr. Mark Ross (Erskine Seminary Dean at the Columbia, SC, Campus) speak positively of inerrancy and reformation at Erskine Theological Seminary (ETS).

The mindset of the unfinished Synod is a desire to give Dr. David Norman, the new President of Erskine College and Seminary (EC&S), an opportunity and the tools to work his plan for change. Yes, change! Nothing stays the same and a new President has a new agenda. At this juncture, no one wants to see Dr. Norman fail. We are cheering for Dr. Norman. If Dr. Norman’s administration fails, the Editor cannot imagine a scenario whereby EC&S continues to exist.

There were four hard issues with which we dealt: (1) The nominees to the Erskine BoT; (2) The election of a Moderator; (3) The allocation of monies to EC&S; and (4) The Patrick-Wingate compromise.

  • The election of the nominees to the Erskine BoT involved, on the one hand, a slate that is theologically orthodox and desires immediate reform, and, on the other hand, there is a slate that claims to be just as theologically orthodox but more conciliatory and gradualist in its attitude toward reform. The General Synod chose the more conciliatory slate. The Editor is not particularly disappointed with the General Synod’s choice.
  • The election of the Moderator is similar. On the one hand, one nominee for Moderator has long demonstrated that he is theologically orthodox and desires immediate reform at EC&S, and, on the other hand, the other nominee claims to be just as theologically orthodox but seeks a more conciliatory path to reform at EC&S. At the end of the day, both Mr. Putnam and Mr. Kingswood desire reform at EC&S and the only difference between them is approach. The Editor and Moderator Putnam and Mr. Kingswood still address one another as “friend.” The Editor congratulates his friend Andy Putnam on his election as Moderator.
  • The issue of funding EC&S is a quandary for many of us in the ARP Church. Is the funding of EC&S enabling a rebellious and mutinous administration now that the administration of Dr. Randy Ruble is ended and a new administration under Dr. David Norman is taking over? No one wants to cripple President Norman’s administration. It was reported to the Editor that without Synod’s funding EC&S was within 12 to 18 months of financial disaster. The Editor hopes that no one is desirous of the financial collapse of EC&S. The desire is reform; the aim is health, not debility or death. On the principle that one does not fund an institution that is clearly assisting legal action against the church in civil court, the Editor voted against the funding of EC&S; however, the Editor is NOT disappointed that the motion to disburse the funds without strings attached passed. If Synod had voted not to fund EC&S, Dr. Norman’s presidency may have been doomed to eventual failure. That is not the Editor’s desire.
  • The Patrick-Wingate compromise is brilliant. Many thorny issues were brought out and seemingly resolved: (1) Governance remains the same; (2) A promise was given that the lawsuit against the ARP Church by certain members of the Erskine BoT is going to be dropped; and (3) The GSARPC was assured that changes to the Erskine charter and bylaws cannot occur without the concurrence and approval of the GSARPC. The one thing that is hard for many of us to swallow is the issue of the lawsuit. Many of us are biblically convinced that it is sin for members of the Erskine BoT to sue the church. How that issue is dealt with is yet to be resolved.

The Editor’s conclusion is this: Perhaps there was a better way to go, but the GSARPC, in the midst of very troubled waters, chose a good and a safe path. The distance between the Editor and most of those who disagreed with him is not great. Both of us want the same direction. Both of us desire reformation at EC&S. The question is speed: Do we go in a Corvette Anniversary Edition that is capable of 150 miles an hour or a Ford Taurus X that goes a good bit slower? However, there is one thing that will unite us. If the lawsuit is not dropped, there will be a joining of hands by all conservatives!

Ruble Administration Ends

President Randy Ruble, whose administration will thankfully end by July 1, 2010, began his administration asking the 2007 GSARPC to judge him on the basis of what he does while in office and not on the basis of what his predecessor did. In the Editor’s opinion, President Ruble’s administration ended sadly and painfully with a negative judgment based on what he did, as follows.

It was astounding to hear and read about the story of the lawsuit by Chairman Scott Mitchell. On March 9, 2010, he and “some of administration contacted legal counsel” (Addition Report of the Moderator’s Commission on Erskine, Exhibit B) and began legal actions against the ARP Church. Then on March 11, 2010, two days after the launching of litigation against the ARP Church, the Executive Committee of the Erskine BoT met and, then, ratified the filing of the lawsuit by Chairman Mitchell. We were told that this was done so that the attorneys’ fees that Chairman Mitchell had incurred (and a bill of $50,000 has been acknowledged!) can be paid by EC&S. The Executive Committee passed the motion: 4 for, 3 against, and 2 abstaining. Then the Executive Committee voted to drop the legal action against the ARP Church and voted thus: “We do not intend to bring further legal action.” (Addition Report of the Moderator’s Commission on Erskine, Exhibit B). That motion also passed: 4 for, 3 against, and 2 abstaining.

The next astounding thing to hear and read about was the admission by President Ruble and other BoT representatives that the EC&S administration had been receiving monies to pay the ongoing attorneys’ fees of those suing the ARP Church in civil court. The word for this is “complicity.” Ruble acknowledged that EC&S has received monies for a “defense fund” and that the checks were cashed and then checks in those amount were sent to the EC Foundation, which was specifically set up for the purpose of paying the fees of the attorneys of those who are suing the ARP Church. Such complicity is breathtaking.

An Elder from Catawba Presbytery and a Minister from First Presbytery were shocked by these admissions and spoke to what they had heard. It was pointed out by a delegate who is familiar with the various statutes and regulations regarding IRS and nonprofit 501.c.3 corporations that multiple regulations had probably been violated. The elder asked this question: Is the Erskine BoT and administration going “to fess up” to what has taken place? Indeed, will there be the transparency of “fessing up” or will we be met with the cold silence of a cover up?

Thereupon, a motion was made and passed that an audit be done and that the details of the audit be reported back to the 2011 GSARPC. One hopes that this will go far in restoring confidence in the Erskine BoT.

As has been noted, the Randy Ruble Era is now ending. Dr. Ruble seems to be theologically confused, and, in the absence of a reliable theological compass, the hallmark of his administration has been pragmatism when dealing with problems.

From everything that the Editor can find out from speaking with those who know President Norman well, Dr. Norman is theologically orthodox and operates from a principled perspective when dealing with problems. Let us hope that the hallmarks of Dr. Norman’s presidency will be transparency and fidelity to the EC&S mission in words and deeds in accordance with the expressed wishes of the GSARPC. That is exactly what Dr. Norman has said he is going to do! The Editor is excited about that prospect.

Patrick – Wingate Compromise

The “Great Compromise” of Patrick-Wingate was the big news at the unfinished Synod of 2010. The wording of the compromise states that, contingent upon the plaintiffs’ dropping their lawsuit “with prejudice” (that is, the suit cannot be taken up again), the General Synod declares that it is no longer its intention to remove the current Board and that it recognizes the current Board as duly elected. Then, with reference to all this, a motion was passed that called for both Patrick and Wingate to give commentary to these actions, particularly explaining how all changes to the charter and bylaws cannot take place without the concurrence and approval of the GSARPC.

At this point, if there is a clear loser at the unfinished Synod, it is the group of Erskine alums who were demanding a change in the governance of EC&S. That is, they were demanding a self-perpetuating BoT and an independent EC&S. Clearly, EC&S is still under the governance of the GSARPC through the appointment of trustees. With regard to this matter, for all that has been done and said on both sides, nothing has changed.

The Memorial

The memorial from Second Presbytery was the only memorial passed this year. The memorial asked that the Erskine BoT look into the appropriateness of ETS matriculating “Jews, Mormons, and Muslims” clerics into the DMin program at ETS and report back to the GSARPC in 2011.

The DMin program is a professional program that has been established to renew and enhance the ministry skills of professional Christian clergy who have been practicing their skills for some years. The mission of ETS is to train persons who are involved in Christian ministry. The motto of ETS is “For Christ and His Church.” One wonders how training non-Christian clerics and what most of us consider to be “cult” clerics is advancing the mission and motto of ETS. Most of us would even say that such a policy enables the efforts of those who are sworn enemies of Christ and His Church.

This motion came out of Second Presbytery because Dr. H. Neely Gaston, Executive Vice President, of ETS would not respond to questions as to why Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim clerics had been allowed to matriculate into the DMin program. It was pointed out that this was a matter for the BoT. Therefore, since it is a matter for the BoT, the question was sent to the BoT.

The motion was greatly strengthened in the Moderator’s Committee on Memorials. A proviso was added that addressed whether or not academic admissions requirements have been compromised in allowing these non-Christian clerics into the DMin program. Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim clerics are often educated quite differently than Christian clergy. The DMin program is set up for those who have completed the traditional MDiv program or its equivalent.

If the future of ETS is that of a religious divinity school that trains anything and everything for a price, the Editor suggests the following as a fitting logo for ETS:

For All Who Pay!

In the words of Upton Marcellus Wilkes, a South Georgia farmer and philosopher: “It ain’t what it seems; it ain’t even what it ain’t.” Or, to slightly paraphrase the words of that great American theologian Hank Williams, Sr.: “If you’ve got the money, honey, we’ve got the DMin.”

A Good Motion!

A motion was made and passed that greatly strengthens the hands of the GSARPC in dealing with the difficult issues that have been before the General Synod at the last three Synod meetings. The motion amends the ARP Manual of Authorities and Duties to allow for the removal of trustees “for cause,” in order to ensure accountability of all Board members of all Agencies and Boards of the General Synod. With this new measure in place, it appears the Synod’s ability to hold all Boards accountable for their implementation of the purposes of Synod is now secured.

Unfinished Synod

The most disappointing thing about this meeting of the GSARPC is that it is UNFINISHED. The meeting ran long into Thursday evening and, when a quorum count was called for, a quorum was not present. As far as the Editor is aware, this is the first time in the 220 year history of the ARP Church that a Synod was halted for the want of a quorum. Even the “Snow Synod” was able to maintain a quorum.

My brothers, in the ARP Church, this bodes ill. The business of the Church of Jesus Christ is important. In the past, denominations have failed, not because orthodoxy of belief was found wanting, but because the faithful representatives of courts did not show up for business and record their vote or because they went home early. Brothers, we will stand before God and give account of such matters. Do not assume that Synod meetings will end early or as usual. Make your plans accordingly. Plan to go home on Friday. One day is not going to make that much difference in the larger scheme of our lives. The cause of the Church of Jesus Christ is more important than your convenience.

The focus of the unfinished Synod was Erskine. This is the fourth year in a row that the main topic of discussion has been EC&S; however, no matter how long it takes we are prepared to do the business of the church. Let us never forget, as it now stands, EC&S is the ARP Church in higher education and seminary training. Weariness is not an option! Vigilance and perseverance are required!

Concluding Remarks

If there was a division at the unfinished Synod, the division was between evangelical conservatives who wanted immediate change at EC&S and those evangelical conservatives who were more conciliatory. Therefore, if “Politics is the art of the possible,” this meeting of GSARPC was successful. No doubt, there is much hope and expectation for the success of Dr. David Norman and his new administration. Dr. Norman has clearly announced that he has embraced the mission of EC&S. The Synod has been assured that everything that can be done by the BoT and the new administration will be done in order to see that the lawsuit is dropped. Also, the Synod was assured by both Mr. Patrick and Mr. Wingate that the Erskine charter and bylaws are inviolate apart from Synod’s approval. What is the new Erskine going to look like? Only time will tell. However, this is for certain: The Erskine of the last 40 years is no longer!

These are my thoughts,

Charles W. Wilson

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  1. Seth Stark says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Rev. Wilson. It was a pleasure to meet you at Synod.

  2. Aldon Knight says:

    Just some quick thoughts on this.

    1. Nothing has changed. There are still two very distinct sides to this debate: (1) those who want to take Erskine in a staunchly conservative/reformed direction, and (2) those who want it to become MORE open and less conservative overall than it even currently is. You and I represent those two polar differences, my friend. I think your Corvette analogy vs. the Taurus is a good one. The question now is this: “Which way is the Taurus going?” It is interesting that now you and I are both saying good things about Andy Putnam. Wonder if he realizes what pressure this puts on him? Knowing Andy, he will handle that pressure like a champ, but he has to realize that no matter where things go, there is still one faction or the other that will be determined to oppose that direction.

    I have on great (and quite direct) authority that no one has any intention of dropping any lawsuit. Synod accomplished one thing, and that is to relieve some of the time pressure that was previously on the Erskine situation. We now have a year instead of a month to get things done.

    Randy Ruble’s presidency was a resounding success in all ways. During the four or so years that Dr. Ruble served as president of Erskine, he successfully balanced the budget, corrected a number of colossal mistakes of the previous administration, managed an atrocity cast upon Erskine by Synod, advanced donor relationships, managed a massive fire on campus with great grace, and was a friend to students, faculty, staff, and trustees alike. The vast majority of Erskine alumni freely give Randy Ruble our respect and admiration for holding our alma mater in the road, amidst numerous attempts by an out-of-control church to derail it. Those efforts by the church continue.

    Your statement: “At this point, if there is a clear loser at the unfinished Synod, it is the group of Erskine alums who were demanding a change in the governance of EC&S. That is, they were demanding a self-perpetuating BoT and an independent EC&S. Clearly, EC&S is still under the governance of the GSARPC through the appointment of trustees. With regard to this matter, for all that has been done and said on both sides, nothing has changed.” My response: “Yet.” The only group confirming the governance structure was Synod. When the governance structure is confirmed by the very group we want out of the governance structure, it means nothing. We didn’t lose an inch. Ultimately, we don’t care if Erskine and the church split. Synod just cannot pick trustees. Period. Until that is the case, we press on.

    The Patrick-Wingate compromise was hilarious. How do two guys, one of whom just got completely trampled by his own Synod and whose “faction” just got completely deposed, and the other who has been sitting on the fence with the best opportunity of anyone to actually bring substantive change to Erskine for 20 years and has done NOTHING, come to a compromise? I literally laughed out loud when someone texted that to me from the Synod floor. Obviously, since the suit isn’t being dropped, that one is dead in the water.

    Your statement: “However, this is for certain: The Erskine of the last 40 years is no longer!” My response: Don’t know if I agree with you yet. The Erskine of the last 40 years is still way too closed minded and is still run by a Synod process that most of us have no faith in. I mean, that process has led Erskine to where it is now – almost bankrupt. The Erskine of the last 40 years is still very much in place. The church usurping control, then the alums demanding that be reversed, has been simply a pendulum swinging for that 40 year period. Granted, this time the pendulum swung far and fast in the church’s direction. Now it is, for now, back in the center and temporarily at rest.

    But any and all “reconciliation” exists only within the bounds of a dysfunctional Synod body fraught with mundane politics and an unimpressive lack of authenticity by factions within it, resulting in continued chaos masked thinly by weak treaties and superficial alliances. The fight inside the alumni association of Erskine College exists because that low level of disingenuous human interaction has resulted time and time again of the participants leaving Synod only to form their old factions again, regain strength, and engage in another weak but aggravating attempt to grab power from the rest of the group. Like simply a swarm of flies around you on a southern summer day, these factions make their noise, occasionally land on you, and temporarily make your life mildly unpleasant. Until you find the “Off” and the fly swatter. As all encompassing and completely annoying as those flies are while they are swarming you, once you spray a little off and grab your fly swatter, it’s actually kind of fun to whack them one by one and watch them fall through the cracks of your back deck. I’m sure it was hilarious to watch deWitt fall through the cracks of the back deck of Bonclarken like that. Like the flies, I’m sure he never saw it coming.

    The bottom line is this. Nothing has changed except that now time is on our side. Erskine belongs to you in your little world. But in the world at large, it belongs to a broad group of stakeholders, most of whom want it governed differently. And it will be. If you regard Synod as a success in regards to keeping the governance structure in place, keep believing that. It helps us greatly when we can take an already weak an opponent and catch him sleeping on his cannon.

  3. John Jay Ingles says:

    I think the heat may have scrambled Aldon’s brain. Why do we alumni let someone like him be the only voice heard? He is as close to tilt as an individual can get.

  4. David A Danehower says:

    Mr. Wilson,

    I find your latest epistle to be quite interesting and more than mildly amusing. To begin with, I note that you are endorsing the notable successes at Synod. I find this surprising for several reasons. First, it is clear to quite a folks both within and outside of the ARP Church that the actions taken at Synod were a stunning defeat for those with whom you have aligned yourself. Actually, “aligned” may not be the right word to describe your role, perhaps “led” would be more appropriate. How many “invitation only” meetings did you and your compatriots hold in planning your actions at Synod? And how much of your agenda was actually brought to fruition? Was your candidate successful in gaining the position of Moderator –elect? Was your alternate slate of candidates for the Erskine Board elected? Were you able to get your “pet” motion passed to place the Synod’s generous funding support for Erskine College into a legal defense fund instead? Notably, had such a tactic been successful, it would have in all likelihood resulted in the failure of Erskine College! Yet you were intent on the passage of just such an action, were you not? And now you are glad for thew way that things turned out for Erskine and Synod – how disingenuous!

    As you are perhaps aware, the “politics of the possible” (aka “realpolitik”) is an approach that is based upon practical considerations, more so than ideological or moralistic grounds. As a “practical” matter, you and your colleagues were unable to do little more than engage in hurtful speech and the false vilification of good men and women on the Synod floor. When it came down to votes in a FULL Synod meeting, your positions were found to be sorely lacking! Surely you must now recognize and admit the HUGE error of the Moderator’s Commission (MC) and the called meeting of Synod’s actions. But, no, wait a minute. This is Mr. Charles Wilson I am talking to here! Instead, you have once again used your clever pen to make it appear as if it was you who won a great victory!

    You say that “the desire of MANY in the ARP Church is immediate and systemic change at Erskine College and Seminary.” How many? Might I suggest that the word “some” would have been more correct than “many?” Mr. Wilson, do you not realize that almost EVERYONE – be they ARP Church members or non-ARP alumni want Erskine College to be a truly Christian liberal arts college? The difference is in how you and I define that goal and choose to get there. I want to work with people of different faiths (only 10% of Erskine students and a similar percentage of faculty are ARPs after all!) to make Erskine just that! I want to “avoid the deviltry of sectarianism” that the ARP founding fathers of Erskine College talked about. It would appear that you and your followers are, on the other hand, keen to introduce that deviltry wherever you can!

    I do agree with your statement that “the Synod is very different from what it was.” I’d like to suggest adjusting that wording slightly to say “the Synod leadership is very different from what it was.” Thank God for that! I also agree with your assertion that “issues are now being addressed openly.” YES! – openly! How unlike the poorly planned, poorly documented, and closed investigative process of the Moderator’s Commission, a group that had its mind made up before it ever began its work! Hallelujah! Openness is something to be desired and I hope that the new Synod leadership embraces that attitude. Had openness existed with regards to the MC, perhaps this whole terrible episode could have been avoided. But openness was not its modus operandi, nor does it appear to be yours.

    You may be surprised to hear that you and I can apparently agree (!) that we need to give Dr. David Norman time to begin his work. The Erskine alumni (better known to you and your followers as the “Baalist cult”) look forward to working with Dr. Norman! If he is the man we believe him to be, then the teaching of the science of evolution in the Biology courses at Erskine College can go on, unhindered by the recent suggestions of some ministers within the ARP Church that in the future, faculty and church employees should be required to sign documents testifying to a belief in creationism.

    Moving on, I am afraid that we will never see eye to eye concerning the leadership of President Randy Ruble. Dr. Ruble, a former Synod Moderator himself, has done an excellent job as the leader of Erskine College! Wow! – Dr. Ruble led BOTH the Synod and Erskine College! How many men can say that? I would once again like to publicly thank him for his leadership, especially in light of the unjust scorn heaped upon him by you through your all-too-often hatefully-worded blog!

    Curiosity gets the better of me Mr. Wilson. What leadership positions have you held within the ARP Synod? Now I realize that there are many good people within the ARP Church who never reach that level. Being a minister is a noble calling! So maybe the better question is how long did you hold your ministerial positions and at what churches? (Note: As you know, Editor of ARPTalk doesn’t count!)

    Contrary to your closing remarks, it is my belief that the Erskine of the last 40 years, the last 140 years, indeed, the last 170+ years does indeed REMAIN! The fact that she has withstood the assaults of civil war, the great depression, two world wars, and your own scurrilous attacks is testimony to her strength, her goodness, and her enduring spirit. God has done much good work through those 170+ years of Erskine College!

    May God continue to bless Erskine College and seminary!

    David A. Danehower

    p.s . If you happened to pick up a copy at Synod, read through the many student and alumni testimonials (most of them from the last 40 years!) of the role of Erskine College in shaping their lives for the better. If you can’t find a copy, go to the Erskine for Everyone website and download a copy for yourself!

    That’s the Erskine that I knew, the fine Christian liberal arts college that my fellow alumni knew, the Erskine College that most (and I do mean MOST) current students know, and the one that you and some others, for some inexplicable reason, can’t seem to recognize!

  5. Aldon Knight says:

    @John Ingle – same reason most ARP’s let Chuck be the only voice heard. He says everything they want said, so there is not reason to say anything else…

  6. mark james says:

    Evolution is the first step toward the road of denying inerrancy. If the ARP Church were to take that step, we will end up as the PCUSA is today. How are they faring? Not very well in my opinion. I don’t think the ARP can afford to lose tens of thousands of members over a decade. We’d be extinct before then.

    That being said, I did not come away with the feeling/notion that Synod was a success. The issue of sin in believers bringing lawsuits against believers was not addressed (side note: if 1 Cor. 6 isn’t clear, then nothing in the Bible is clear!), the Synod UNDID a key action that was passed at the previously called synod meeting, and everything remained status quo. Isn’t that why Erskine is at the center of Synod year after year? They never adhere to the directives of Synod. The time for talk is done. I agree that a conciliatory method is the best way, but there comes a point when the rubber needs to hit the road and we switch from a Taurus to a Convertible. It’s time for the status quo at Erskine to end.