Bishop David the First

At a meeting of General Synod 10 or 12 years ago, Rev. Jamie Hunt (Pastor, Coddle Creek ARP Church) spoke a warning of what he called “creeping federalism.” No fan of the now defunct office of Coordinator of General Synod, Rev. Hunt defended our concept of ecclesiastical authority flowing upward from our churches instead of downward from a bishop or an ecclesiastical group or office. As a traditional ARP, Rev. Hunt detests the idea of a bishop or a college of agency heads. Unfortunately, at the time, Rev. Hunt was unaware the ARP Church already had an ecclesiastic who sits de facto as a bishop over a board and agency of General Synod. No board, commission, or committee chairman or agency head has been invested with the authority and control which the chairman of the Erskine board has been given. The chairman of the Erskine board sits without ecclesiastical parallel in the history of the ARP Church. And, in the past ten years, the last three chairmen of the Erskine board are also unparalleled in the use of their office to resist the will and directives of General Synod. With the present Chairman, Mr. David Conner, new depths have been plumbed. Indeed, he deserves the title of “Bishop David the First of Erskine,” with all the opprobrium appertaining thereunto.

Free from appointment by or direct accountability to General Synod, Bishop David the First sits as the chairman of the Erskine board by the will of the majority of the board at the February, 2012, board meeting – the same meeting at which the board, at the urging of Bishop David the First, thumbed its nose at the General Synod’s very reasonable request regarding the right of trustee removal. Such is Bishop David the First’s power that, since Erskine College and Seminary is presently without a President, he has sole authority to appoint the Presidential Search Committee. He does not have to hear or receive nominations from the board or General Synod. And unlike chairmen of Synod’s other boards and agencies, his appointments do not need the approval of the board he chairs.

The desire of the ARP Church for a new President of Erskine was spelled out in the following manner at the 2013 meeting of General Synod:

In its search for a new president of Erskine College, the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church strongly encourages the Board of Trustees of Erskine to search for and hire an individual whose qualifications include a personal profession of faith fully and enthusiastically in line with Synod’s Definition of an Evangelical, subscription to the Standards of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the educational qualifications, experience, personal skills, and fundraising background to accomplish the stated mission of the institution.

Bishop David the First has treated the wishes of the ARP Church with contempt. Here are his appointments to the Presidential Search Committee: Bill Cain (Co-Chair); Crosland Stuart (Co-Chair); Bryan Bult; Sarah Brice; Clint Davis; Andy Putnam; Mark Ross; and Steve Sniteman. No matter how many e-mails and letters are sent out by Bill Cain and Crosland Stuart calling for prayer, this Presidential Search Committee is not going to accomplish the desires of General Synod. Bishop David the First has not designed his Presidential Search Committee to accomplish the desires of the ARP Church for an Erskine President. In fact, if this Presidential Search Committee were a fish designed by Bishop David the First, I do not think it could swim. Consider the following:

  1. Co-Chairs. If both Bill Cain and Crosland Stuart are of one mind, then one of them is not necessary. A functional co-chairmanship is going to function slowly and be unruly if both chairmen give full expression to their opinions. The question must be asked: why co-chairs? What is the agenda behind this? Bishop David the First has not gone out of this way to promote trust with the General Synod! Does the idea of co-chairs improve trust with the ARP Church? I am sure a candidate for President of Erskine is going to see this and be relieved the trust issue between Erskine and the General Synod has been healed by this odd appointment of co-chairs.
  2. Bill Cain. No doubt Bill Cain is a good man. However, is he being used – again? In the last two years, Bishop David the First has not been the face of the Erskine board at the meetings of General Synod. Instead, he has sat out of the way among or behind the delegates at the meetings of General Synod. Mr. Cain has been promoted as the face of Erskine to the General Synod. Indeed, Mr. Cain is trusted by most of us. In my opinion, Bishop David the First is using Mr. Cain’s good name to advance his cause. The one negative for Mr. Cain is this: he was involved in the Erskine board’s executive committee’s efforts to remove President David Norman this spring. So, does it help to attract candidates that one of the co-chairs was involved in the removal of the last President?
  3. Crosland Stuart. Ms. Stuart rotated off the Erskine board as of July 1, 2013. Why did Bishop David the First appoint her to the Presidential Search Committee? What is his agenda? What is the deal? Why is a non-member of the Erskine board a co-chair? Why were none of the new trustees appointed to the Presidential Search Committee? Why is there not a single conservative voice on the Presidential Search Committee? Also, was not Ms. Stuart one of the trustees removed by the March 2010 “Snow” Synod? If you were someone considering the Presidency of Erskine, would you look at Ms. Stuart’s co-chairmanship as an encouragement or a warning?
  4. Bryan Bult. As of July 1, 2013, Rev. Bult was no longer a member of the Erskine board. Rev. Bult’s appointment to the board was to fill an unexpired vacancy. Rev. Bult could have succeeded himself; however, the various nominating committees, for whatever reasons, chose not to re-nominate him to the Erskine board. Why would Bishop David the First appoint Rev. Bult to the Presidential Search Committee? Is there a hidden agenda?
  5. Sarah Brice. The daughter of former Erskine President, Dr. Joseph Wightman, Sarah Brice is not a member of the Erskine board. Instead, until her appointment by Bishop David the First, Ms. Brice was a Director of the EC Foundation, the organization founded with the stated aim of challenging the ARP Church’s oversight of Erskine in the secular courts. Ms. Brice is also a member and elder in the liberal Westminster Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Greenville, SC. This congregation was in the news not so long ago for hosting a Muslim Imam at a Sunday morning worship service. Well, what is Bishop David the First up to with this appointment? Because of her theological affirmations, Ms. Brice cannot meet the standards for an Erskine board trustee. Unable to be a member of the Erskine board, why has Bishop David the First appointed her? With her theological convictions, how can she begin to assist in finding a Presidential candidate who is compatible to General Synod and Erskine’s criteria for a President? This appointment puts the Presidential Search Committee on a collision course with itself, the Erskine board, and General Synod. Wary candidates will see this and flee!
  6. Clint Davis. The Rev. Clint Davis is not a member of the Erskine board. According to Bishop David the First, Rev. Davis was chosen to represent the ARP Church. Interestingly, the Reverends Clint Davis, Andy Putnam, and Mark Ross are all members of Catawba Presbytery. They are also identified by most of us as a part of the “middle wing” of the ARP Church. Is Bishop David the First “black balling” more than 40% of the General Synod? Bishop David the First has not appointed a single person – NOT A SINGLE PERSON – from the “evangelical right” to the Presidential Search Committee? Does anyone believe this is an oversight?
  7. Andy Putnam. The Rev. Andy Putnam is a member of the Erskine board and a member of the Executive Committee. He is also one of the trustees who (WHILE HE WAS MODERATOR OF THE GENERAL SYNOD) helped to author the new bylaws such that the General Synod of the ARP Church was written OUT of the bylaws. Most of the conflict between the ARP Church and Erskine College over the bylaws is to be laid to Rev. Putnam’s credit. He is also one of those who went to President Norman in the Executive Committee’s attempt to remove him. Therefore, another “dispatcher-of-a-president” is sent forth to find and hire a new president. Indeed, this should warm the cockles of the hearts of candidates!
  8. Mark Ross. Bishop David the First’s appointment of Dr. Mark Ross is predictable. Ostensibly, Dr. Ross was appointed to represent the seminary. The question to be asked is this: why was the chairman of the seminary faculty not appointed? Is it because the chairman of the seminary faculty is not easily intimidated? A part of the “middle wing,” why is Dr. Ross so often the voice of the seminary? Is it because he speaks loudly and with apodictic certainty? Have we forgotten Dr. Ross was one of those responsible for the disastrous Randy Ruble presidency? Have we forgotten the “Good Friday” statement on inerrancy signed by six members of the Erskine Seminary faculty? Dr. Ross’ signature was not on the statement. Of course, Dr. Ross affirms inerrancy, but with a disaster surrounding him and Erskine Theological Seminary at the time, why was he reluctant to sign the “Good Friday” statement? Could not Bishop David the First find a seminary faculty member other than Dr. Ross to serve on the Presidential Search Committee? Bishop David the First makes a retread out of Dr. Ross. He also demeans the other members of the seminary faculty.
  9. Steve Sniteman. Dr. Steve Sniteman was chose to represent the college faculty. The appointment of Dr. Sniteman makes sense.

Bishop David the First’s Presidential Search Committee begins its work behind the backdrop of a freshman class of over 200 students. Yes, there will be over 200 new students this fall. However, before the bonfires of celebration are built and set aflame, what was the cost? This new class may be a hindrance in attracting a new president. The cost is staggering.

Presently, the most important individual at Erskine College in recruiting new students is the baseball coach. According to my sources, at least 60 freshmen students have been recruited for the baseball team. Are there also sophomores, juniors, and seniors on the baseball team? How many baseball players are there? Is not a team about 25 to 30 players? Does the baseball team make money for Erskine? Is the Erskine baseball team justified because it is one of the outstanding teams in the southeast? This is astounding. Erskine was once considered academically elite! What has happened to the Erskine reputation for scholarship? The reputation of the baseball team is this: just mediocre!

Presently, the cost of Erskine is nearly $45,000. According to what I am told, the discount is over 60%, that is, in dollars, the discount is over $27,000. That is considerably more than the $18,000 when I was on the Erskine board. In plain language, this means the cost of the freshman part of the baseball team this year is over 1.6 million dollars. And, by the way, this says nothing of the cost of the athletes recruited for men’s basketball, women’s basketball, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, women’s softball, and the other sports. The Erskine way of recruiting is to buy athletes. Well, such success as this is, as was warned at the “Snow” Synod, “FINANCIALLY UNSUSTAINABLE.” This ought to give pause to someone considering applying for the job of President of Erskine.

Let no one in Due West speak of Clemson University and the University of South Carolina as being “jock schools.” If ever a college catered to and recruited athletes, it is Erskine College. And whether Bishop David the First of Erskine likes it or not, this is the legacy he leaves. This has happened during his bishopric.

I wonder what kind of reception Bishop David the First is going to receive at the meeting of the Erskine board this week? There is now a conservative majority on the Erskine board for the first time in more than 40 years. I do not think they will appreciate being disenfranchised from the Presidential Search Committee. I expect a collision of philosophies and personalities. I expect the Presidential Search Committee as it is now constituted will not be able to accomplish much. I hope the majority of the members of the Erskine board have the good sense to change the bylaws so that the Chairman of the board no longer has the authority of a “bishop,” and Bishop David the First fades into obscurity as Bishop David the Last.

These are my thoughts,

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Charles W. Wilson

 

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  1. GJGerard says:

    Here, here, Archbishop Chuck…your sapience is herculean.

  2. Dear Mr. Gerard,

    Thanks for the comment.

    Since I do not hold a position in General Synod or in my presbytery, the title “Archbishop” is incorrectly applied to me. An Archbishop has authority. I do not hold a position of authority.

    Thank you for attributing “sapience” to me. Since the human species is Homo Sapiens, yes, indeed, I am human and I possess “sapience,” that is, the ability to think. “Sapience” is who we are. Contrary to what you write, it is not Herculean for a human to think.

    If memory serves me correctly, an Archbishop is an ecclesiastic who has been vested with political powers, and one of those powers is the power to appoint. The power to appoint in the ARP Church is vested in Synod’s Nominating Committee. The person on the Nominating Committee who controls the agenda is the chairman. The nearest thing to an Archbishop in the ARP Church is the chairman of the Nominating Committee.

    GJ, in the last 20 years, haven’t you been the chairman of Synod’s Nominating Committee for many of those years? How many consecutive years have you served as the chairman of the Nominating Committee? Hasn’t your long-serving on the Nominating Committee created conflict? Haven’t motions been made to restrict consecutive service? With the exception of last year when a new process for the Erskine board was launched, you can’t get away from this fact: in the last 20 years, the terrible choices for the Erskine board were brought forth to General Synod by you as the chairman of the Nominating Committee. Indeed, how many times have you stood on the floor of General Synod and extolled the choices you and the Nominating Committee made as sacrosanct? As far as Erskine is concerned, haven’t many of your choices brought division to the ARP Church? Two of the choices you made actually brought civil action against the ARP Church.

    For good or for bad, if any man in the ARP Church deserves the title of “Archbishop,” Mr. Gerard does. So, please forgive me, when I began this response, I failed to address you as “Your Excellence.” My bad!

    Regards,

    Charles Wilson
    ARPTalk

  3. Jeff Kingswood says:

    Chuck:

    This piece came out during our recent meeting and while your comments about the unprecedented powers of the Erskine Board chair are true I believe your caricature of David Conner crossed a line. What you couldn’t have known is that in every vote taken at our recent Board meeting the Board only strengthened the commitment to the directions set out for us by Synod. As moderator of Synod I was encouraged and would like to ask to to apologize to David Conner for the spirit of that piece.
    Your brother in Christ,
    Jeff

    • Dear Moderator Kingswood,

      Thank you for your comment and concern.

      Indeed, if you think the cartoon is offense to Mr. Conner and the spirit is too astringent, who am I to disagree with my valued friend, true brother, and the Moderator of General Synod? As you noted, the facts of the article, of course, are correct. As you request, I hereby publicly apologize to Mr. Conner for the cartoon and its satirical spirit. To show my sincerity, I have asked the site administrator to remove the cartoon.

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

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