Jun 21, 2010 | Comments 6
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 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:
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.
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!
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
Filed Under: Newsletter