Jun 30, 2012 | Comments 24
I have been an ARP for 40 years. I was present at all the 2012 meeting of the General Synod of the ARP Church. Once again, I am forced to repeat a maxim I have arrived at after 40 years of dealing with Erskine College & Seminary – a maxim I believe to be incontrovertible: Do not trust any report or communiqué until it is shown to be factual! Sadly, what comes out of Belk Hall rarely resembles reality.
Regarding the WORLD Magazine article, Separation of church and school: The struggle over the governance of Erskine College and Seminary continues, all the Editor can say is their reporter(s) got it right. The press release sent out from the office of Mr. Cliff Smith, the Director of Communications at Erskine, on the other hand, is neither accurate nor representative of what took place on the floor of the 2012 General Synod. It is nothing more than SPIN. The Erskine administrators are desperately trying to proclaim the 2012 Synod as a victory. Well, they might want to look up “Pyrrhic Victory” in a dictionary.
Mr. Smith seizes the language of commendation in the motion by former Moderator Mr. Steve Maye. But for Mr. Smith to say the motion made by Mr. Maye is a statement of commendation is for him to travel through the Looking Glass, have tea with the Mad Hatter, and play croquet with the Queen of Hearts. Furthermore, he would have us to to believe the Cheshire Cat is real and to commend him for his discovery. Mr. Maye is a southern gentlemen, but he is not stupid. The motion made by Mr. Maye was an astonishingly charitable and yet stubbornly realistic response to the actions of the Erskine board and administration – and, particularly, of the board’s ad hoc committee and its chair and the chairman of the board, Mr. David Conner. The Erskine board asked for another year for their ad hoc committee to study Synod’s request that the trustees revise the board’s bylaws/charter in order to comply with Synod’s removal policy of trustees “for cause.” As a result of Mr. Maye’s motion, a Synod committee appointed by Moderator Dr. Steve Suits will also study the same matter. A Minority Report from the Erskine board revealed the disturbing fact that either the ad hoc committee did not do the work assigned or withheld and covered up the facts in order to produce a preconceived outcome. In response, a Synod committee will “birddog” the board’s ad hoc committee. If anything was evident at the 2012 meeting of General Synod, it was a profound distrust of the Erskine administration and board by about half of the delegates.
Witness also that, as Mr. Maye began his motion, he said it was time for all of us to get on the same page about Erskine or let Erskine go its way. If memory serves me correctly, he used the term “separation” – the first time this fateful word has been used on the floor of the Synod. It will not be the last! In the ARP Church, Erskine has become THE “bone on contention” that divides us.
When I first read Mr. Smith’s press release, I said it was another example of what many us call “Erskine disingenuousness.” After a night of sleep, I am now of another opinion: it is the pitiful bellowing of a dying animal.
Consider the following. If the following comments are not the moaning and special pleading of a fearful administration that has lost its purpose for existence, has broken covenant with the mother that birthed the institution, and is in the midst of death throes, what are these comments?
- Mr. Smith attempts to blame WORLD Magazine for Erskine’s plight. The reporter(s) of WORLD Magazine described the mess and got it right. ERSKINE MADE THE MESS!
- The difference between “directive” and “request” is subtle. The Erskine administration and board are not refusing to abide by a Synod “directive.” At this point, they are refusing to honor Synod’s “request.” However, for the record, there are examples where Erskine administrations and boards have refused Synod’s “directives.”
- The language that Erskine is not attempting to break away from the ARP Church is “Jesuit casuistry.” According to the new bylaws/charter, Erskine is now “independent.” Presently, it is the board’s pleasure for the ARP Church to appoint trustees. The bylaws/charter can be changed yet again without the consent of the ARP Church. In other words, Erskine is no longer an “agency” of the ARP Church. Erskine is now an “independent” college with historical ties to the ARP Church that happens to receive support from the ARP Church’s General Fund. So, Mr. Smith is technically correct. Erskine cannot “break away” from something of which it is not a part.
- Mr. Smith writes: “Both the ARP Synod and Erskine trustees understand that the Synod cannot direct the Erskine Board to change its governing documents.” Erskine is no longer a part of the ARP Church. What is taking place? The ARP Church is struggling to get its arms around this reality! It is an unpleasant reality for us – a “say it ain’t so” time! But soon enough the cold, hard facts will be undeniable.
- Mr. Smith states the Erskine board’s response to the General Synod was an act of compliance. Just the opposite is true! He is very aware the 2011 Synod’s request was validated and partially written by Erskine representatives (including President David Norman). He is also aware the “request” was expected to be embraced and implemented. When the President, the board’s chair, and other representatives are agreed on a motion, does one expect it to be rejected? The expected response is adoption!
- Mr. Smith writes: “Erskine values its unique relationship” to the ARP Church. Well, of course, the ARP Church is the largest donor!! Have the geniuses in Belk Hall considered what they are going to do when the ARP money goes away?
- The most laughable and Orwellian statement that Mr. Smith makes is this: “. . . the Board of Trustees and President Norman have worked diligently to address the ARP Synod’s concerns. The results have been significant revisions to Erskine’s bylaws, policies. . . .” Indeed, they are “significant revisions”! They Xed the ARP Church out!
As I have noted, reading Mr. Smith’s news release is painful and sad. Erskine has become such a point of division we had a minister speak openly at the 2012 Synod of designating giving rather than supporting the Denominational Ministry Fund which sends Erskine 20% of Synod’s budget. What one delegate said in the open, many are saying privately. What one suggested openly, many are doing quietly. Erskine is now a cancer in the side of the ARP Church.
Mr. Smith’s rhetoric about academic excellence at Erskine and about students “flourishing” is odd for a Christian college representative to write. Is it necessary for him to state what should be obvious? The truth is different. Erskine is now forced to “buy” students. The attrition rate is high. The fabled “academic excellence” is lost. “Thriving” and “flourishing,” Dr. Norman’s buzzwords, are now reduced surviving. And when one reads the alums’ websites, one asks this question: Is this what a Christian college produces? The comments on the Facebook sites of the Erskine alums are diatribes against the evangelical, conservative, and Reformed faith of the ARP Church.
WORLD Magazine got the story right. I am embarrassed for Mr. Smith. He spins a web of empty platitudes about Erskine. Well, was that not what he was hired to do? Someone has to record the death groans and write the obligatory epitaphs.
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
Below is a copy of the Erskine news release that has been taken from the Aquila Report
WORLD magazine recently published a “Web Extra” post at worldmag.com entitled “Separation of church and school: The struggle over the governance of Erskine College and Seminary continues” (June 8, 2012). That article has since been republished or linked by several other blogs and news services.
Since Erskine did not have an opportunity to provide comment or perspective for the original article, we would like to offer that perspective now in hopes of providing your readers with a more comprehensive and more accurate understanding of the facts regarding Erskine’s current and future relationship with the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP).
Since publication, some details have since been revised on the original post at worldmag.org, providing more accuracy. However, since those details may not be revised in all versions of the article, we address them below.
The article, both by its title and the general direction of the content, would give most readers the perception that by refusing to abide by “directives” from the ARP Synod, Erskine’s trustees and its administration are signaling their desire and intend to break away from Erskine’s founding denomination. One could also perceive that separation is also the prevailing desire of the ARP Synod
Unfortunately, this presents a somewhat skewed view of the current relationship between the ARP Synod and Erskine. More specifically, it misinterprets the events of the past two Synod meetings and the future intentions of Erskine regarding this relationship.
While consideration of alterations to the college’s governance to provide a process for the Synod to remove trustees from the Erskine Board were part of the content of the proposal, the motion of the 2011 ARP Synod was worded, received by Erskine, and acted on by the Erskine trustees as a request to consider and report back to Synod, not a “directive” to make changes to Erskine’s charter or bylaws.
The authority of the Erskine Board of Trustees to govern the college is clearly outlined in Erskine’s charter as well as the “Statement of the Philosophy of Christian Higher Education” provided by the ARP Synod. Both the ARP Synod and Erskine trustees understand that the Synod cannot direct the Erskine Board to change its governing documents.
By the time of the most recent meeting of the ARP Synod (June 5-7, 2012), the Board of Trustees of Erskine had, in fact, complied with that request. An ad hoc committee of trustees had studied the matter, reported to the full board, and the board had voted on a response, which was provided to Synod.
While the Erskine trustees concluded that it was wiser to retain the current governance structure rather than alter its charter and bylaws in the manner suggested, they provided a document that lays out the research conducted and reasons for that decision. Additional information then came to light, after the Erskine trustees’ initial response to the Synod was sent. Both the Synod and Erskine acknowledge this information requires more consideration.
Throughout this process, at multiple times in a variety of ways, including the official written communications and presentations to the assembled 2012 ARP Synod, Erskine’s trustees and President David Norman have made it clear that Erskine does not desire to sever ties with the ARP. Erskine values its unique relationship the ARP. Founded 175 years ago, Erskine was South Carolina’s first and now its oldest four-year institution of higher learning founded by a church.
The ARP Synod still maintains its vital and historical role of spiritual oversight and retains sole authority to appoint all Erskine trustees to the board. Erskine is laboring in earnest to preserve its long-standing relationship with the ARP, being organically and meaningfully connected to its founding denomination at a time when many colleges have long since cut ties or marginalized the relationship with their churches. Erskine Trustees and President Norman have consistently communicated this message to the ministers and elders that comprise the ARP Synod, to alumni, faculty, students, prospective students and families, as well as to the general public many times over the past two years.
During that time, the Board of Trustees and President Norman have worked diligently to address the ARP Synod’s concerns. The results have been significant revisions to Erskine’s bylaws, policies, and procedures that are designed to reinvigorate and accomplish Erskine’s mission to glorify God by equipping students to flourish as whole persons for lives of service through undergraduate liberal arts and graduate theological education in a way that is authentically Christian, academically excellent, intentional, and sustainable.
What Erskine is doing is not an easy task, but it is worthwhile. The 2011 ARP Synod commended Erskine’s trustees and President Norman, who was just completing his first in office, for their effective work. Again this year, the 2012 ARP Synod commended Erskine’s trustees and administration for being willing to continue the dialogue on these issues.
The motion referenced in the WORLD post was in two parts, the first of which was this commendation. The second part established a Synod committee that would continue to study additional information regarding the governance relationship and its structure as the Erskine board did the same. The issue at hand deals with both the feasibility and advisability of altering the governing documents of Erskine to provide a process for the ARP Synod to remove Trustees for cause.
In the article, the language and intent of the motion and comments made by its framer expressing his desired outcome were conveyed in a way that implies that the ARP Synod desires to pursue separation. While there may be individuals who hold that opinion, future separation was not at issue in the Synod’s action. The motion did not imply or suggest a future separation between the ARP and Erskine. Nor did it assume the outcome of the proposed joint effort to study the matter further.
The Erskine Board of Trustees and administration appreciate the ARP Synod’s continued commendations for our work and progress in recent years to ensure an academically rigorous and authentically Christian education for our students. Erskine welcomes the opportunity to continue reviewing the issues and concerns brought forward for further discussion into 2013.
Erskine values the mutually beneficial relationship shared with the ARP Synod and is committed to retaining it in a way that aids our respective missions. We at Erskine look forward to continuing to equip men and women with the knowledge and guidance necessary to pursue lives of significance in service to Christ and his Church, their families, their communities, and the world. This ultimately is something both the ARP Synod and Erskine can agree is worth doing well.
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