ALTHOUGH stricken by the RCs, the Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England, and the feast of Crispin, Martyr, is a black-letter day in the Book of Common Prayer. Long may it remain.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
My brothers and sisters,
I write to you following the resolutions of the Board of Trustees of General Seminary on Friday regarding the continuing conflict involving the seminary dean and the majority of the faculty. I believe that you have a right to know my thoughts and convictions on this matter.
Throughout this process, I have been single-minded in my conviction that there was no imaginable way to reconcile or resolve this matter without first giving unconditional reinstatement to the eight striking faculty members. It also became clear to me that by the decision to terminate the faculty, the board had so inflamed the situation that the board itself had become a participant in the conflict, and in ways that were impeding the hope of a just and fair resolution of the crisis. Early on, I advocated for just such an across-the-board reinstatement in appeals directly to the executive committee of the board, and then to the full board itself. By no means was I alone in making that case. I was one of a number of voices across the board which have continually called for a path toward reconciliation and for the reinstatement of the faculty, and by the time we came to this last week, the momentum for reinstatement appeared to me to be so strong that at the beginning of the day on Friday, I was confident to the point of certainty that that was exactly what the board would approve.
But in the end, it was a significantly more qualified resolution, one to create a path toward provisional reinstatement, that carried the day. Some members of the board rose to speak against it, and to advocate instead for a simple, unconditional reinstatement, and I was one of them. In the end, however, the more qualified resolution carried by a wide majority, so much so that when it was asked that the vote be declared unanimous, those who opposed the resolution allowed that to carry. I regret that now, for by doing so we obscured the dynamic of debate and persuasion within the board itself, and hid from view the genuinely wide diversity of thought and conviction across the board.
This is a conflict among faithful Christian people. In the short time I have been on the board of trustees of GTS, I have been greatly impressed by the dedication which every member of the board brings to the seminary; I also have no personal insight into the allegations against the seminary dean, and have responded positively to the passion which he has brought to this work. At the same time, our diocese has seven seminarians at General this year, four of whom just matriculated three weeks ago, and all of whom have my full affection and loyalty-and we have a clericus in New York filled with alumni of GTS, whom I know to be among the finest priests of the church. But I also have well-established pastoral relationships with most of the faculty, those who continue to teach and those on strike, and I have continued to offer my pastoral help to the striking faculty throughout these last weeks. Some of them are priests of this diocese. All of them have relationships with the churches of this diocese. I love them, and it is my privilege to be their bishop and pastor.
On Friday evening I had several emotional meetings with some of the eight faculty members, and hoped with them that even in discouragement we may yet see this as a beginning. It is certainly not the end. On this weekend I have begun conversation with other members of the board, and it is my hope that we may yet find a way to work within the structure provided by this resolution to continue to press forward toward that which we still believe must be done, and that is to reinstate the eight faculty in full, and to do that this week.
Only then, and when that has happened, will it be possible for the board, the dean, the faculty and the students to address the underlying issues of the seminary life and leadership, some of them quite long-term, which precipitated this crisis.
The last section of the resolutions passed on Friday calls for repentance for all involved in this situation. I take that very much to heart. Everyone has made mistakes, and every mistake has been compounded. My own failures or missed opportunities lie very heavy on my heart this weekend. And I am sorry.
Please remember the students at General, and especially our seven. Early on I brought them together with me for lunch and conversation. I have invited them to do the same later this week. One has already asked my help to transfer from GTS. Of course I will be at her service. But among all of the reasons to say our prayers this week and in the days to come, may these seven seminarians, and their self-offering before God, be chief among them.
May God bless you and keep you, and cast every grace upon General Theological Seminary.
The Rt. Rev. Andrew M.L. Dietsche
Public statement of the Rt Revd Dr Thomas Breidenthal, Bishop of Southern Ohio:
THE BOARD of the General Theological Seminary has decided not to reinstate the eight faculty members who lodged complaints against the dean, but to invite them “to request provisional reinstatement as professors of the seminary.” The board’s official statement goes on to say: “The Executive Committee stands ready to meet next week to hear requests of any of the eight former faculty members for reinstatement and to negotiate the terms of their provisional employment for the remainder of the academic year.” I feel compelled, not only as a former member of the GTS faculty, but also as a bishop, to register my dismay and indignation regarding this decision.
First of all, as is plain for all to see, the board has been dishonest in its claim that the eight faculty members resigned their positions when they went on strike. In fact, they were summarily fired. Second, the board has placed the eight in the humiliating position of begging for their jobs back – and at that, only provisionally, for “the remainder of the academic year.” This is nothing less than shaming behavior, unworthy of a seminary board. Worst of all, the board has failed to model the humility and fellowship to which we are called in Jesus Christ.
It should be obvious why I am outraged as a former faculty member; any faculty member at any institution of higher learning should be outraged by this board’s action. Why am I outraged as a bishop? Because this action will go a long way toward confirming the unchurched in their assumption that institutional religion cannot be trusted. I continue to pray that the board will reverse its decision and reinstate the eight. Then real conversation can begin.
Dr Thomas Breidenthal, IX Bishop of Southern Ohio, is a former John Henry Hobart Professor of Christian Ethics and Moral Theology in the General Theological Seminary.
Requiem for a seminary? Requiem for a church which calls white black and black white, and calls things resignations which are not resignations. Shall we be a church where petty oligarchies can run roughshod, whether in seminaries, or dioceses, or parishes, divorced from their constituencies?
by the Revd Dr Frederick W. Schmidt Jr. Reposted from Patheos.com
THE CRISIS at the General Theological Seminary probably hasn’t been felt very far beyond the walls of the Episcopal Church. That’s not surprising. General is hardly a large seminary and, like most of our denomination’s seminaries, its faculty and student body is comparatively homogeneous, denominationally speaking. But the crisis has certainly rocked our little corner of the church-world. In part, because the dispute between General’s faculty and its President-Dean became the instant subject of conversation in the social media; in part, because the out-sized board represents such a large slice of the church’s life; and, in part, because the unique history of General’s founding makes it a creature of the national Church, its General Convention, the House of Bishops, and – by inference – the concern of the church’s Presiding Bishop.
It’s a cause of deep dismay for that reason, to follow the dispute as an Episcopalian, a priest of the church, and as an academic. I am dismayed by the failure of my fellow Episcopalians to listen to one another. I am dismayed by the failure of the institution’s leadership to take action that clearly and unequivocally protects the marginalized. I am dismayed at the way in which not only the vocational and personal lives of the eight faculty members can be up-ended with a parenthetical, “who the hell do they think they are?” And I am dismayed to find that the values we all assume are held dear across the denomination can be so easily ignored. Even if one assumes the worst and one concludes that the faculty was heard by the board, but didn’t like the answer it received; even if one assumes that the faculty over-reacted and gave the board an ultimatum (it’s him or it’s us); and even if the board and the seminary’s leadership were embarrassed by the faculty’s decision to go public with the announcement that they were organizing in response — and that’s a lot of assumptions – nonetheless, it’s hard to understand why the faculty wasn’t taken more seriously and why they weren’t treated with more respect.
Reluctantly, I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason the faculty has been treated so callously is because our commitment to progressive Christianity is a fragile thing, rooted more in a commitment to progressive political views than it is to views grounded in an understanding of God’s will. So, when something like the situation at General happens, those progressive views are easily sacrificed in the name of maintaining control over the institution’s future. After all, there is no one among the principal players who is considered fundamentalist or conservative. There is no basic difference in worldview and no difference in denominational pedigree. What there is is a difference in opinion about the quality of the seminary’s leadership and, by inference, the direction provided by the board. And therein lies a dynamic that the larger church should note.
What the situation at General makes clear is that the progressive church is opposed to sexist and racist language, until it’s not; it’s committed to defending employees and providing them with health insurance, until it’s not; and it’s committed to listening and freedom of expression, until it’s not. Why are those commitments so fragile? Because progressive political goals, like all political goals, are socially defined; they are tied to a place, a context, and a moment; they are conditioned by desire, ambition, and the desire for control; and, as such, they are a means to an end – completely dispensable if the situation changes and those values get in the way. So, maybe it’s time for a worn-out, old idea:
- That worn-out old idea that God expects men and women to respect one another, because we are, together, bearers of God’s image…
- That worn-out old idea that God has commanded tolerance, because God is blind to race, gender, and sexual orientation…
- That worn-out old idea that the vulnerable should be protected, because we are, in fact, all vulnerable…
- That worn-out old idea that we should love, because we have been loved…
- That worn out idea that we should sacrifice, compromise, and forgive, because it’s not all about us, our needs, our politics, our place, or our time…
Those commitments are “forever,” not “until,” because God’s grace and love are immeasurable, never equaled by what we have done, never to be matched by what we might do, unconditioned by our goals and objectives. In other words, maybe, just maybe, it’s time for the progressive church to abandon its self-conscious, eyes-on-the-mirror quest to be “progressive” and try to be the Body of Christ instead. That commitment may or may not have saved the jobs and families of the faculty at the General Theological Seminary. It may not have saved the Seminary itself. And it may not have spared the church’s big-city leadership small-town embarrassment. Heaven knows, those transcendent commitments have been violated over and over again throughout the history of the church. But it might have alerted everyone involved to the fact that a handful of political values weren’t all that was at stake. Know it or not, now a lot more is. The church and its seminaries are called to serve Christ and in serving Christ, they are called to live by a different set of standards. The seminary hasn’t and, as such, it has failed to model a different way of living for its students and the world. Someone should have taken their eyes off of the mirror and looked up.
We ought to expect more, rather than less, from those in authority in the church, and the escalation of the situation itself is proof positive of the failure of the seminary leadership. Dean Dunkle is responsible both administratively and pastorally to the faculty and students in his charge. He is not the CEO of a private enterprise. He is priest and pastor to those under his authority, and his relations with the faculty trespass against a very Anglican idea: each bishop may be the prince of his diocese, but on the cathedral or seminary close, the dean is primus inter pares, first among equals.
We think especially of the students, whose careers, futures, and lives are tied to this mess. Given the summary dismissal of the eight faculty members who joined in protest, we cannot imagine that the seminary close feels like the kind of place where one can speak freely in these days. And yet we trust that their ministries will be strengthened, as we are reminded of St. Paul, late in his letter to the Romans: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…. We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:18,28). We pray for the seminarians, as we pray for the faculty, the dean, and the trustees.
For more complete information, please see the links below.
Safe Seminary, the website of the eight dismissed faculty members
Leadership, community, and the current crisis at General Seminary, an excellent and balanced article by the Revd Canon Andrew Gerns
Seeking Dean’s Firing, Seminary Professors End Up Jobless (The New York Times)
Power and authority–at GTS and in the church, a fine reflection by the Revd Jesse Zink about what’s really going on (expanding on our point about the “worst excesses of the church”)