Jun 14, 2012 | Comments 20
The meeting of the General Synod did not end but fizzled out like a wet firecracker for want of a quorum at about 8:00 PM on Thursday, June 7. I am still depressed. How does one describe the 2012 meeting of Synod? The following came to my mind:
- “June 2010 Revisited but Worse”;
- “Parade of Fools”;
- “The Night of the Boy Who Cried Wolf”;
- “An Exercise in Platitudinous Nonsense”; and
- (my favorite) “Ugh Again!”
However, in conversations with a friend who was there and one who only read about our goings on, both of them said this meeting was like the old TV commercial for Life Line: “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up.” Well, who am I to disagree with such astute observation and scintillating wit?
The meeting of General Synod was Erskine, Erskine, Erskine, Erskine ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Since the 2007 Synod, Erskine College & Seminary matters have bottlenecked the business of the ARP Church. The report below is not exhaustive; rather, only the highlights (or “lowlights,” as the case may be) are discussed.
1. The Moderator-elect is Rev. Jeff Kingswood. He is a Canadian. Perhaps, God willing, he can bring some order back to the ARP Church.
2. As usual, Synod began with a worship service on Tuesday evening. Using Acts 20, outgoing Moderator Andy Putnam preached a sermon entitled “Wolves.” Sadly, Mr. Putnam used the lectern as a partisan bully pulpit as he demonstrated that he was thin skinned and lacked the humility to deal with criticisms forthrightly. Pity, the text has great potential, and some of what he said was appropriate.
Now, if Mr. Putnam wants to call the Editor of ARPTalk a “wolf,” let him have at it. The Editor is not offended. “Wolf” is one of the nicer things the Editor is called. On the two Erskine alums’ Facebook sites, the Editor is referred to as “the one whose name must not be spoken.” Also, if Mr. Putnam wants to charge the Editor with “slander,” let him remember that pointing out the obvious, no matter how unpleasant to him or the reader, is not slander. Somehow, Mr. Putnam does not seem to understand that his actions on the Erskine board of trustees (EBOT) are open to criticism – even harsh criticism, for what he has done involves all of us in the ARP Church. Therefore,
- is it the work of a “wolf” or “slander” for the Editor and others to point out that Mr. Putnam’s actions on the EBOT’s committee that revised the EBOT’s bylaws resulted in a distancing of Erskine from the ARP Church rather than a drawing of Erskine back to the ARP Church?
- Is it the work of a “wolf” or “slander” for the Editor and others to remind Mr. Putnam that he was one of the people who helped frame the 2011 Synod’s request to Erskine asking that our language for trustee removal be written into the charter/bylaws, and he agreed such was not only possible but needed?
- Is it the work of a “wolf” or “slander” for the Editor and others to remind Mr. Putnam that he was a member of the EBOT’s ad hoc committee that reported it was impossible for Synod’s request to be accomplished?
- Is it the work of a “wolf” or “slander” for the Editor and others to remind Mr. Putnam that the Minority Report demonstrated that the ad hoc committee’s report, which he signed off on, was incorrect if not a falsification of facts?
- Is it the work of a “wolf” or “slander” for the Editor and others to remind Mr. Putnam that his actions in this matter show as a member of the EBOT, he demonstrates failure of “competence,” failure of “knowledge,” and failure of “fiduciary responsibility” on behalf of Erskine. After all, is he not party to a report that has caused the integrity of the EBOT to be questioned?
- Is it the work of a “wolf” or “slander” for the Editor and others to remind Mr. Putnam that his actions in this matter have shown that as a member of the EBOT he has lead many of us in the ARP Church to question his “competence,” “knowledge,” and “fiduciary responsibility” to the ARP Church?
- Finally, is it the work of a “wolf” or “slander” for the Editor and others to say they feel Mr. Putnam, in his role as the Moderator of General Synod, brought not the church together but further divided us? Mr. Putnam asked at Synod, “Why wasn’t I asked to sign the Minority Report?” Mr. Putnam, could it be that you were not trusted? Well, about half of the members of the house you moderated feel that, in the matters pertaining to Erskine, you have not lead or represented us wisely and you cannot be trusted. And, by the way, the way many of us feel about you, is this not how you felt about Dr. Dick deWitt’s leadership as Moderator? Now, we do not know your motives; however, whatever they are, we know what has been done. As unpleasant as it is, this is the unvarnished truth.
3. The first item of business before the 2012 Synod on Wednesday morning was the adoption of the Budget. A motion was made to delay the adoption of the Budget until after the Erskine Report. Obviously, funding of Erskine College & Seminary was the issue. A house of nearly 300 delegates was split by 15 votes (157-142). This sharp division set the tone for the rest of the meetings of Synod.
4. Since about 2007, when Dr. Mary Lang Edwards who teaches biology at Erskine College published an article in the Greenville and Columbia papers affirming evolution and attacking Biblical views of creation, creation issues have been a hot topic in the ARP Church. Hopefully, the adoption of a “Memorial” from our Mississippi Valley Presbytery (along with a subsequent amendment) has put this issue to rest in the ARP Church. Our stated position affirms the “special” creation of Adam and Eve. That is, Adam and Eve are historical and created by God without evolutionary forbears, and an amendment made it clear that this memorial does not settle interpretive issues regarding the days of creation. This should put to rest the debate over the days of creation and allows some liberty of conscience. The Editor is a six-day creationist; however, he does not wish to hold a position that would exclude J. Gresham Machen, E. J. Young, or James Montgomery Boice. Interestingly, the adoption of this position on creation widens the gap between Erskine and the ARP Church. Dr. Edwards and her colleagues are not going to enthusiastically join us in our affirmation.
5. Just before the meeting of Synod, the issue of anthropological monism was opened when questions were asked about President David Norman’s doctoral dissertation. As most of you are aware, an “Open Letter” written by Mr. Scott Cook was posted on ARPTalk. The first day of business the Editor was asked: “Chuck, did you write the “Open Letter” for Scott and post it under his name? Dr. Norman thinks you did.”
On Wednesday afternoon, I introduced Dr. Norman to Mr. Cook. I do not like philosophical theology. Like Luther, I think philosophy is “the devil’s own whore.” Their discussion made my head hurt. I was interested that Dr. Norman said what he wrote was nothing more than a speculative conversation in which philosophers are wont to engage. At the end of the discussion, Dr. Norman said whatever the church said he would affirm. He said he held his views hypothetically and was willing to change his views in order to be in accord with the church.
Now, before anyone accuses the Editor of Jesuit casuistry: NO! Chuck Wilson did not write Mr. Cook’s article.
6. Rev. Ken McMullen of First Presbytery made a motion that was passed asking the Moderator to appoint a committee to undertake the revision of the Book of Discipline. Amen! This task is long overdue. Our Book of Discipline is universally looked on as contradictory, convoluted, and useless. Using the Book of Discipline, one could not convict a boar hog of being non-kosher.
7. For the second time in three years, the annual meeting of General Synod came to a stand still because of conflict over Erskine. For the second time in three years, delegates left Bonclarken tired and disgusted over the Erskine conflict before the adjournment of synod. A quorum could not be found on Thursday evening to finish the business of the ARP Church. We left with 17 items on the table.
After 40 years of dealing with Erskine College and Seminary, the principle that I have learned is not to trust any Erskine report or presentation as reliable or truth until there is rock hard verification. As I predicted in ARPTalk, there was a “feel good” video. In that video we learned the following:
- “All the professors” at Erskine are “Christians” – and the implication is “just like us.” This in the face of the fact that at the 2009 Synod there was a student-made video and a room full of students who bore witness to the opposite.
- We learned the Synod-sponsored and financed ministry of The Barn was leading students to Christ and growing them in their faith. We also learned other parachurch organizations were doing similar ministries. What we were not told about was the ministry of the administration and faculty to the students. What a howling irony that parachurch organizations are needed on the campus of a Christian college to do what the college is charged and tasked to do!
- We were informed that through the DMin program to US Army chaplains Erskine Seminary is now the seminary of the US Army to train their chaplains. However, nothing was said about the ministry of Erskine Seminary to the ARP Church. I think Jesus said something about doing the one without sacrificing the other!
- We also were informed that Erskine Seminary through the Columbia campus is the handmaiden to First Presbyterian Church of Augusta (PCA) in their endeavors to overcome racial tensions in Augusta. Outstanding! However, nothing was said of how the seminary of the ARP Church was advancing the ARP Church! Could this be because Erskine Seminary has been one of the focal points in this controversy, and, in fact, Erskine Seminary has, in recent years, done more to harm than to help the ARP Church?
The Moderator’s Committee on Erskine was a disaster. The discussion on the floor was even more of a disaster. A motion to restrict funding to Erskine was defeated. The division was bitter. A motion to hear the Minority Report of EBOT members to Synod failed by only three (3) votes. David Conner, the on-coming Chair of the EBOT and author of the EBOT’s scandalous ad hoc committee’s report did not recuse himself from the floor debate. A lawyer should know to do that. Rather, he joined in begging General Synod for money. Nevertheless, I will give this to Mr. Conner: he said he was not in favor of separation from the ARP Church – not when they can get Synod’s money! Shamelessly, Dr. Mark Ross gave a very loud and impassioned speech that was the equivalent of pandering and begging Synod for funding. He said he had been forced to terminate people. He said if Synod did not release funding to Erskine Seminary immediately “we will die.” I suppose this means he would lose his job. However, the portion Erskine Seminary will receive is only $172,400 and Erskine Seminary has an endowment of about $8,000,000 plus; therefore, how is Erskine Seminary in immediate peril of death? Good grief, Mr. Ross!
The Rev. Kyle Sims said that he wanted change at Erskine. He said he wanted reformation at Erskine. He said as a member of the Nominations Committee he has pledged himself to change. However, that was not heartening to many of us. Mr. David Conner, who is the author of the EBOT’s scandalous ad hoc committee’s report, came on the EBOT under Mr. Sims’ watch. In conversations with both Rev. Sims and Rev. Matthew Miller, Mr. Conner’s pastor, I was assured that Mr. Conner would be the voice of advocacy for General Synod. That is not the way events have unfolded! At this point, Mr. Conner embarrasses his church.
Amazingly, we were told by the Erskine people if General Synod did not watch out ATS and SACS were watching and they would get us. The Erskine people attempted to blackmail General Synod with the accrediting agencies. Good grief! These Erskine people should resign and go home and play with their toys!
In the end, the prevailing motion was made by former Moderator Mr. Steve Maye. After recognizing we are brothers with different opinions regarding Erskine, he moved that the EBOT be given another year to study this matter of relationship to the ARP Church and asked that they report back to the 2013 Synod with their findings. He also moved that the Moderator appoint a committee to do the same work and report back to the 2013 Synod with its findings. Both parts of his motion passed. The Synod is at an impasse with Erskine. We do not trust them. We are now following the lead of former President Ronald Reagan: “Trust but verify!”
At this point, the Editor will make a prediction. The Erskine people actually acknowledged the findings of the Minority Report were CORRECT. They now say adding Synod’s language regarding trustee removal “for cause” is not “prudent” or “wise” “at this time.” Therefore, I predict there will be two very different reports presented to General Synod next year. I no longer allow hope to triumph over experience. It is time to separate and “let Erskine be Erskine” and let the ARP Church be about the kingdom work of the Church of Jesus Christ.
The following Peanuts’ video is a metaphor for the ARP Church’s long hope over experience when it comes to matters of Erskine. Watch the clip. I would say, “Enjoy!”; however, the truth hits too close to home and hurts too intensely.
8. The final event of Thursday (and the final business of the 2012 Synod) before the adjournment for supper was a speech by Rev. Dean Turbeville of First Presbytery. Mr. Turbeville did not at first wish to have this statement published, as he intended it “only for the ears of the delegates at Synod and not for the public.” However, when reminded that Synod was an open and public meeting, that recordings were made, and transcripts could be attained, he agreed to its publication. He said: “Well, Chuck, at least I know you will print it accurately.”
Passionately, sincerely, and with tears in his eyes, Mr. Turbeville spoke:
Mr. Moderator, if I may have a moment of personal privilege. After almost forty years of attempted reforms at Erskine College, Synod has once again shown its limitless patience with its own rebellious agency. This is God’s will. Whether for the blessing or the discipline of our body, it is God’s will; I accept that.
Now I would address only those men of tender conscience for whom the use of church tithes to pay for the salaries of college professors who would laugh at our position on Adam and Eve, professors who still teach our covenant children an unvarnished Darwinism in our biology department, administrators who cheered the church elders who took the Bride of Christ before civil court judges, and a seminary professor who believes the Bible is not the objective Word of God – I speak to those men of tender conscience who remember that brave covenanter martyrs once stood against the intrusion of civil power into the life of the church, and who now cannot fathom the unqualified deference our brethren pay to hostile secular accrediting agencies – to you dear men of tender conscience, I urge you first of all to pray for our denomination this year, and to do all that you can in your local church to see that congregational monies are sent by designation to those agencies which still honor the Gospel, and that you do all you can to end undesignated giving to the Denominational Ministry Fund.
Amen, Mr. Turbeville. Amen and amen! I will no longer give to Erskine. Erskine, whether we like it our not, is no longer an “agency” of the ARP Church. Why is money from the DMF going to an college that identifies itself as “independent”?
9. The report holding the distinction of being the most surreal is the Strategic Planning Committee Report given by Rev. Doug Petersen. Mr. Petersen took over 20 minutes to tell us he had nothing to tell us, and this after his committee last year promised a final report to the 2012 Synod. Then, after 4 years of study and $24,000 spent, he announced the only thing the committee had come up with is a request for us to read the first page of the Form of Government. Then he asked General Synod to continue the process for yet another year. Good grief! And, NO, I am not making this up!
No wonder there is consternation on the Board of Stewardship over a lack of giving to the Denomination Ministry Fund (DMF) by our churches. Would you buy stock in this? Well, neither will our people buy stock in the DMF. If giving to the DMF is down, it is because we have not given our people a reason to give. The sort of mediocrity and nonsense we see fails to engender confidence that the General Synod wisely spends the tithes and offerings of God’s people.
Indeed, the only way to describe this meeting of General Synod is “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up.”
Perhaps there is a Biblical analogy. For all our good “evangelical theological speak,” we are a sinful and disobedient people. Like ancient Israel, we have Achans in our camp who in their tents are cherishing the idols of Erskine. Therefore, even little Ai defeats us. God has turned our wisdom into foolishness. Instead of the joy of obedience, He has given us fogginess of mind. The reason we retreat before small enemies is because the judgment of God is upon us.
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
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