Friday, October 17, 2014

Requiem for a Seminary? Requiem for a Church.

As Crusty writes this blog post, the Board of Trustees of The General Theological Seminary are having their regularly scheduled fall meeting, which will include a meeting with the eight faculty who have been terminated from their positions by wrongful means.  COD still hopes for a spirit of reconciliation and compromise to prevail, and is holding the Board, Dean and President, all the faculty, students, and staff in prayer at this time.  Depending on the outcome of this meeting, the end of this column could be very different from the one it has right now.  And I pray that it does.

Crusty has just now read the statement from the General Board of Trustees, which may be found here.

The following post was written over a week ago, as COD expected this outcome.  What is truly sad is that Crusty has only had to change about 10% of what follows.

A few weeks ago, Crusty offered some thoughts on the situation at General Seminary.  It has turned out to be far and away the blog posting that has had the most views in the illustrious history of Crusty

Betcha didn't know Erasmus said that.
Old Dean -- nearly double as many hits as the second highest of all time.  When Crusty told someone this, they replied, "Guess you've tapped into some important issues here."  COD was less sanguine about his own brilliance.  "Maybe," Crusty replied, "but maybe it has more to do with the deafening silence in the Episcopal Church on what is happening. If Crusty is one of the few writing on it, then I guess people will read it by default."  While there have been notable grassroots groundswells of protest and concern about the situation, the has been a preponderance of silence from many in positions of power and authority in the church.

Silence is not necessarily a bad thing.  Scripture says even fools who keep silent can seem wise, lest they open their mouths and dispel that notion.  COD discussed this in his previous column, noting that often with regards to intense conflict, only those persons directly involved can really know what is happening, and at times it's wise for people to hold off on speculating who are not involved.  That's part of what is happening, Crusty supposes, with the silence in the church around what is happening at General Seminary.  COD is sure many are waiting to see what emerges -- which, BTW, is an easy thing to do when you're not the one who is no longer being paid and whose health insurance is no longer being contributed to by those claiming to be your former employer, and probably only New York's robust tenant's rights laws are keeping you from being evicted.

But it needs to be named that discretion is not the only reason for silence.  Though the exact situation is still unfolding, and not all the facts are known, there is still one very clear issue which is before us:  the weaponization of resignation by the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, and now by the full Board of Trustees, which was used to wrongfully terminate contractual employees.  For much of what follows, Crusty will be focusing on this particular issue: the manipulation of the Executive Committee of statements by eight of the faculty to interpret those statements as resignations.  This is to put aside other matters, like the question of the dean's misconduct or the decision by the faculty to move towards declaring a hostile work environment -- all of those matters are complex, and involve back-and-forths that not all of us are privy to. 

But of this weaponization of resignation, there should be no concern about the facts involved, no need for discretion, on this particular aspect of this controversy.  We have the letter from the eight faculty to the Board dated September 17, expressing their concerns; and their statement of September 25, where they claim they will not teach or attend worship or meetings.  We have the terse statement from the Board of Trustees accepting their resignations.  We have the adamant reply from the faculty they in no way, shape, or form submitted their resignations.  While many aspects of this conflict are unknown or in dispute, the content of none of the preceding is in dispute by any of the parties involved.

The fact we are being asked to accept this bold faced manipulation is an insult to the church, let alone the gospel.  It is nothing more than a violent attempt at restructuring an ecclesial institution through falsehood and deception.

The silence in the church around this unconscionable manipulation by the Executive Committee, confirmed by the full Board of Trustees, to terminate employees without due process is what truly saddens Crusty Old Dean.  The silence around this cannot be from discretion, since the facts are all in the public domain.  Perhaps the silence is from fear: fear from people that those with the power who have manipulated processes to strip people of their due process and terminate them; fear
Also, @KanyeHauerwest will not play scheduled concert on the Close.
that those who raise these concerns might find themselves subject to the same intimidation, since if the Executive Committee gets away with this it will surely embolden the church to intimidate others.  Perhaps it is cowardice.  Perhaps it is from ignorance.  Perhaps it is from avoidance of conflict, which only permits those who court conflict to run roughshod over those who avoid it.  What little comment there has been has come from without, not within, the church.  World-famous ethicist and theologian Stanley Hauerwas from Duke Divinity School has withdrawn from the endowed lectures series, the Paddock lectures, that he was to give.  The Jesuit magazine America has run an article expressing concerns about the situation.  

Because of this silence, Bishop Mark Sisk's question, as quoted in The New York Times and found here, remains unanswered: "I think the trustees felt, who are these people?"

Since this question has been echoed throughout the church, unanswered, to our collective shame, allow Crusty to offer a few replies.

--Who are these people?  

They are people who were employed under the conditions of their contracts.  If the Executive Committee and Board of Trustees feel they are in breach of contract, and are failing to perform their duties, they could have proceeded along those lines.  But they did not proceed in that manner, because, you know, that would take a long time and be messy and involved following procedures and policies, so they are seeking to remove them without due process.  Perhaps it is because they have been bleeding money for a good decade or more, and this is a way to avoid paying severance, or even permitting them to receive unemployment.  Or, even worse, a naked and cynical effort to dangle a sword of Damocles above them, permitting those that dance to the tune they pipe to rejoin the faculty but being rid of the meddlesome ones.

The statement from the Board of Trustees reveals the naked, blatant, manipulative reality here: the farce of resignation was created to allow the Board to decide, on what terms, they might or might not permit the faculty of their choosing to return.  Faculty are invited " to request provisional reinstatement as professors of the seminary."  

Further compounding this injustice, the statement from the Board then somehow has the gall to  proceed to state: "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."  The same body that invented their resignations is now the entity that will determine, based on no basis or grounds laid out, the conditions of their provisional employment?

The Board of Trustees has laid waste to the whole notion of contract.  The reason this is important, lest we forget, is not just because of models of best practice, or our commitment to fairness and justice, but because of the way covenant reflects the fundamental nature of our relationship to God.  From the covenant of Noah, to the covenant with Abraham, to the covenant with Jacob, to the covenant with Moses, to God's chosen people, to the new revelation in Christ Jesus, God has been in relationship with humanity, promising to be our God if we will be God's people.  The Board has laid waste to covenant.  This is why this matters, and why this is not just an ivory-tower academic squabble.  If we, in the church, are going to make contractual relations entirely dependent on the definition of those in power, then we have defouled a core principle of how the church reflects, at its best, the divine relationship.  

--Who are these people?  

They are faculty members at a seminary authorized and accredited to operate by the Association of Theological Schools and the New York Regents.  National and state authorization and accrediting agencies have standards governing employee termination.  The Executive Board and Board of Trustees may feel they have the right to do what they have done, but that doesn't mean they have the right to be a licensed and accredited institution.  Crusty certainly hopes that the New York Regents and Association of Theological Schools will investigate this matter, now that the Board has made "provisional" employment dependent on whether you dance to their tune.

--Who are these people?  

They are professors at an Episcopal seminary, which purports to "respect the dignity and worth of every human being," a church with a long and sustained engagement with the labor movement, a church with numerous resolutions from General Convention taking stands on fairness and justice.  This has become yet another chapter in the hypocrisy of the church, eroding any credibility in speaking to labor issues and fairness in the world.  Let the world see how we treat our own employees, and let them judge as we deserve to be judged.  Instead, in something reminiscient from The Grapes of Wrath, the Executive Committee has decided to bring in replacement faculty.  Crusty comes from Boston, and we have a word for people brought in to replace those wrongfully terminated.   They are scabs, and this is a scab seminary.

Since nobody has bothered to answer the question, "Who are these people?" those are just a few thoughts on who they are.  But some other questions remain.

The question still remains: Who are the Executive Committee and the Board of Trustees to think they can get away with this blatant misrepresentation so as to deny people due process?  Again, this is why the situation at General matters: if due process depends on the largesse of those in power, if we are to weaponize dissent, what's to prevent any Rector who fails to follow a rubric of the Book of Common Prayer to be summarily charged with abandoning the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the church and be deposed until Title III, Canon 12, Section 7, without any due process and completely circumventing the Title IV disciplinary process?  Crusty has had several friend elected bishop, and, when he asks them how it is going, many roll their eyes and say, "I just need to turn over about half of the rectors in my diocese."  Well, problem solved, if due process is no longer in effect in The Episcopal Church.  Find a way to depose them.  It'll be fun, like "Where's Waldo?", except with real people.

The question still remains:  Who are we as a church to sit by and let something like this happen?  Are we even capable of being shamed by our own silence, the only critique coming from without instead of within?  If we are to accept these "resignations" by the Executive Committee, then we live in
Wonder if Terry Gilliam is an Episcopalian.
an Orwellian church akin to the movie Brazil, where those in power can warp reality, to suit themselves and we acquiesce.

The question still remains:  With all this talk about restructuring, is there a church left to save? 

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?

Get thee behind me, Episcopal Church.  You're not worth critiquing anymore.  


  1. Wow. And Amen.

    I agree with you 100%. Is there anything left? But a bunch of people with bullshit jobs telling everyone else what they can and can't do?

  2. This is the end result of TEC's descent into a political body run by power. No one in power objected when conservative priests and bishops had THEIR "resignations" accepted. The Church has traded Christian discernment and charity for political power.

  3. Thank you for this, and the situation at General is horrible. However, I don't quite agree with you on the absence of outrage and critique from within The Episcopal Church. As I peruse the internet, I find a lot of Episcopalians objecting long and loudly to what has happened. I do, however, detect a rather deafening silence among our bishops.......

    1. Crusty at times tends to hyperbole - yes, there have been loud objections. What is telling is the silence from those in certain positions.

    2. Bishops are, by their very nature, deeply aware of both the precariousness as well as the position of power which they themselves hold. Those who choose to remain silent and uncommitted, are showing their own desire to not lose any chance of power within their own respective constituencies. To continue to make no statement is, in my humble opinion, a clear assertion that they have little or no regard for the truth in such a complicated and clearly political set of machinations.

  4. If +Mark Sisk does not know who David Hurd is, he hasn't been paying attention. He should check the back of the Hymnal. Or the front, right below Blessed Marion.

  5. There is outrage in the church, and I expect to express my own yet again. (It’s almost midnight now, however.) The question is, what can we do? Other than shaming members of the board, both publicly and privately, there seems little that can be done.

    I don't know if the Board of Trustees intended to destroy the seminary, but I expect that will be the result. I hope the church gets a good price for the real estate.

  6. Sadly true, and illustrative of why I have left - and will never again serve - the church in which I was raised.

  7. What can I say? Everything you write is right on target.

    On Facebook, another poster commented on "those who trade in fear," and I think that has a lot to do with what's going on at GTS and elsewhere in TEC. People at the top are scared that they're in a dying institution, and are grasping wildly at ways to avoid that fate. That makes them easy targets for anyone -- often one with a background in upper management in the secular world -- who claims to have a plan that will rescue them, no matter how ill-serving it may be to the gospel. Such leaders, in love with their own supposed brilliance, then proceed to steamroller everyone around them in single-minded pursuit of enacting THEIR plan. Any dissent is not only seen as disloyalty, but is written-off as the last gasps of the old order which they have come to remake -- and hence, ironically, further proof that they're on the right track. Sound familiar?

    My guess at what happened at GTS was that the Dean gave the Board an ultimatum: it's me (and my plan which is the only way GTS can be saved) or them. And the Board, weary with years of trying to keep GTS afloat, and wanting above all else to avoid having to find another Man With A Plan, meekly acquiesced. From that point on, the merits of the faculty's case was irrelevant; the only priority was keeping the Dean in place, no matter what. If that meant resorting to legal fictions to clear the path, no matter how outrageous or unfair, so be it.

    If this were merely a case of one seminary and one egocentric leader, it would be bad enough. But I've seen it happen over and over again throughout TEC - in times of perceived desperation, turning to a Man (or Woman) With A Plan, and letting them bully and run roughshod over their fellow workers in the field, Christian behavior be damned, with no cost too great to implement their own plan of (supposed) genius. The only difference here is that, in most such cases, this trampling takes place under cover of privacy and obscurity, with the victims quietly withdrawing from the life of the church, their departure unnoticed. Here, it's all playing out in the public arena for all to see.

    During this crisis, I took the symbolic but personally painful step of changing the "religious affiliation" field in my Facebook profile so I was no longer listed as Episcopalian -- a step long in coming, not just because of this incident, but because it merely echoes what I've seen happen over and over in TEC to people of good faith and a desire to serve God within its domains. I wonder if I'll ever be moved to change it back -- or, for that matter, if there will even be an Episcopal Church left to which I'll be able to change it back?

  8. I can't say anything that would add to the wisdom of the previous comments, let alone that of Crusty's post, but I am grateful to have the issues parsed and articulated so adroitly. I thought the comment about how people at the helm of dying institutions (which the Church, in distinction to the Kingdom of God, most surely is) often behave particularly on point. It remains to be seen whether or not the Episcopal Community chooses to remain as an outpost of that Kingdom; that option is still, I believe, open to it.

  9. It's frustrating when the only thing left to do is sit back and watch it burn.

    What else can we do?

  10. A number of Episcopalians have protested, Many have signed petitions, written columns, etc., but none were in direct positions of power. Arbitrary and precipitate action in personnel matters is never a good policy.

    1. Thanks, Joan -- I was using hyperbole to make a comment about the overall silence from many persons in positions of power, influence, and authority, and have updated the blog to be clearer.

  11. If the PB can accept the "resignation" of the former bishop of SC when it hadn't been offered, why can't the GTS board? Deeply distressing, this. Reposi in pace, GTS.

  12. Nice rant. I wonder if the "Crusty Old Dean" was filled with as much righteous indignation when the Presiding Bishop "weaponized" a Convention address to assert that the Bishop of South Carolina 'abandoned the communion of the church'. What's good for the goose... I guess naked abuses of power are OK when they are used against conservatives...

  13. Padre Bill, if you read this post: I say exactly that. Legal and canonical abuses of power are not OK no matter whom it is used against.

  14. I predict that this will be a major issue at General Convention next summer, which elects some of the GTS trustees. I predict that if there are any anti-Dean nominees, they will be elected.

    I also think that this situation will be used against anything that TREC finally comes up with. If this is what a more centralized, top-down, "nimble" church looks like, people will not vote for it.

    There is a great deal of unhappiness I'm hearing with the way that the insurance situation was apparently handled. Apparently, the faculty's insurance, which covered their spouses and children, were cut off immediately. Using spouses and children as collateral targets does not go over well. In my diocese, when several priests left TEC and tried to take the property with them, the diocese continued to pay insurance for them and their families for six months after they left because the diocese thought that protecting the spouses and children of foolish priests was the Christian thing to do.

    I notice that Bishop Breidenthal of Southern Ohio has just released a statement strongly condemning the Board's action He says in part:

    This [offering tenured faculty members their jobs back "provisionally")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."

  15. You know, COD, I was just looking through some of your back entries, and found the following barely a month ago, in your reflections on TREC's proposed move to a staff of contractors:

    "There is the justice component here. To move to contracted staff that we will not need to pay unemployment insurance, pension, and benefits would be like trying to run a university with only adjunct faculty."

    Little did you know...

  16. Living in a right-to-work, at-will employment jurisdiction in which union membership is only 3%, I cannot identify with COD's use of "scab". Moreover, academic tenure (or even clerical tenure) is not a universally popular concept among the vast majority of lay persons who enjoy no counterpart to it.

    Only someone familiar with the case law and statutes of New York could opine whether the eight have recourse to NY courts for breach of contract in a secular sense.

    That said, for all the reasons that COD gives, GTS chose to use the "nuclear option". One must wonder, what were they thinking? This affair is so destructive, and we're still only in the opening round.

  17. Fibercut, Crusty is academic dean at a seminary which has done away with tenure, and we did so in an atmosphere of transparency and conversation. I have written numerous times on this blog against a two-tiered system of compensation between clergy and lay employees. I agree on the complexity of the legal situation, which is why I have I have confined my opinions almost exclusively to the so-called "resignations." I mentioned breach of contract with regards to a possible course of action for the Board, not the eight -- had the Board wanted to take action against the faculty, they could have pursued a number options relevant to New York labor statutes. Instead they chose the nuclear option.

  18. D'accord. A court would also likely be asked to decide whether the decision by the eight not to teach (a militant and perhaps ill-advised decision on their part) was itself a breach of contract -- or whether it estopped any allegation that the Board engaged in wrongful dismissal or its own breach of contract.

    This type of dispute arises in the commercial world frequently. It rarely arises in institutions of higher learning, whether secular or religious. For disclosure, I have served a university as both a faculty-rank administrator and later a (woefully underpaid) adjunct instructor.

  19. There is a scriptural passage that comes to mind: to paraphrase, because you are neither hot nor cold, I (meaning the Divine personage) will spew you out of my mouth.

  20. My experience is that many organizations within TEC focus not on loving one another as the body of Christ, but rather on power and who did what to whom.

    The enforcement mechanism is group bullying, hostile behavior and ostracism.

    When confronted with these situations, both clergy and laity tend to either fall silent, or become complicit by offering "pastoral care" in which they tell the victim, "Don't take it personally."

    My message to clergy and laity alike: There are times when it is appropriate to turn over tables in the temple. You have a right to expect kindness, compassion and human decency. And if you are a Christian, there are situations in which you are obligated to demand an end to injustice and oppression.


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