ARPTalk 127 – Bring in the Clowns

 

The only metaphor for what is taking place at Erskine (particularly, Erskine Seminary) is “Bring in the Clowns.”

Clowns are associated with circuses, birthday parties, and fun. However, clowns are also scary — very scary! I remember attending a circus when our children were small, and the children were frightened by the clowns’ costumes and zany and frenetic behavior. I also remember a birthday party which featured a clown. When it came time for photos with the clown, there were more tears and fright on the faces of the children than smiles. In other words, clowns are downright scary!

penniwise the clownAnd why are clowns scary? Well, I suppose it is because a clown wears a mask, and not only does the mask hide the clown’s identity, the mask also hides the clown’s intentions. A clown is creepy. Intuitively, children seem to understand there is danger behind the smiling mask of the clown — a dangerous predator masked in a smile.

Recent events in Due West involving Erskine Seminary are similar to a circus parade of clowns.

In ARPTalk(125), a copy of the petition from the faculty of Erskine Seminary to the board and General Synod was posted. In case someone has not seen this petition which was signed unanimously by the seminary faculty, a copy is below:

Motion from the Erskine Theological Seminary Faculty to the Board of Trustees and the General Synod of the ARP Church:

The Faculty of Erskine Theological Seminary respectfully requests that the Board of Trustees and the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church establish the necessary mechanisms to facilitate the separation of the college and the seminary as soon as possible, and to effect an equitable division of institutional assets (e.g., real estate, endowed funds, library holdings, etc.) in a manner respectful of institutional history and donor’s wishes.

The names of the full-time Faculty who voted (unanimously) for separation are as follows: William B. Evans, Terry L. Eves, R. J. Gore Jr., R. Leslie Holmes, Dale W. Johnson, Loyd D. Melton, Toney C. Parks, Max. F. Rogland, Mark E. Ross, and George M. Schwab Sr.

NOTICE THE PETITION IS ADDRESSED TO THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES AND THE GENERAL SYNOD OF THE ASSOCIATE REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH.

Notice the petition asks for relief from President Paul Kooistra’s administration — and, particularly, from Kooistra himself. As I read the petition, it is a vote of NO CONFIDENCE. According to the former VP of the Seminary who resigned in late January, since Kooistra arrived in Due West, he has provided little or no leadership for the seminary. His contribution has been to accuse others of inactivity.

Enter the clowns! The response from Kooistra’s office is below:

On March 8, 2016, we had a favorable visit from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).  The Visiting Committee recommended no sanctions or notations and Erskine Seminary enjoys continued accreditation through ATS.

With the future of Erskine Seminary having been discussed for several years, we will now look at several options moving forward. This will include the 2013 Report to General Synod.

I will request that the Board of Trustees appoint an Ad Hoc Strategic Committee to consider the best options for the future viability of both schools.

The motion from the Seminary faculty that was sent on March 10, 2016, will be considered carefully and objectively along with several other options.

We thank God for the favorable outcome of the ATS focused accreditation visit. We are in prayer that God will guide the future of the Seminary to his honor and glory.

Why does Kooistra respond to a petition not addressed to him?

Why does Kooistra seem to take credit for the successful ATS audit? According to what I hear, apart from carping and complaining and only doing the heavy lifting of picking up a pen and signing his name, he had nothing to do with the documents sent to ATS.

Why did he not give credit to the people who successfully guided the seminary through the ATS audit? Who are the people to be credited for doing the work for a successful ATS audit? I know the names. Kooistra’s name is not on the list.

Why does he speak of God’s honor and glory for the seminary when he has made it known to many his intention for the seminary is for the seminary to be gone?

Now, notice Kooistra’s intention. I wonder how long it took Kooistra and Chairman Ron Vigus to write this piece of deception. As a former member of the board, I know how this works. Kooistra and Vigus will appoint the ad hoc committee. This means Kooistra will manipulate the process in order to achieve the outcome he desires. As usual, the board will rubber-stamp Kooistra’s choices.

Enter now the clown whose smiling face hides a predator’s heart! Does the reader actually think Kooistra is going to countenance a committee which will not do his bidding? This is the fox being tasked to guard the henhouse. This is the former President of Covenant Theological Seminary who orchestrated the exits of Joe Hall, George Knight, Robert Reymond, and O. Palmer Robertson. Good grief, a seminary could be formed around this list of “Who’s Who” among evangelical and Reformed scholars. Well, indeed, to Kooistra’s surprise and chagrin, these men went south and D. James Kennedy built Knox Theological Seminary around them. This clown is Kooistra who brags he was hated by the faculty at Covenant. And how can a good man brag he is hated by these good men? Most of us have read their books, respect their piety, and honor them as fathers in the faith. Likewise, at Erskine, we can expect the same: a purge, or at least an attempted purge, of the faculty. As one PCA minister put it to me, “This man is vindictive!”

Enter the clowns! When the executive committee of the board met on Monday morning, March 21, one would think the seminary faculty’s petition would be of foremost concern. “Stonewalling” and “coverup” are the terms I use for the manner in which Kooistra and Vigus treated the complex and thorny matter. The attitude was: we cannot let the seminary faculty tell us what do. Well, do Kooistra and Vigus realize the petition from the faculty is tantamount to a vote of NO CONFIDENCE? Do they understand these men who have faithfully served the seminary of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church have put their positions, livelihoods, homes, and reputations on-the-line? Whatever takes place, Kooistra is a wealthy man. He can easily walk away without financial stress. Vigus will continue in his business career. The seminary professors risk their all! They risk their all for the seminary of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

When another 10 ton elephant was brought up, it was also ignored. This is the resignations of VP of the Seminary Chris Wisdom and VP for Administration Rob Gustafson. In a matter of weeks, two Vice Presidents resigned, and their resignations were treated as non-events.

Well, has the reader read the interview Chris Wisdom gave the Editor of ARPTalk (http://www.arptalk.org/2016/01/30/decimation-of-erskine-seminary/)? It is filled with significant charges. Either Wisdom told the truth or he lied! (Indeed, knowing little of the politics of Erskine and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, why would this Orthodox Presbyterian minister and retired Army Chaplain of 30 years lie?) Vigus’ response was to complain Wisdom did not spell out the reasons for his resignation. Well, the actual words of resignation are insignificant, Mr. Vigus. With what is now public knowledge, it is malfeasance on the part of the chairman and the members of the board not to investigate. Knowing what is at play, not to give Wisdom an exit interview is at best a failure to do due diligence and possibly it constitutes a coverup. Well, if the board is run in the manner it should be, it takes time and a lot of work. Since Mr. Vigus works for the board gratis, I guess he does not have time to do what should be done. The old maxim proves true: pay a man nothing and you get nothing! Well, at Erskine, what you get is a well managed board by the president and his administration. In other words, the clowns run the circus.

Interestingly, a number of people on and off the board have spoken with Rob Gustafson. Mr. Gustafson is a good and fair man who loves the church of the Lord Jesus. He was specifically sought out and hired by Kooistra to be his “eyes-and-ears,” but when Gustafson saw and heard things Kooistra did not want to hear and see, Gustafson saw no way forward in Due West. So, what did Gustafson see and hear? From multiple sources, the following is a short list of some of the things Gustafson reports he saw and heard.

One, there is a disconnect between the college and the seminary. Gustafson essentially agrees with former VP of the Seminary Wisdom’s analysis of the relationship and Kooistra’s part in the disconnect. As Gustafson sees it, Kooistra has joined Christie and Haselden in their opinions as expressed in the Cabinet’s plan of April 14, 2014 (http://www.arptalk.org/cabinet-meeting-with-trustee-leadership-2014-04-22/): the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is the obstacle to the health of the college and must be rescued from the clutches of the church.

Two, the financial narrative of CFO Haselden is biased against the seminary. In a two hour meeting with Haselden prior to the March 18 meeting among Gustafson and Kooistra and Haselden, Gustafson discovered the following: of the 1.3 million dollars charged to the seminary for salary and benefits, $392,000 was used for the employees of Belk Hall. Of the $520,000 charged to the seminary for instructional fees, Gustafson’s estimated $250,000 could easily be charged to the college side of the ledger. When added together, this means $600,000 a year is charged to the seminary. In other words, the narrative painted by Kooistra and Haselden of the near financial collapse of the seminary is a fiction. To change the metaphor: the Belk Hall fox is guarding the finances of the henhouse of the seminary!

Three, when Kooistra and Haselden were confronted with Gustafson’s financial narrative, they were not pleased. Voices were raised. The smiling masks of the clowns were removed.

Four, Gustafson resigned because he could not abide the direction Kooistra and the cave dwellers of Belk Hall are leading Erskine, especially the seminary. He did not want his name associated with a narrative which spotlighted the seminary and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church as “the problem.” Unlike Kooistra, Gustafson is a churchman who respects the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

Finally, when Gustafson suggested a solution, it was rejected outright. His solution was for healing and reconciliation between Belk Hall and Bowie Hall (between Kooistra and the folks at the seminary). Kooistra made it clear he was not going to sit down and discuss the matter with the folks at the seminary. For him, the only way forward is getting rid of the seminary!

By the way, the way of healing and reconciliation has been suggested to Kooistra by others. The response was the same: NO!

With regards to the complaints and concerns of the members of the seminary faculty regarding Haselden’s accounting practices, I hear Kooistra’s response goes something like this: no one likes the manner in which a CFO accounts for things in hard times. Well, President Kooistra, are you aware most of the members of the board do not trust Haselden’s accounting practices either? What kind of clown are you. Have you gone from clown to court fool?

Now, let me be very clear, no one is accusing anyone of misappropriation of funds. The issue is bias in accounting. Can Haselden’s financial narrative be trusted to be fair toward the seminary? Can the financial narrative Kooistra endorses be trusted to be fair to the seminary? Like the label on the photo of the mason jar, the numbers do not seem to add up, do they?

I heard this proverb somewhere: “Characterize people by their actions, and you’ll not be fooled by their words.” In other words, watch what they do and not what they say. It does not matter how amiable, well-spoken, agreeable, and theologically-correct an individual may seem, judge the individual by what he does.

Kooistra speaks often and loudly about grace. As a matter of fact, he wrote a book on grace: Thirty-one Days of Grace. One of his fellow ministers in the PCA gave me the following review of the book: “It is so poorly thought of that MTW gives it away. No one bothers buying it. It was so useless I threw it away after reading it. I didn’t want it in my library.”

Ouch! That hurts! That melts a clown’s makeup!

At the executive meeting, Kooistra informed the participants he is busy investigating the implementation of a football program. Indeed, according to my sources, he thinks he has a better than 50/50 change of getting the board to approve a football program in May. He reported he has spoken with the president of Belhaven University, Jackson, MS. Belhaven’s football program last year saw a whopping team profit of $10,163 (http://college-sports.pointafter.com/q/7568/3448/How-much-profit-does-the-Belhaven-University-Football-team-in-Jackson-Mississippi-make). He also spoke with the folks at Berry College who are launching a football program this Fall. Remember Berry College has over 2100 students and an endowment of 925 million dollars (http://endowments.com/berry-college-inc/) compared to Erskine’s 600 students and an endowment of 30-something-million-dollars. Finally, he spoke with someone in Anderson who is organizing a football program for homeschoolers. Well, the homeschoolers’ scheme is appropriate for a clown! Good grief! A homeschoolers’ football program for Erskine?! Enter the clowns! Everyone is laughing! Has Kooistra also spoken with the folks at the Abbeville recreation department?

Kooistra has created a firestorm in Due West. With the exception of those who love all things athletic, he is equally feared and despised at the college and seminary. At the seminary, he has made it clear he wants the demise of the seminary in order to seize the assets of the seminary to fund a football program. At the college, the academic reputation of Erskine has been jettisoned for athletics. Amazingly, Erskine College has become a liberal arts college without a language department and a Christian college without a Bible department. In other words, whatever semblance Erskine College now has to a Christian Liberal Arts College is accidental.

There is a common complaint coming out of Due West which goes like this: behind Kooistra’s smiling face and talk about grace is a boiling temper and graceless behavior. In Due West, he has become the scary clown of a child’s nightmare. Does Kooistra need counseling? I am not a therapist, but I do suggest the following article: “Ten Traits of Narcissistic Leaders” (http://josephmattera.org/ten-traits-of-narcissistic-leaders/).

In closing, I have a word for the King Clown and his associate clowns. It is the sentiment of many in Due West, of many on the board, of many seminary alums, and of many, many in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. It is a word for an interloper: CLICK HERE.

These are my thoughts,

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Charles W. Wilson


Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nossreh/
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/


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  1. Rick Barnes says:

    I don’t see anywhere in his note where he takes credit for anything. I think you just read into that statement what you were already prejudiced about.
    Secondly, why can’t he as the President respond to this? You would castigate him all the more for sitting on his hands if he said nothing. If the motion has been made public I would expect the President to respond to it.
    You may feel justified in calling him a clown, but you will have to answer before the judgement seat of Christ for speaking against a leader of God’s people.
    Rick Barnes

     
    • Chuck Wilson says:

      Dear Rick Barnes,

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      I was hoping someone would bring up what you mention in your first point. Thank you!

      Rick, have you ever seen an audit report? I have. They vary in lengths. Some a few pages and some very long. However, they are alway tedious and time-consuming. I saw a 10 year report. It was a 400-and-something page book. Now, mind you, that was the principal report. Many other documents were involved.

      BTW, not having seen this report, I’m not sure of its length. Of what I am sure, is the number of participants involved, the time necessary to do the work, and the names of the participants. An audit report is never easy and never to be taken for granted. Recently, a report was taken for granted, and Erskine was hammered! Do you remember?

      Tell me, in Kooistra’s response, who is given credit for the undertaking? A leader gives credit for a job well done. No credit is given. No thank you is extended. No mention of the people involved. Kooistra takes the credit!!

      Two, of course, Kooistra can respond, and he did.

      Rick, I know you, you’re a good man. If you were handed what amounts to a statement of NO CONFIDENCE, what would you do? Would you fire your session? Would you attempt to name the search committee? Would you attempt to name the investigating committee for the presbytery? What would you do? What Kooistra is doing is called “damage control” or CYA.

      Three, you write: “you will have to answer before the judgement seat of Christ for speaking against a leader of God’s people.” Good grief, Rick, Kooistra is “hired help!” How did he become “a leader of God’s people?” How did I miss the coronation? Well, Rick, if you’re correct, then I was spot on in ARPTalk(126) when I noted Kooistra’s proper title is “King Kooistra.” And, BTW, I’m sure Kooistra agrees with you — “leader of God’s people.”

      Rick, if Kooistra is “a leader of God’s people,” you can have the Clown King!

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

       
  2. Nancy English says:

    Please remove me from your mailing list. I do not appreciate your comments and do not want to be a part of your negative writings again.

    Nancy English

     
  3. Chuck Wilson says:

    Dear Nancy English,

    At the top of the page, there is an “Unsubscribe” button.

    Regards,

    Chuck Wilson
    ARPTalk

     

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