May 14, 2012 | Comments 6
According to Julie Andrews in the 1964 musical film Mary Poppins, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is a word that one says when one has nothing to say. In other words, it is a nonsense word meaning nothing. And if there is a better word to describe some of the goings on in the ARP and Erskine communities nowadays, I do not know it. Indeed, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious maximus!
I begin with the speech by Rev. Andy Putnam, presently the Moderator of the General Synod of the ARP Church, to the Erskine College (EC) student body. The speech was published in the most recent ARP Magazine, and it is entitled “We Want Erskine to Be Erskine.”
In this article, Mr. Putnam makes a number of statements that are supercalifragilisticexpialidociousish. As he states his desire, he says:
And we also don’t want Erskine to be another regional liberal arts school where you can only find Christ in the Bible department. What we’re going after is something much more difficult to attain – something that requires sacrifice, determination and direction: an authentically Christian liberal arts educational experience.
So, how is this statement supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? It is a denial of both present reality and what can be done. EC is and has been a little, insignificant “regional liberal arts” school where students can only find Christ in the Bible department – and even finding Christ in the Bible department has not always been the case. EC is a regional college that has a recruiting radius of about 100 miles from Due West. EC has about as much name recognition and influence outside that 100 mile radius as does Erskine College, Wellington, New Zealand (and, yes, there is an Erskine College in Wellington, New Zealand – an historic landmark now). Apart from the few students who come from scattered pockets of alums and ARP congregations in outlying states, EC’s influence barely reaches beyond the Upstate of South Carolina. Also, as a “Christian college,” EC has about as much impact as Clemson University – that is, no corporate impact, only the influence of a few beleaguered Christian professors and a few solid Christians among the student body. In others words, the idea of EC as “an authentically Christian liberal arts” college is a figment and about as attainable as wishing on moonbeams.
Mr. Putnam’s words ignore the controversy of the last 40 years in the ARP Church over Erskine College and Seminary – especially the last four years. In order to have an EC that is “an authentically Christian liberal arts” college, EC must have a faculty, administration, and board that are “authentically Christian” and know what Christian liberal arts is and have a vision for EC becoming a Christian liberal arts college. None of that is in place, nor does it have a ghost of a chance of being put into place in the face of the opposition of the alums, the faculty, the administration, and the board. Mr. Putnam, as a member of the Erskine Board of Trustees (EBOT), knows that his words are nonsense. As a member of the EBOT, he is aware that the EBOT is an impediment to what he says he desires. What Mr. Putnam says he desires is the long-expressed desire and toilsome effort of the General Synod for the last 40 years, but Mr. Putnam’s roles on the EBOT, the by-laws revision committee and the infamous ad hoc committee, suggest that he is not working to achieve this goal. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Indeed, in order for EC to become “an authentically Christian liberal arts” college, it is necessary that the President of EC know what “an authentically Christian liberal arts” college is and be prepared to pay the price for the realization of that vision and goal. Sadly, Dr. David Norman does not know what “an authentically Christian liberal arts” college is. Witness the April Convocation (something like a chapel service) series on “THRIVE” (“The Human Restoration Initiative at Erskine”) – the brainchild of the Norman administration. The focus of the discussions was “human restoration” and “social entrepreneurship.” When asked what those are, according to one who was present, the response was something like this: “Well, we can’t define what the terms mean, and we are more concerned about the journey; nevertheless, we are sure the terms are meaningful.” Certainly, that is NOT a credible academic response, nor is it a serious Biblical and Christian affirmation.
Plainly, the Bible has something to say about “Human Restoration.” It is called evangelism. If what is reported to the Editor of ARPTalk is even close to accurate, evangelism is something of which faculty and administration know precious little. Witness the recent PR e-mail sent out on May 10th explaining and extolling the “THRIVE convocation,” Christ is not even mentioned. The Editor likes to think that Dr. Norman means well, but the poorly defined “helping the poor” rhetoric now being promoted by his administration looks suspiciously like the social gospel that effectively killed the witness of the old PCUS. In the face of the Biblical witness that Jesus is the only Savior, they are striving to save the world through social action. And as for “social entrepreneurship,” all I can say is that I know Jesus and Paul and Peter and John, but what is “social entrepreneurship”? Obviously, “THRIVE” is just more supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. They simply do not know what to do, and so they blather on!
Furthermore, Mr. Putnam writes,
We want Erskine to be an institution where there is a seamless fusion of the Christian faith and education – a place that nurtures you and yet challenges you – a place where you are not ridiculed for your faith, but instead are encouraged to see it integrated into all aspects of your education.
Wow, what a revisionist approach to the recent history of Erskine! EC has been a place where Christian students have been “ridiculed.” It is hard to say that EC has been a place where the Christian faith has been nurtured and attempts have been made to integrate faith and learning in a seamless fashion in the face of the 35-year teaching career of Dr. Bill Crenshaw. At best, the model has been and seems to continue to be compartmentalization.
Does Mr. Putnam apprehend the systemic ramifications of adhering to a Christian world and life view? If EC were to implement such a view, she would need “authentically Christian” faculty and administrators characterized by intellectual and Biblical compentcy and engaged in the lives of students Biblically. At the 2009 General Synod, in a public forum, Erskine administrators acknowledged they and the faculty did not know what the phrase “Christian world and life view” meant. I even gave then President Randy Ruble a book on the Christian world and life view so that he could read it and take what he had read back the faculty. Yes, there have been changes on the faculty and administration since then, but not much has changed. They are still ignorant of what a “Christian world and life view” is. Mr. Putnam is simply muttering supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. He has nothing to say!
Another astonishing example of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is Erskine Theological Seminary (ETS). Thanks to the execrable Dr. Harvey N. Gaston, former Executive Vice President of ETS, and the man who will live forever in infamy as the man who made “Christian” optional at ETS and ran it into financial ruin, ETS conferred a Doctor of Ministry (DMin) degree on a Muslim cleric this past Saturday. We ARPs should be so proud. Let us praise the great god Diversity! I am sure that SACS and ATS are praising ETS for this noble broadmindedness and bold leadership in diversity. Just imagine the reaction of Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine as they look down from heaven on the seminary of the ARP Church that bears their name and see that it has now the distinction of graduating a Mohammedan to go along with at least one Unitarian minister, at least one Mormon cleric, and at least one Jewish rabbi. What a hall of shame for the ARP Church! What a condemnation for a seminary that has as its motto “For Christ and His Church.” Let me hasten also to note that diversity is the coin of hell and not of heaven. If this graduation is not supercalifragilisticexpialidocious to the Christian faith, what would it look like?
Along with this comes devastating news from the college. As of early May, there were only 111 new students. Dr. Norman has been confidently proclaiming the “largest entering class in Erskine’s history”: a new class of 250 with a minimum of 230. Well, when the Editor was on the EBOT most of the entering class would have been in hand by this point. By early May most of the good students are already committed, and to get the 119 students needed to reach the minimum of 230 by mid-August, the pocketbook of the endowment is going to be opened wide. As in past years, students will have to be bought, and poorly qualified students at that. At this point EC ceases to be academically concerned. Academically concerned institutions turn down students. At this point, the only thing necessary to get into EC is a beating heart. I am informed enrollement in the Fall class at North Greenville University (Baptist) (NGU) is about 1000, and the average SAT is 1130. I do not think that EC can anticipate that kind of a SAT score this year. Incidentally, NGU is actually a “Christian college” that is faithfully related to its denomination with a trustee removal policy similar to the one that Synod requested of the EBOT.
Well, if this kind of reality is not enough for the administration, faculty, and EBOT, the financial situation is disheartening. According to my sources, the fundraising goals of the Erskine Annual Fund are nowhere close to being met. Undoubtedly, apart from a fortuitous death or two or help from a well-heeled “Sugar Daddy” or “Sugar Mama” between now and July 1, it is going to be impossible to reach the target. One of the topics of concern in my last conversations with both Dr. Norman and Chairman Joe Patrick was the almost $600,000 support of General Synod to EC. It seems to me that they are more pre-occupied and focused on the $600,000 than faithfulness to God and a vision for EC as “an authentically Christian liberal arts” college. Their concern, if not obsession, is M-O-N-E-Y – jobs for the people in Due West! That is, Dr. Norman and Mr. Patrick’s concern is for people who live OFF OF and DISPARAGE the church rather than SERVE and EMBRACE the church!
Well, the Editor cannot say this is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. No, no! This is sobering and sad!
Another non- supercalifragilisticexpialidocious event was the EC graduation Saturday morning. Mr. Bill Lesesne, a Founder and Director of the EC Foundation, was put forward as the face of Erskine when he introduced and conferred an honorary doctorate on Mrs. Winnie Philips. Let us remember that the EC Foundation was founded to divert money from Erskine so that the attorneys who sued the ARP Church after the “Snow Synod” could be paid. Asking Mr. Bill Lesesne to be the face of Erskine in introducing and conferring an honorary degree is about as impolitic on the part of Dr. Norman and the EBOT as asking Chuck Wilson to be the face of Erskine in introducing and conferring. At this point, it looks as though President Norman and the EBOT have succeeded in alienating both the ARP Church and the alums. Not every one can do that! I hear that skill is required!
Well, I have almost forgotten the most supercalifragilisticexpialidocious thing that has occurred. The prize has to be the document written by EBOT Chairman-to-be Mr. David Conner. At the meeting General Synod last year, a motion was made by Rev. Clint Davis and passed overwhelmingly that requested the members of the EBOT to amend the by-laws of the EBOT to comply with Synod’s policy for removal of trustees for cause. The report of the EBOT’s ad hoc committee written by Mr. Conner and adopted by the EBOT states that SACS and ATS policies will not allow the request of Synod to be adopted and implemented by the EBOT on penalty of loss of accreditation by SACS and ATS.
In support of the ad hoc committee’s report adopted by the EBOT and sent to General Synod, Chairman Joe Patrick said:
The supporting reasons for this response are made clear from evidence in historical Synod and Erskine documents, matters of law, accreditation standards, consultant advice and practical wisdom learned from other institutions by the diligent and thorough work done by the committee.”
In an e-mail to the ministers of the ARP Church, Mr. Patrick wrote these words:
The requirements of the accrediting agencies were more stringent than many of us anticipated and the materials demonstrate the constraints which shaped the Board’s decision.
An unnamed EBOT member said the following:
The thoughtful, deliberative, and thorough process that governed this ad hoc committee was inescapable and credible for all of us who read the report and were a part of the Board discussions on Thursday evening and Friday morning.
Ad hoc chairman, report author, and EBOT Chairman-to-be Mr. David Conner said:
The board is committed to making every effort to help members of the General Synod better understand its action. To every extent possible, presentations regarding the details of the response will be made to presbyteries and other interested groups prior to the General Synod meeting.
The following was posted in the Anderson Independent:
Crucial to the committee’s decision, the release said, was the fact that no other accredited school has a policy that allows its sponsoring denomination to remove board members.
SUBSEQUENTLY, we learn that the report of the ad hoc committee written by Mr. Conner and adopted by the EBOT is simply an exercise in supercalifragilisticexpialidocious nonsense. In fact, what Mr. Conner has written is specious. That is, it is FALSE!
Responding to the ad hoc committee’s report written by Mr. Conner is a minority report signed by 11 members of the EBOT which demonstrates that not only is the request of General Synod possible with SACS and ATS, it is in effect in SEVEN (7) schools that have SACS and ATS accreditation – and at least one school that is less than 100 miles from EC.
In Mr. Conner’s report he makes a great deal about EBOT trustees being “fiduciary responsible,” “competent,” “responsible,” and “informed.” If one takes the standard that Mr. Conner has established, does this standard include him? Does his standard not condemn him? The report that he presents is either a misrepresentation of the facts or failure to do due diligence in the research required for such a report. Either way, Mr. Conner is NOT “fiduciary responsible,” NOT “competent,” NOT “responsible,” and NOT “informed.” In fact, Mr. Conner has acted in a manner that is reckless and injurious to the EBOT, Erskine College and Seminary, and the General Synod.
The responses from the ARP left wing that I have heard and seen in print regarding the “Minority Report” are as alarming as they are amazing. They are breathtaking in their indomitable ignorance! Instead of an outcry against the deception or incompetence of Mr. Conner’s ad hoc committee’s report adopted by the EBOT and sent to General Synod, what I have heard and seen are attacks on the minority. I get the distinct impression that many of these folks would rather live with a lie than embrace the truth. Some of these ostriches with their heads firmly anchored in the sand even maintain that a minority report is out of order. They carp: “When has such a thing been done in the past?” I can attest to you that this is not the first time that a minority report has been presented to the General Synod. Besides, how else is a colossal and reckless failure of a publicly disseminated board report to be addressed?
One of the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious pundits who have joined Mr. David Conner in faulty research is Rev. Bill Fleming in his blog. Indeed, if one wants his words taken seriously, one needs to take the time to do the research to make sure one’s facts are accurate. (Here the Editor also takes the opportunity to congratulate DR. Bill Fleming on his Doctor of Ministry degree. The Editor has one too, as does the Muslim cleric who just graduated from ETS!)
Mr. Fleming uses the old canard that Erskine is not as bad as it was 30 years ago. To begin with, what a concession of condemnation! What damning with faint praise! Indeed, Erskine is not as bad as it was 30 years ago. However, if the goal is “an authentically Christian liberal arts” college, then we are still living in the land of fecklessness and failure. A metaphor for this is this: “I’m not as bad a thief as I was 30 years ago; however, I do continue to steal occasionally.” Incidentally, there is an appropriate Biblical injunction: “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Ephesians 4:28). The words “NO MORE” are applicable and immediate to both the thief and EC administrations.
Mr. Fleming writes “we have the most conservative administration the college has had in sixty years.” Sixty years ago Mr. Fleming was a new born. Sixty years ago was 1952. In 1952 EC still played football, and in 1952 the president was Dr. R. C. Grier. It was about this time that the “Erskine Revival” occurred. I wonder what Mr. Fleming knows about the “Erskine Revival”? I wonder what Mr. Fleming knows about Dr. Grier who was the last of the faithful “family” presidents. Mr. Fleming might want to look into this! Lower Long Cain ARP Church Elder Mr. John Calvin Grier is Dr. Grier’s grandson. I bet Mr. Grier would be happy to speak with Mr. Fleming and enlighten him as to what faithful leadership looks like.
Finally, Mr. Fleming writes:
Erskine has been seeking to renew their accreditation with ATS and SACS. Last year, that would not have meant much to me. But this year, I’m working at a school that is also renewing their accreditation. Board autonomy and academic freedom are serious. . . . If you haven’t seen the thoroughness and pickiness of reaccredidation boards, you probably can’t appreciate the seriousness of it. If the board is not free of undue influence, and does not take a warning from the accrediting agency seriously, they can and will shut it down. This happened a few years ago to Barber-Scotia College in Concord, North Carolina. . . . The writers of the minority report give their word that it won’t happen. They also gave their word that they know what is best for the college and denomination, and that they are acting in the school and denomination’s best interest. Do we really want to take their word for it? I don’t.
- I guess Mr. Fleming did not get the e-mail; Erskine’s accreditation has been renewed;
- The circumstances at Erskine and Barber-Scotia College are very different – a confusion of apples and oranges; and
- Mr. Fleming ignores the findings of the “Minority Report.”
Mr. Fleming’s blog post is an exercise in supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Mr. Fleming and those who follow in his train had rather live with error than embrace the facts.
Finally, let me submit the following that was said to alums by Ms. Nan Campbell:
It’s not so much that we want to separate from the ARP Church, we want to step away from the people who force their view of inerrancy on others. We care deeply for Erskine, and we care deeply for the ARP Church, and we want Erskine to offer the most excellent education possible to the next generation.
Note this well: Ms. Campbell, current President of the Erskine Alumni Association, has now publicly declared that the issue dividing the ARP Church and Erskine is the ARP Church’s stance on the inerrancy of Scripture. THIS IS NOT JUST A PETTY POLITICAL STRUGGLE. IT IS A MATTER OF THEOLOGY. THIS IS SPIRITUAL WARFARE – the ineluctable conflict of God’s Word against the kingdom of darkness!
In 2008 the ARP Church added an affirmation of the inerrancy of Scripture in the original autographs to its “definition of Evangelical belief,” and required affirmation of that definition by all newly hired Synod agency teaching and administrative employees. Since that time, there has been a steady stream of criticism of the policy coming from Erskinites.
It also appears that support for this Synod policy is soft within the Erskine administration. Seeking to defuse the situation, Erskine President David Norman published a series of brief articles last year in the ARP Magazine on the topic of inerrancy, but these articles only raised more questions in the minds of many (http://www.arptalk.org/2011/03/28/scripture-is-made-up-of-mere-words/ and http://www.arptalk.org/2011/03/28/an-open-letter-to-david-norman/). And according to sources, at the last meeting of the EBOT in February, a senior Erskine Vice President was critical of the inerrancy policy, claiming that it makes it more difficult to hire qualified faculty members.
Ms. Campbell’s statement is not supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. No, it is a declaration of war on both the ARP Church and evangelical Christianity that is Biblical and Reformed. We understand that, and we are not especially surprised. But for the life of me, I do not understand people who claim to hold the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible as precious and who nevertheless desperately want to hold on to Erskine College and Seminary. What is it that causes them, Gollum-like, to cry, “My Precious! My Precious!”? What is there at Erskine that speaks of Biblical faith and practice? Indeed, to say that EC is “an authentic Christian” college and ETS is a Biblically faithful seminary is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. It is a statement of nonsense that rejects reality. My suggestion is to give the whole rotten lot to the alums and let them take it to financial ruin and ignominy forthwith. Let Erskine become the Cokesbury College and the Auburn Seminary of the 21st century. In Biblical parlance, it is time to be rid of the “accursed thing”!
To those who are reading ARPTalk for the first time, I want to make this clear: I do not have an imagination good enough to make this stuff up. Indeed, we in the ARP Church as we deal with Erskine are on the other side of “the looking glass.” We have turned Christianity into supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Both the ARP Church and Erskine are dying. The judgment of God is on us both for our fecklessness and faithlessness.
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
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