Mar 01, 2012 | Comments 20
The Erskine Theological Seminary Self-Study Report for ATS (Association of Theological Schools) was finished and distributed in January. With 465 pages, the document is massive. The paper is a chronicle of the monumental failure that ETS has become as a result of the feckless leadership of retired President Dr. Randy Ruble, former Executive Vice President of the Seminary Dr. Harvey N. Gaston, Academic Dean Dr. Robby Bell, and the EBOT (Erskine Board of Trustees). In a word, ETS is on life-support. The report details 34 “Recommendations” (that is, serious VIOLATIONS of ATS protocols) that must be resolved immediately – and that may not be fast enough to stay off punitive measures by ATS. Presently, a sword of Damocles hangs over the head of ETS: what has been missed and awaits discovery by ATS auditors?.
What the Editor of ARPTalk has been reporting for the last four years now has a stamp of validation. All that the Moderator’s Commission reported at the “Snow Synod” also has a validation stamp now. My only complaint with the members of the Moderator’s Commission is that they thought it distasteful to reveal everything that they had uncovered.
This Fall ETS opened the doors to about 35 new students in the MDiv program. At this writing, ETS has about a total (head count) of 180 students. In the past, the FTE (Full Time Equivalency) has run at about 45 percent of the head count for the seminary. That means the FTE is about 80 students for all programs (MDiv, the various MAs, ThM, and DMin). To give perspective as to how far ETS has fallen, what some have called “little GPTS” (non-ATS-accredited Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) now has more MDiv students than ETS. Apart from the receipts that come from the government for the DMin program for Army Chaplains, ETS would have already had to make drastic cuts in personnel, shut down programs, and may have closed.
The members of the EBOT who pride themselves on their “fiduciary responsibility,” and “engagement,” and “loyalty to Erskine” have, for the last eight years, indolently watched as Dr. Harvey N. Gaston ran roughshod over personnel, launched ill-advised programs, set a theological path that guaranteed a collision with the ARP Church, and wasted money like it was water, and, all the while, he sent reports that indicated he was running balanced budgets and setting records for student numbers. Members of the EBOT sat sleepily and nodded and said: “That’s nice!” How is it that I and many others were aware that Dr. Gaston’s attitude was (and, indeed, he said it to me): “I don’t give a damn what the auditors think!”, and no one on the EBOT seemed to be aware of his attitude? How is it that I and many others were aware that his attitude towards the ARP Church was the same, and no one on the EBOT seemed to be aware of his attitude? Where were these members of the EBOT who so proudly boast of their “fiduciary responsibility,” “engagement” and “loyalty to Erskine”?
It is reported that President Norman has appointed a committee on downsizing ETS. How will that look? May I suggest that in order to come close to a balanced budget it will have to look something like this:
- With the exception of the MEDCOM program at Fort Jackson, retrench to the Due West campus by closing all extension campuses;
- Reduce faculty to 7 members (one professor for New Testament; one professor for Old Testament; one professor for Theology; one professor for Church History; one professor for Christian Education; one professor for Counseling, and one professor for Practical Ministry);
- One of these faculty members will also have to be the Executive Vice President of the Seminary because the funding is not available to bring in an outside VP;
- The secretarial and administrative staff will need to be reduced to no more than four; and
- The space in Bowie Seminary Building will have to be minimized in order to conserve operating expenses.
Even with reductions this severe, it will be difficult to balance the budget. President Norman has announced that the Columbia site is going to be continued. One can only wonder as to its funding.
Oddly, one of the most maligned professors at ETS during the tyranny of Dr. Harvey N. Gaston, Dr. R. J. Gore, is the man who saved the Army Chaplains’ DMin program this Fall when it was at jeopardy over the non-Christians that Dr. Gaston had allowed in the program. Being an Army Chaplain (Reserve) who wears the rank of Colonel, he knew how to deal with the Army “brass.” Now, if ETS is saved from serious sanctions by ATS, it will also be because of Dr. Gore’s negotiating and writing skills in compiling the self-study and composing a great deal of it. One can only wonder why Dr. Robby Bell, who is presently the Academic Dean, was not asked to do the work of an Academic Dean and attend to the task of the self-study.
ETS is such a strange and odd place theologically and ecclesiastically. Dr. Steve Lowe is presently serving as the acting Executive Vice President of the Seminary. Whether Dr. Lowe counts me a friend or not, I count him a friend; however, Dr. Lowe is a former fundamentalist Baptist who is now a United Methodist who is a Calvinist and who affirms inerrancy, and who is the acting head of a Presbyterian seminary. With no offense to Dr. Lowe (and I do not think he will take offense because during lunch at Fatz we discussed this), he makes the perfect poster boy for the oddness that ETS has become. No wonder those who actually believe in confessional and evangelical Presbyterianism opt for theological education and training at RTS-Charlotte and GPTS and Westminster and Covenant and RTS-Jackson.
Well, the EBOT met on February 16 and 17 to respond to the request that came from the 2011 meeting of General Synod regarding the “removal with cause” of board members of ALL the boards of the General Synod. The motion passed by the General Synod was framed with the knowledge and consent of President Norman and other Erskine people present and with the assurance that the motion would not be offensive to the EBOT and would be championed by those present.
Interestingly, at the meeting of the Moderator’s Committee on Erskine, Chairman of the EBOT, Mr. Joe Patrick, spoke effusively of his and the EBOT’s desire to rebuild bridges to the ARP Church and of reestablishing the confidence of the church in the integrity of the EBOT and Erskine College and Seminary. If my memory is correct, Mr. Patrick also spoke similar words to the General Synod.
The motion made by Rev. Clint Davis and, if I am not mistaken, passed without dissent, was a compromise motion. The motion was put together after the Wednesday evening session of General Synod. Present at the meeting were Rev. Clint Davis, Rev. Matt Miller, Dr. Kyle Sims, Rev. Andy Putnam, Rev. Paul Mulner, Dr. R. J. Gore, Rev. Morrie Lawing, and President David Norman. All were consenting to the motion that was framed. When the question arose as to whether this motion would pass muster with SACS and ATS’s protocols for accreditation, those present with intimate knowledge of the protocols assured the group that the language in the motion did not threaten accreditation.
Well, I guess Rev. Andy Putnam, Chairman Joe Patrick, and President David Norman have had a change of heart! But I have a question: Does this look like disingenuousness to you?
The document, written by Mr. David Conner, “Response of the Erskine College and Theological Seminary Board of Trustees
to the 2011 General Synod’s Requests,” is an attempt at Macchalliavellian double-speak. However, it does not work! In spite of a preponderance of high sounding piousness, the paper comes across as sleazy and crude rather than forthright. The following is an analysis of the paper.
If there has ever been a document that demonstrates the ineptitude and failure of the EBOT, this is the document. In its 18 pages there is no ownership by the EBOT or by the writer of the paper of the monumental failure that Erskine College and Seminary have been. The only thing that comes across is the self-righteousness of the EBOT as the mantra of “fiduciary responsibility” (a fig leaf for declaring independence from the ARP Church) is intoned. There is no humble recognition by the members of the EBOT that in the past they have not been “engaged,” that they have not exercised “fiduciary responsibility, “ and that they have proven to be disloyal to both the ARP Church and Erskine by their incompetence. This board system has been a colossal failure for the past 40 years.
The author of the Erskine paper, Mr. David Conner, speaks of Erskine as an adult child that is now independent of its parent. Well, does an independent child continue to live off his parents’ largess? Why does this independent child come to the General Synod of the ARP Church, year-after-year, and ask us to provide a full one-third of the non-designated operating funds? And those are the true numbers as given by President Norman.
Mr. David Conner states that the reason that the EBOT cannot comply with the request of the General Synod is because of SACS regulations. That was not what President Norman, Rev. Andy Putnam, and Rev. Matt Miller said in the backroom meeting at the meeting of General Synod last June. That is not what Chairman Joe Patrick said when he stood before the Moderator’s Committee on Erskine, nor is that the impression he and other Erskinites gave as they spoke before the 2011 Synod. By the way, that is not what President Norman said in his recent interview with InHigherEducation: “Even though SACS was a factor, Norman said it would be unfair to imply that the trustees voted the way they did because of pressure from the accreditor. He said that the primary reason was broader than SACS rules. ‘I think that at this point in our history we need to make a very clear statement that the Erskine Board of Trustees has fiduciary duties for the institution,’ he said” (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/02/20/erskine-board-rebuffs-request-it-let-church-remove-trustees#ixzz1nRFkJ4lS). Well, what do those “fiduciary duties” look like? According to my sources, ETS has lost about $300,000 this school year and the year is not yet over. As of 12/31/11, the Endowment stood at $39,567,452. When I went on the EBOT in 1998 the Endowment stood at over $42,000,000. In the last six months, with a good market, the Endowment has lost money at an astounding rate. Well, I have confused issues at this point. To return to the point: How is it that Mr. Conner speaks of SACS and ATS protocols when they are not at the heart of the matter? What kind of political spin is this?
Incredibly, Mr. Conner speaks of “liability” issues for the ARP Church if the EBOT were to do what General Synod asked. Well, who does the ARP Church have to fear in “liability” matters? Honestly, I do not think that the ACLU or an atheist organization is going to sue the ARP Church. The only people that have recently sued the ARP Church are EBOT members and professors at ETS. Is this statement by Mr. Conner fearmongering? Is this statement by Mr. Conner a threat? When Mr. Billy Patrick spoke of legal action at “The Snow Synod,” it was a threat, was it not?
The words for this mess are sleazy and tawdry. The actions by the Erskinites last year were nothing more than a ploy to obtain the funding of the ARP Church for another year.
Let me tell you what the strategy is. I am framing the following on the basis of many conversations. Indeed, there are many who want to see Erskine changed. The people who are the power brokers today do not want to see Erskine return to what Erskine was. Here is the strategy. It is a strategy of deception of both the ARP Church and the various alumni groups. On the one hand, tell the ARP Church what the church wants to hear, maintain the funding by the church, and change the EBOT through the nomination process (to who knows what!). On the other hand, tell the alumni what they want to hear so that they do not withdraw their funding. It is no accident that the EC Foundation has recently been given official status by President Norman (and the EBOT ?). I am sure that the ARP readers of ARPTalk will be gladdened to know that the ARP Church is one of the equally important funding constituencies of INDEPENDENT Erskine College and Seminary. The ARP Church is as important as the Alumni Association, and the EC Foundation.
Somehow in this sleazy and tawdry mess we have elevated deception and disingenuousness and insincerity to be virtues. In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Somehow in our relationship with Erskine College and Seminary these words have been lost. Instead, we have elevated the Washington wisdom of politics and compromise as our guiding lights. How did we get to such a sin?
For too long we have pointed to Erskine College and Seminary as the reason for the existence of the ARP Church. How is it that we have forgotten that faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ and His will as clearly expressed in the pages of the Bible is the only reason for the existence of the church of Jesus Christ. Anything else is idolatry and disobedience, and these wait on the judgment of God.
Erskine has declared independence from the ARP Church. Okay, let them have their independence. Give the nominating process for the EBOT to them also. Let them pay their own bills too. Let the ARP Church cease to fund that which is not of the ARP Church.
I think the saddest episode in this cheesy tale of woe is Chairman Joe Patrick’s actions. Before the General Synod and in his communications to the ARP Church he has shown his pious and compliant face. In June at General Synod he stated that he was a servant of the ARP Church who only wanted to know the will of the church so that he could attempt to implement it. However, on Friday, February 17, Chairman Patrick stood before the EBOT in its open session and read from Psalm 103. When he came to verse 6 that states, “The LORD performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed,” Chairman Patrick said, “It is very clear that Erskine has been oppressed by the ARP Synod for the last two years, and if you cannot see that, then you are blind.” He continued until Rev. Andy Putnam informed him that his comments were “out of order.” Indeed, Mr. Patrick has another face, does he not? Well, I suppose I cannot see! In the past two years the General Synod has given Erskine College and Seminary over $1,000,000. Gosh, what oppression!
Joe, what you and your buds have done to the ARP Church ain’t rain!
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
- Motion made by Rev. Clint Davis, passed by the 2011 General Synod
- Response of the Erskine College and Theological Seminary Board of Trustees to the 2011 General Synod’s Requests February 17, 2012 (PDF)
- Erskine Theological Seminary Vision Statement by Dr. R.J. Gore, then Dean and Vice President (1988)
Filed Under: Newsletter