Jun 14, 2016 | Comments 10
Before I get into an analysis of the 2016 General Synod, I want to call the reader’s attention to ARPTalk(122) — “Decimation of Erskine Seminary: Interview with Dr. Chris Wisdom, former Erskine Seminary VP” (http://www.arptalk.org/2016/01/30/decimation-of-erskine-seminary/). Below is an e-mail (6.11.2016) from Dr. Wisdom.
Thank you for publishing the interview in ARPTalk 122. I know there were other contributors, but I for one am glad that you used my name. I want the readers to know that I concur fully with what is written in ARPTalk 122 regarding the grave concerns about the ongoing decimation of Erskine Seminary.
For the record, I also concur with the motions approved by the 212th Stated Meeting of General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church June 7-9, 2016 concerning the funding of Erskine Theological Seminary and the separation of Erskine Theological Seminary from Erskine College.
Finally, Chuck, while I am grateful to all those who have prayed for me and called for me during this time of my illness, thank you for being one of the very first ministers of the Gospel who most regularly and consistently ministered to me from the very beginning of my illness, offering me help and giving it to me even before I knew how much I needed it during these past six months. I am getting stronger by the grace of God, and I am thankful for your pastoral ministry.
When I wrote ARPTalk(122), Dr. Wisdom was emotionally and physically exhausted and near collapse from his experiences at Erskine Seminary. While allowing Dr. Wisdom to speak his mind, I gave him cover by adding my thoughts and taking full credit for the article with my name. Of course, where possible, I verified what he said with corroborating sources. Naturally, I appreciate his kind words and willingness to own the article.
For those who are interested, it is informative to compare the Wilson/Wisdom article with Ms. Jane Greene’s letter from 2012 (http://www.arptalk.org/2012/08/09/a-lady-of-integrity-a-double-minded-board/). Not much has changed!
To Barbecue or Not To Barbecue
On Friday afternoon before the meeting of Synod, a number of us realized the traditional Erskine Seminary appreciation of General Synod barbecue was not scheduled. Instead, President Kooistra authorized a “Coffee and Cookie” on Tuesday evening at 7:30 PM. We agreed: such parsimoniousness was an insult to both General Synod and Erskine Seminary. Besides, coffee at 7:30 PM for old people is not a good idea! Caffeine keeps us awake and running to the bathroom all night!
Instead of a “Coffee and Cookie,” we organized a barbecue to show our appreciation for the members of the Erskine Seminary faculty. And what an appreciation it was! 270 plus people were served! The most ever!! And they did not come for the food; rather, they came to show their support for our seminary. If all the pledges come in (and they will), we raised $7,451. The meal cost about $2,400. This means we have an appreciation gift of about $5,000 for Erskine Seminary.
President Kooistra missed a grand opportunity. I was surprised to see him attend! I am sure he was uncomfortable!
The New Moderator
Rev. Lee Shellnut was elected Moderator by acclamation. Shellnut is pastor of the Huntersville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (First Presbytery) in Huntersville, North Carolina. His Vice Moderator is Mr. Bill McKay, and he is the Clerk of our Canadian Presbytery.
Normally, I am the one who makes the motion to close nominations and that the nominee be elected by acclamation. After the Wednesday evening session, both my wife and I were not felling well, she drove us home, and I missed the Thursday morning session and the election of the Moderator. Rev. Mark Miller stood in my place and made the proper motion. I want to thank Miller for his good work. It is heavy lifting work! :-)
Rev. Morrie Lawing made the nominating speech for now Moderator-elect Shellnut. When Lawing began, I understand a representative of Guinness came in and clicked on his stopwatch. A new world record for the longest nominating speech was set! (And, Morrie, one of your good friends dared me to write this!!! The guilty party knows who he is, and, with glee, I think he will confess to you. By the way, I also hear you did real good!)
It Ain’t Never Been Done Before!
I have been attending meetings of General Synod since 1973, and I want to thank President Kooistra of Erskine for making it possible for me to see a line item in the budget changed. Instead of the 60/40 split of monies for Erskine College and Erskine Seminary, a motion was made and overwhelmingly passed to designate all $421,000 to Erskine Seminary this year. This was not easy to do. It took two super majority votes to accomplish. In spite of President Kooistra’s passionate pleas, General Synod voted to show its support for our seminary.
What Does This Mean?
This is a repudiation of Kooistra’s leadership of Erskine Seminary. The President begged. Synod said No! The President read his numbers. The board’s Chairman of the Seminary Committee Rev. Peter Waid read his numbers and the present Acting Dean of the Seminary RJ Gore read his numbers. Waid and Gore were trusted and followed. Kooistra was not followed. This was a public repudiation of Kooistra’s leadership. No one followed him!
Nevertheless, it was a marvelous show. I saw something I have never seen before! A line item in the budget changed. I doubt I will live long enough to see such a thing happen again! But hope springs eternal, doesn’t it?
Erskine board member Andrew Savill made the motion that General Synod remind the members of the Erskine board that the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church still affirms the position of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms on the Sabbath, and that the board instruct the administration to honor the Lord’s Day by not scheduling either athletic or academic events.
Certainly, this was in response to the recent events at Covenant College (PCA) and Erskine College. Covenant College forfeited a tennis championship because it was scheduled on Sunday. Erskine College won a tennis championship on Sunday and publicly celebrated the victory and championship in Erskine’s official newsletter. The members of the General Synod were embarrassed by this! The motion passed overwhelmingly.
I wonder: did President Kooistra understand this is a rejection of his athletic model for Erskine College? Does he realize the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is not following his leadership?
Support for Separation
The unanimously signed petition from the seminary’s faculty to General Synod and the Erskine board asking for separation from the college was read, and a motion to inform the Erskine board of Synod’s concurrence was passed unanimously (for a copy of the petition see http://www.arptalk.org/2016/04/04/bring-in-the-clowns/, paragraph 5).
Interestingly, President Kooistra spoke in favor of the motion.
Well, why not?
Kooistra is not presently giving leadership to the seminary. Repeatedly, he has been asked by the members of the Seminary Committee, the seminary faculty, and the board to appoint a VP for the Seminary, a Dean for the seminary, and to provided other leadership for the seminary, and he has yet to respond. This means the seminary has no representation on his Leadership Team (that is, the President’s cabinet).
Kooistra and the seminary faculty are openly at odds and in conflict. His leadership of the seminary is a leadership of neglect.
Amazingly, the news article on the meeting of Synod in the Insidehighered says nothing of Kooistra’s support of the motion regarding separation (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/06/10/erskine-explore-splitting-seminary). When interviewed by the Insidehighered reporter, I asked him if he knew of Kooistra’s support of the motion. He said he did not. He said Cliff Smith (Erskine’s communications Czar) said nothing of it when he interviewed him. I said, “Well, Cliff was there. I’m not lying. There are hundreds of witness to the fact.”
Southerns (and especially Associate Reformed Presbyterians) are not inclined to be direct and not nice. The actions of General Synod regarding Kooistra’s leadership are a nice way of saying NO CONFIDENCE. Actually, it is not nice; it is a public humiliation.
What will Kooistra do?
On the personal level, Kooistra is liked by most members of the Synod. He is artful at “Jesus-Jesus-speak,” and we are inclined to relish in such talk — most of us are not particularly skeptical.
Nevertheless, rumors at Bonclarken were thick as fleas on a dog’s back as to whether Kooistra would resign in the light of General Synod’s rebukes.
Kooistra is stubborn and proud. He does not like to lose. I fear he is going to take the route of Admiral Gunther Lutjens, Flottenchef of the Bismarck squadron. When surrounded by the British fleet, he put on his dress uniform and went down with the ship.
I hope Kooistra will allow us to celebrate his success in getting SACS to repeal the probation sanction, celebrate his success in the Annual Fund, celebrate his recruitment of a class of 244 this Fall, and, realizing the changes in the landscape, retire to Atlanta. The man is 74, and the tasks of framing a Strategic Plan, developing an enrollment plan, finding a VP of the Seminary, a VP of Development, and a VP or Director of Admissions, re-establishing trust with the board and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and raising a ton of money are daunting for a younger man and beyond his reach.
However, as I said, I am not hopeful. Kooistra and the secular alums have embraced each other (http://www.arptalk.org/facebook-alum-finance-comments/). He does not embrace the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. He has measured us. He knows both the church and the board do not like the nasty business of firing a president. He feels he can stand us down. He knows we love Erskine and do not want to hurt the institution. He does not love Erskine and is not afraid to hurt her. It is the old story of the one who loves the least in a relationship is in control of the relationship.
A Judicial Mess In First Presbytery
A longstanding judicial mess in First Presbytery finally crawled onto the floor of General Synod. Charges, complaints, points of order, and appeals were fodder for entertainment if it were not a serious matter. After about 30 minutes, everything that could have been said was said; however, the discussion and debate went on for another 45 minutes because not all had spoken. The matter was sent to the Ecclesiastical Commission on Judicial Affairs so we can enjoy it again next year.
I can only say to the members of the committee charged with re-writing the Book of Discipline to go forward posthaste. Our need for a new Book of Discipline is critical.
Theological and Social Concerns
Two matters were before Synod. The first is a statement regarding women in the military which provides an avenue for assignment to non-combat duties, and it was adopted.
The second was a paper on race relations and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. The paper was received as information. Then a motion was made and passed that we repent of our racial sins of the past. This is a mea culpa for the southern past of some of us. But how do I repent for someone else?
I abstained for each vote. I did not know how to vote. In 1861, some of my did not own slaves. In 1861, some of my people owned slaves. In 1861, some of my people were slaves. In 1861, some of my people fought to keep their slaves. In 1861, some of my people fought to free slaves. In 1861, some of my people ran away. I am a mutt! I will sit this one out! I think this is more about an evangelical PC culture than about people. I suppose we can now say, “Me too! Me too!” to show our solidarity with the latest socio-theological whim. The past is the past, and it is not going to be changed. The future is uncertain. My observation is most people who talk about race have little knowledge and few friends of a different race.
There were three memorials disposed of in the following manner.
One, there was a memorial from the Canadian Presbytery asking for changes in the Form of Government regarding membership vows. It was referred to the Committee on Theological and Social Concerns.
Two, there was a memorial from First Presbytery asking for the establishment of a RUF ministry at Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina. Of course, the motion was adopted and sent to the Committee on Campus Ministry Oversight for implementation.
Three, General Synod voted to allow a “late” memorial from the Canadian Presbytery. The subject of the memorial was church planing paradigms which are implemented by Outreach North America. The memorial requested General Synod to task the Committee on Theological and Social Concerns “to study and to determine if each paradigm is grounded in the Word of God and agreeable to the ecclesiastical standards of the ARP Church.” The matter was referred to the Board of Outreach North American for study and to frame a report for General Synod next year.
The Highlights of Synod
As far as the Editor is concerned, the highlights of Synod were two.
First, a little more than a month before the meeting of Synod, Moderator Phil Williams had a mild heart attack and a procedure on his heart. Moderator Williams looked great and was wise to function in a ceremonial fashion, allowing Vice Moderator Patrick Malphrus to do the stressful work of moderating the meeting. Malphrus is young, and, as we all witnessed, very capable. It was a joy to watch him work. He is very knowledgable in parliamentary procedure. Not known for lavish praise, Parliamentarian Andy Putnam commented to me, “He’s good!”
Moderator Williams made a wise choice in Malphrus and a wise decision to use him much. Indeed, our prayers are with Moderator Williams for his full recovery. He has much work yet to do. The travel and long meetings come after the meeting of Synod.
Second, Moderator Williams’ choices for preachers were outstanding. I am a very critical listener. I was impressed.
As usual, most of the business of General Synod was SOP. Reports were heard and received as information or approved or modified.
I have been attending General Synods since 1973. This meeting of Synod was an outstanding experience. The overall mood was positive — even spiritual! I attribute this to Moderator William’s work in the background. Longstanding wounds are healing. Brothers who were pulling in different directions are pulling together. I was surprised! I went home encouraged!
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
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