Bishop Stokes, a board member, reflects on events at GTS

by

A statement on the crisis at The General Theological Seminary by Bishop Stokes of New Jersey and a Board Member:

October 20, 2014

Dear People of the Diocese of New Jersey:


…all have sinned, all fall short of the glory of God… (Romans 3:23)

As many of you are aware, there has been a major crisis at The General Theological Seminary in New York on whose Board of Trustees I serve. This situation has been sinful, grievous and ugly in every way, harming the body of Christ within and beyond the walls of the seminary. In a very considered letter dated yesterday, October 19, 2014, and addressed to his diocese, my colleague in Christ, and fellow member of the Board of Trustees, The Right Reverend Andrew Dietsche, Bishop of New York, called for the “full reinstatement” of the eight members of the seminary faculty who had walked out on September 26.

In his letter, Bishop Dietsche rightly characterized the dynamic conversation and rigorous debate that took place during the course of the regular meeting of the Board this past Friday, October 17. This conversation and debate resulted in three resolutions which did not, and could not, represent the fullness of the conversation or capture the clear concerns about a variety of questions that were evident in the room when they were passed. Despite the unanimity of the votes, we were not all of one mind.

While I have been, and am, committed to reconciliation and reinstatement of the eight faculty members, I have, with some reluctance, supported the decisions of the Board, including the resolutions passed on Friday, even as I had concerns and reservations about them.

My support of a resolution that called for the eight faculty to be “provisionally” reinstated, as the resolution was worded, was based on my conviction that they ought to be returned to their positions, but also my deep concern that they have not, as far as I am aware, rescinded the ultimatums contained in their letters of September 17 and September 24 which were publicly issued, nor have they acknowledged their share and culpability in this matter which have played a major contributing role in this crisis. I continue to have this concern.

Similarly, the Board, its Executive Committee and the Dean have not acknowledged clearly the major and contributing responsibility and culpability we each share in this matter. There is, in short, a genuine need for public confession and repentance from all the major parties: Board and its Executive Committee, Dean, and Faculty.

Having stated this, I am grateful for Bishop Dietsche’s courage and leadership and for his attempt to create a clearer path toward reconciliation. I am willing to support his call for the faculty to be immediately and fully reinstated with the understanding that there continues to be a need for public confession, healing and reconciliation from all parties.

In addition to supporting his call for the reinstatement of the eight faculty members, I call for the Executive Committee of the Board to take immediate steps to contract with a mediator outside of the Episcopal Church, skilled in Christian healing to begin a process of dialogue, confession, reconciliation and healing for the entire General Theological Seminary community as quickly as this can be arranged. I commit myself to participating in such a process in humility, charity and love.

The Diocese of New Jersey has five students currently enrolled at General. These students, and all the students at General, have been pawns caught up in terrible circumstances over which they have had little or no control. Their lives and vocations have been profoundly affected. I offer my deepest apologies to them for my role in this and commit myself to supporting them in their own healing and in whatever ways are necessary as they proceed through their processes of formation for ordination. I pray the wider church will do the same for seminarians from other dioceses.

I also offer my apologies and sorrow to my fellow alumni/ae of General who have been grievously hurt by the wounds inflicted on our alma mater as well as the body of Christ these past few weeks and for my own part in inflicting these wounds. The General Theological Seminary holds a dear place in my heart and that of my family. I have the highest regard for its dean, faculty and staff. I was taught by a couple of those who have been embroiled in this crisis and continue to treasure them and the role they have played in my life and ministry. This has been a sad affair and we have hurt one another. I apologize to them for the hurt I have helped to cause. The fragility of the seminary at this point in its history is widely known. This current crisis has further damaged us. It will require great efforts on all of our parts to recover from this injury. I commit myself to this work.

It is my hope and prayer that all of us who are involved in this crisis will cease the vicious attacks and vilification that have marked these weeks, abandon entrenched positions, separate ourselves from legalistic posturing and protection, acknowledge our wrongs and, by God’s grace, open ourselves to the deep love and healing light of our Savior Jesus Christ who has power to restore us to wholeness and make all things new. The words of our seminary hymn have been my prayer these past few weeks:

Let works of darkness disappear

before thy conqu’ring light;

let hatred and tormenting fear

pass with the passing night.

Amen, let it be so. Please know that I keep you, the clergy and laity of the Diocese of New Jersey, and all who are members of The General Theological Seminary Community in my heart and in my prayers.

Faithfully yours in Christ,

The Right Reverend William H. Stokes, D.D. (honoris causa)

Bishop of New Jersey

Dislike (0)
Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmail
newest oldest
Notify of
FatherLinda
Guest
FatherLinda

Amen to Gregory Eaton and to William Hammond. Levi, with your zeal for the law you seem to overlook the fact that there are (or were?) written statutes and bylaws for the seminary, which the faculty and administration have agreed to and which are therefore contractually binding. Those laws protect the rights of faculty and students to protest what they regard as unjust and abusive treatment without suffering reprisal. Academic institutions do not and should not operate like for-profit organizations, all the more so when those academic institutions prepare people for ordained ministry. A faculty, moreover, is not instantly replaceable, certainly not one with the distinction and experience of the GTS faculty. There is no way in which the administration can go out into the highways and byways and pick up qualified faculty, besides which, no truly qualified teachers with any kind of self-respect would agree to teach under the intimidating conditions that now obtain. It seems, as of today, that a spirit of moderation is beginning to blow through the Close, for which thanks be to God. May her voice be heard by all.

(Rev. Dr. Linda M. Maloney

GTS (AS) 2001

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
William Hammond
Guest
William Hammond

Q. Who are these people?

A. They are the Faculty. They are not "the help", and they are not pawns on a chessboard. They are the heart of the seminary. They were treated with disrespect by one who works for them (the collective 'them') as much as they work for him. And they, as a majority of the Faculty, do have the prerogative of notifying the Board that the Dean is not doing his job properly. In this case that notice was a bit over-stated, but it was not an ultimatum. An unwise Board can ignore them, but it cannot dismiss them without ransacking the Seminary.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Rev. Sylvia Vásquez, Walnut a Creek, CA
Guest
Rev. Sylvia Vásquez, Walnut a Creek, CA

Thank you Bp. Stokes. This has been a tough situation for all TEC. I think your proposal for a professional mediator is a good step forward. I pray the board of trustees will go along with that.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
LSM
Guest
LSM

The Board's decision for a "conditional reinstatement" was extremely disappointing, and can only serve to exacerbate the conflict.

Before making any sort of decision, a thorough and *impartial* investigation by an outside party should have been conducted. This investigator should have met with the GTS faculty, the Dean, other interested parties, and been invited to submit a recommendation to the Board, as to what actions might be taken to move the seminary towards reconciliation and healing.

I have to say, as someone who does OD consulting, if the Dean had said half of what he has alleged to have said in a corporation, he would have been out on his ear.

It's also disturbing that the Board would refer to the GTS 8 with, "Who are these people?" It reflects a lack of servant leadership and, IMO, a lack of understanding of the Gospel.

Sadly, this also confirms what a lot of un-churched people think of the church - that we are hierarchical and care more about power, prestige and making problems go away than we do about the mission of Christ. Or so my non-religious friends and acquaintances have informed me.

I hope that some mediation and conflict resolution can occur, but, at this point, it seems unlikely. Praying for the seminary, especially the students, and the church.

["LSM" - Please sign your full true name to future comments.]

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Jim Naughton
Guest
Jim Naughton

Kim, I just want to say that my reading of this letter could scarcely have been more different from yours. The bishop is, himself, offering numerous apologies and suggesting it might be a good idea if other people did the same.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Kim Holtman
Guest
Kim Holtman

Seems to me that Bp. Stokes is behaving like a parent scolding a child: "You WILL APOLOGIZE to your sister RIGHT NOW!"

And of course, we all know how realistic and useful those types of forced apologies are....

There is a very real lack of generosity of spirit on the part of Bp. Stokes and those who have adopted his attitude (particularly given the fact that the faculty had made known their concerns to Bp. Sisk prior to this while debacle).

As Trustees, they are supposed to have the best intentions of GTS in mind. From this purely practical perspective, can't they just "get over it" for the good of everyone?

Very, very disappointed in this small-minded cowardice.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Levi
Guest
Levi

Are you kidding? With those faculty ultimata, Providence gave this GTS Board a golden, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start anew, to be present at the creation, to completely remake GTS into an institution nimble enough and focused enough on the righ priorities to survive in the 21st Century. Why the heck would they look that gift horse in the mouth? Why would they beg these faculty causing a national embarrassment to stay on for more of the same? Why talk the faculty off the edge, when their jumping offered a glimmer of hope for a reset and a reform and a resurrection?

Readers of Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" will remember that Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase stormed into Lincoln's office threatening to quit so many times that Lincoln finally took him up on the offer. Now, Lincoln later went on to appoint Chase as Chief Justice, but he was darned glad to get him out of his hair and out of his Cabinet.

Levi S. Harris, J.D.

Chicago, Illinois

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Gregory Eaton
Guest
Gregory Eaton

Whether the object of the faculty letter was to issue ultimatums or not, the Board always had it within their power to talk to any of the eight faculty members, many of whom they have known for years. If clarification were needed, or if the Board held the letter to be intemperate, this could have been communicated to the faculty. Let's remember: the Board holds ALL the power here. I continue to be baffled to this very day as to why not a single member of the Executive Committee or the Board at large attempted to contact even one of the eight faculty. That, it seems to me, is the first step. However, we keep coming back to the 'who are these people. . .' problem. Clearly, the Board did not think it worth their while to discuss whatever problems they had with the letter before taking the most drastic action available to them. And let's not forget, not once did they institute the procedures called for by either church canons or the Seminary's own guidelines to deal with the allegations contained in the letter. The faculty's job action (which began on a day with no classes) was in order to protest the disregard of these approved procedures. Even then, someone from the Board could have called or written any one of the faculty to get some perspective. Clearly, that was not their interest.

This entire issue arose due to a lack of lines of communication between the Faculty and the Board. The way it was handled by those in power simply underlines the depth of that problem.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Anthony Christiansen
Guest
Anthony Christiansen

I'm very grateful to the bishops for their words and efforts toward genuine reconciliation. However, I need to ask, is Bishop Sisk really so intimidating and/or persuasive that he can get so many intelligent and probably otherwise kind people to follow his agenda rather than the voice of conscience? And one more question that I haven't seen raised. Why did Bishop Sisk never forward to the other BoT members the very weighty concerns of the faculty that had been sent to him by them? This whole fiasco could have been averted butI'm very grateful to the bishops for their words and efforts toward genuine reconciliation. However, I need to ask, is Bishop Sisk really so intimidating and/or persuasive that he can get so many intelligent and probably otherwise kind people to follow his agenda rather than the voice of conscience? And one more question that I haven't seen raised. Why did Bishop Sisk never forward to the other BoT members the very weighty concerns of the faculty that had been sent to him by them? I have read numerous posts in social media from board members who say that the faculty strike was a complete surprise. Couldn't this whole fiasco have been averted had the board been kept apprised of the faculty's concerns as they were communicated?

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Levi
Guest
Levi

Shirley, they've maligned and demanded and accused in public. If they feel the need for personal absolution, they can go to a priest, but if they feel the need for their jobs back, they need to publicly repudiate their destructive public actions.

Levi S. Harris, J.D.

Chicago, Illinois

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Levi
Guest
Levi

Kris, I believe the word you were looking for is "quashing." The two GTS8 letters make their demands/ultimata are clear. Read them. http://www.safeseminary.org/how-we-got-here.html In the short span of two adamant and redundant letters, they state no fewer than 10 times -- 10! -- that they cannot and will not continue working with Dean Dunkle. I don't know how it could be any clearer. They didn't ask for him to be exiled or demoted or sent off on a sabbatical to brush up on Miss Manners and Emily Post. They refused to work with the Dean any more.

Now, I have no idea what their intent was for sure, though I don't think it would pass the laugh test to say they intended negotiations to result in anything other than Dean Dunkle's dismissal. But fairly, we don't know what's going on in people's hearts and minds, and they might have had multiple motivations, among the eight of them.

Intentions and thoughts don't have consequences, but words and actions do. Their present joblessness is a consequence of their actions and words in those letters. The words Professor Hurd gave to the New York Times, to the effect that working for Dean Dunkle made him feel like working on a plantation, were in my view reprehensible. Words like that have consequences. They end employments. They end relationships. They aren't cute or funny or clever, and they certainly don't manifest a desire to "reason together."

I would say the GTS8 are just about the poorest group of negotiators I've ever seen. The Board has stood still, and through demands and ultimata and hideous accusations, the GTS8 have negotiated themselves right out of a job. I hope none of them ever tries to buy a vehicle on his or her own, or he/she's liable to drive home in a $60,000 Flintstone car. If the GTS8 want financial security, they ought to forget the stammering, revisionist backtracking in begging for their jobs back and move on to sue whichever lawyer told them to write those nasty letters and hope to God he's got great malpractice insurance.

Levi S. Harris, J.D.

Chicago, Illinois

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Shirley B
Guest
Shirley B

We now have three Board members expressing lack of confidence in the Board: one by resigning (Small, no reason given publicly but presumably representing lack of hope for the Board), and two (Dietsche and Stokes) by saying they voted for but did not agree fully with the Board's October 17 resolution. Why did these three vote for a resolution they did not believe in? This dissonance is indicative in itself of dysfunction of the Board.

Secondly, public confession is not necessarily appropriate. Each person who is party to this mess should be encouraged to talk to a perceptive confessor and to obey the confessor's counsel. Reconciliation of a Penitent is not a political or public relations tool, and each person has unique motivations and actions to lay before God.

Shirley Banks

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Harry Merryman
Guest
Harry Merryman

Bp. Stokes’ statement is another welcome development (along with Bp. Dietche’s) on the path to reconciliation. Offering confession and seeking forgiveness are the first steps down that path.

To Kris Lewis: In their original letter dated 9/17, the faculty stated: “We have all, collectively, reached the conclusion that unless the following changes are made, we will regrettably no longer be able to serve in our positions at General . . .” This was followed by five demands and then this statement: “Simply put, we must respectfully inform you that if Dean Dunkle continues in his current position, then we will be unable to continue in ours.” It may be that the faculty construed this as “. . .a starting point for negotiations [and] a standard labor practice . . .” but if you are going to have a negotiation, all participants must understand that a negotiation is what is being conducted. Regardless of the faculty’s intent, the BoT could very understandably have read all this as an ultimatum: either the Dean goes or we go.

I am, by no means, absolving the BoT of their fair share of responsibility for the crisis at GTS, only pointing out that the words the faculty used to express their concerns had impacts that are understandable and were foreseeable. Unfortunately, as they disclosed, they were being advised by an attorney who, it appears, encouraged them to take an aggressive approach in addressing their concerns. Even so, in their first response the BoT might be seen as having exercised some restraint by not addressing the demands or the perceived ultimatum, announcing instead that they would mount an investigation of the serious allegations against the Dean contained in the letter. It was only after the faculty made good on their threat and stopped working (thus making the dispute public and thereby ratcheting up the pressure on the Board) that the BoT dismissed them.

No doubt the BoT might have found more conciliatory or charitable ways to deal with the original letter or the faculty’s “work stoppage,” but Bishop Stokes’ observation that all—including the faculty—have fallen short is a welcome recognition of the obvious.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Canon Richard Miller
Guest
Canon Richard Miller

Well stated Bishop Stokes. This is the clearest, non judgmental, and most sensible account that I have read on this matter. It is also the most Christlike approach offered as a resolution to all concerned. Thank you for your sage wisdom and clear path forward.

Canon Richard Miller

Diocese of Southeast Florida

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Kris Lewis
Guest
Kris Lewis

No, what they said is, "We have a huge problem here and no one will take us seriously. Here are the things we need to be working on." I repeat, the faculty did not explicitly or implicitly resign and from the first have indicated their readiness to return to the classroom; they were, in fact, ready to return once their meeting with the board was actually scheduled. Unfortunately, by all appearances, that meeting was not one aimed at real reconciliation but at squashing the faculty voices and punishing them for speaking up.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
John B. Chilton
Guest
John B. Chilton

Read the communications by these faculty. It's very clear they say, "choose: us or the Dean." I will grant that they didn't explicitly say, "and if you do choose the dean that doesn't mean we resign." We get to issue ultimatums to our kids and not follow through. In the work world you need to be more careful. When you issue an ultimatum the other side may just take you up on it. Here's some good advice: http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/give-boss-ultimatum-8050.html

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Kris Lewis
Guest
Kris Lewis

I appreciate Bishop Stokes' message and his continued call for reconciliation, and I applaud his call for an outside mediator to engage in this process. I continue to be, however, perplexed by the board's insistence that the faculty have made "ultimatums." In fact the faculty listed a set of demands as starting points for negotiation, a standard labor practice. A good faith effort at reconciliation should, it seems to me, directly addressing each of these points as that, starting points for negotiation.

The faculty have been clear from the very beginning that they were not quitting, and that they very much wanted to and were ready to return to the classroom. Their concern was not for their own well being but for that of the entire GTS community. "Provisional" reinstatement feels more like punishment than reconciliation.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)