Bp Breidenthal dismayed by GTS Board action

by

UPDATE: see below re: Diocese of California resolution.

The Rt Rev. Tom Breidenthal, Diocese of Southern Ohio, has posted a public statement about the General Theological Seminary Board of Trustees actions on Friday. From his Facebook page:

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.

Dislike (0)
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail
newest oldest
Notify of
Levi
Guest
Levi

K, I think I've seen that argument somewhere before...

http://youtu.be/zKhEw7nD9C4?t=39s

Levi S. Harris

Chicago, Illinois

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Levi
Guest
Levi

K, I think I've seen that argument somewhere before...

http://youtu.be/zKhEw7nD9C4

Levi S. Harris

Chicago, Illinois

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
K Attanasi
Guest
K Attanasi

I am glad that people in leadership (authority) positions are speaking out on behalf of the faculty members who were unjustly fired. It is not too late to reinstate the 8.

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

Lest my earlier comments have left confusion or doubt as to my identity, Levi = Levi Samuel Harris = Levi Samuel = Levi S. Harris = L.S. Harris.

Levi S. Harris, J.D.

Churchwarden, St. Peter's Chicago

waltwhippy@yahoo.com

(502) 640-8358

https://m.facebook.com/lsharris

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
FatherLinda
Guest
FatherLinda

[From eds. - FatherLinda, please note the Cafe requires your full true name in order to continue approving your comments.]

Applause to +Tom Breidenthal, who, to my great good fortune, I knew as a GTS faculty member when I was there. David J. Dunn's blog post should be read and carefully considered by all who are weighing in on this. It appears that the Faculty have indeed acting in conformity with the *promulgated* policies and bylaws of the seminary (and the standards of ATS), but it further appears that the Board may be operating in accord with new policies it has itself enacted but has not made public. It will indeed be a scandal if ATS fails to withdraw the seminary's accreditation.

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

Please see Bp. Dietsche’s statement (a member of the BoT) wherein he says: “The last section of the [BoT] 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.”

THIS is the response for all parties either directly involved or observing that best reflects a spirit of patience, tolerance, repentance, and forgiveness that we as Christians are called to in our relations with others. It is the response that recognizes our own inherent capacity for error, hurtfulness and pride—a recognition that, when fully embraced, opens us all to the need for reconciliation and a return to what we believe God intends for us.

I pray that the spirit so well articulated by Bp. Dietsche may grow among those at GTS and among all those who offer comment on this sorrow-full situation.

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

From The Cafe editors: Anthony C. and commenters who may be new to the Cafe. Just above the comment box you will see that we require your full name. We give you one pass before invoking the rule. If you wish to use a pen name, click where it says feedback and check our complete comments policy for approval -- you need a good reason.

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

There is not a good public record in this matter. But there is a piece authored by a current Th.D. student in a public blog, http://www.davidjdunn.com/2014/10/16/law-and-anarchy-at-general-theological-seminary/

A short quote from its conclusion:

"The Faculty thus acted in every instance in consonance with the promulgated documents governing the life of the seminary, documents Executive Committee, however, has not followed. It was this situation that precipitated the work stoppage."

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
John N Wall
Guest

As a priest with 40 years of experience in higher education, I share Bp Breidenthal's outrage at the behavior of the Board of the General Seminary. Institutions of higher education are not businesses in which employees can be fired summarily, but communities of learning based on shared governance and due process.

Educational institutions embody such principles in their foundational documents, which serve as the basis of their accreditation, in the case of seminaries, by the Association of Theological Schools.

Such principles are designed precisely to prevent the kinds of conflicts arising between administrators and faculty that are at the heart of the GTS faculty's concerns with Dean Dunkle.

They are also designed to protect faculty from precipitous and arbitrary actions by administrators and governing boards, such as the ones that have recently occurred.

These actions are an outrage, and if the ATS does not suspend GTS's accreditation, they will have abandoned their responsibilities in assuring the quality of seminary educations.

Such arbitrary actions on the part of the GTS Board inevitably arouse darker suspicions, such as the possibility that the Dean and Board have decided that for financial reasons the seminary cannot continue without shedding the future liabilities represented by the salaries of tenured faculty.

Rather than admit this, however, they have decided to stage an artificial crisis to provoke the faculty into actions that, in the Board's view, permit the faculty to be fired without appropriate due process.

But surely these are paranoid fantasies that cannot be true of the actions of a body of responsible people nurtured in a religious tradition that affirms the value of reason and learning and celebrates life in community conducted decently and in good order.

Surely not.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Don Reed
Guest
Don Reed

To: Levi Samuel

I am sorry some are suggesting you should leave TEC because you don't agree with them. That is unhelpful. And you are right about the need for authority. In human groups much larger than 35-40, hierarchy and respect for authority are necessary simply as means of coordinating cooperative efforts. But one resigns by making the performative utterance, "I resign," not by insisting on being heard to the point of bringing an institution to a halt. The BoT of GTS may get away with this if it goes to civil law -- but at the cost of destroying the seminary and damaging TEC credibility in the eyes of many both inside and outside TEC. Prevailing in the civil courts is too low a standard.

To: Harry Merryman

One might suspect that Bishop Breidenthal's timing is not incidental. The time for a pastoral response was before a final conclusion had been drawn. And of course the most pastoral responses may never be heard of. But the final conclusion now drawn is likely to lead to the destruction of GTS in its current form, all things considered, not to mention the poor impression such a disintegration among those charged with training ordained ministers makes. Now is a time for drastic and personally painful measures. If anything could cause these events to reverse course, only this sort of thing could at this point, as hurtful as it may be in the short term.

Sincerely, Don Reed

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Joe Cassidy
Guest

Here in the UK, if someone made the sort of ultimatum made by the 8, it would not be considered a resignation -- or at least an employment tribunal would not necessarily recognise it as a resignation. To quit in the heat of a moment, to threaten to quit if x, y or z doesn't happen, would not allow an employer to interpret this as a voluntary resignation. Tribunals over here have quite a bit of freedom, but they are likely, in my experience, to insist on due process, which includes much more dialogue than was in evidence. That said, if the 8 issued an ultimatum, the Board could easily have dodged it and decided to meet them instead. It does sound as though the interpretive lens has been one of power rather than of love. I suspect the Gospel is not served when either side starts using the rules of poker, rather than kenotic love.

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

I was chagrined to read +Tom Breidenthal’s statement. I have known and admired him for over 30 years and have always thought of and experienced him as having deeply pastoral instincts. Yet I am having a hard time seeing this as a pastoral response. Indeed, most of what has been said by commentators—including, regrettably +Tom—seems overwhelmingly to be focused on establishing that the BoT at General are a villainous lot, concluding that they have behaved dishonestly and outrageously. A careful and sensitive reading of the public record does not support such a conclusion.

Looking at nothing but the sequence of public statements made by the various actors, it is abundantly clear that the behavior of all involved has been hurtful and obtuse. (This may be disputed by those who have already cast the BoT as the evildoers here, but I am not going to engage in an extended explication in defense of this assertion.) There are plenty of examples in the public record that lead inexorably to the conclusion that, as in most cases where distrust and brokenness come to define the relationships between human beings, all have been insensitive at best and have “sinned” at worst. None are blameless. There are no heroes here, only broken, sinful people. In other words, people just like all of us.

So the question becomes, what are we who are witnessing this situation called to do? Are we called to label one side or the other as “dishonest” or unchristian? Is it helpful to attribute motives to one side or the other that suggest mean-spiritedness or bad faith? Is this the path to forgiveness and reconciliation? Does it reflect God’s mercy and grace?

+Tom ends his statement with a worry about how the BoT’s behavior may cause the unchurched to distrust institutional religion. That ship has sailed, but not for the reasons about which +Tom worries. People distrust the institution because it is hypocritical; it does not live into its calling. When we cannot model forgiveness or promote understanding or reconciliation amidst our own differences and brokenness, why should anyone trust us? The situation at GTS begs for, indeed, cries out for a pastoral response, not finger-pointing or side-taking. Disappointingly, I have yet to see such a response.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Dirk C. Reinken
Guest
Dirk C. Reinken

Levi, you are being quite the Pharisee.

For me, the question is whether or not, in a Christian community, when a significant number of your community express a complain and take an action, do you simply "We'll interpret your action this way, there's the door." Or do you say "We need to talk about this now. Let us meet."??

The Board would have lost NOTHING if they had simply agreed to meet with the faculty. The actual demands in their letter are irrelevant to whether or not they can meet.

That the Board gave the grossest possible interpretation to the letter as resignation tell me they had zero interest in reconciliation from the start. That the Chair of the Board would say of 80% of the faculty, many with decades of experience, all with impeccable track records of positive contributions to the Church, "Who are these people?" speaks volume.

Prooftext all you want, parse this or that phrase to your heart's content, get your high dander up all you want, the way of Christ was not followed on Michaelmas, and it was outright shunned on the Feast of Ignatius of Antioch.

Reconciliation? Repentance? Healing? The one entity with all the authority in the world doesn't get to call for that. Submit or be damned is all the Board offered.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Tommy Dillon+
Guest
Tommy Dillon+

Here is a rough draft version of the resolution that passed at the Dio Cal Convention today: The Diocese of California deplores the actions of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in firing 8 faculty members protesting the dean and president's allegedly inappropriate behavior. These actions are directly in opposition to the policies and procedures of the Episcopal church. The board's interpretation of the faculty's letter of protest as a "resignation" cut off the possibilities of real and necessary conversation, and is unacceptable. As members of the Episcopal Church, we call for the faculty members to be reinstated with their full academic rights and privileges and a robust, independent and transparent investigation carried out. Please know that our prayers have been and continue to be with the whole community of General Seminary.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Gary Paul Gilbert
Guest
Gary Paul Gilbert

"What you profer (sic) isn't Christianity; it's self-idolatry" doesn't sound like Anglicanism, which is much murkier. Sometimes it is not even clear what is being offered or if there is an offering. Faith does not need such certainty.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
tgflux
Guest
tgflux

"That's part of the problem here: entire generations of Episcopalians don't believe there *is* any authority to which they must submit."

You say "problem", I say "GLORY!" (other than that, we agree)

Reverence and self-sacrificial love, Yes. "Submission"? AS IF my Imago Dei were less than any other human being's? AS IF I didn't receive perfect FREEDOM in Christ? Never.

I don't think we're picking rhetorical nits here, I think we're speaking of Something Basic. While I am loathe to cite another religion here, "Islam" MEANS submission. Christianity is the religion where I, while yet a sinner, can positively REVEL in the "Me-ness of Me" w/ not *shred* of "self-idolatry" about it.

We're getting far afield from the Current Unpleasantness @ GTU, so I won't press this any further. But I---cradle Episcopalian, seminary-trained (though not at GTS)---still have to question whether, Levi, regardless of your "ordination vows...in [your] Protestant Prayer Book", you might not fit in better elsewhere, away from us troublesome "entire generations of Episcopalians". Vaya con Dios.

JC Fisher

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

Folks, as many of you know we ask people to use their real, full names at the Cafe. We do that for the purposes of accountability, and because, over the long term, it seems to improve the quality of the conversation. We certainly don't have fool proof means for verifying your names, so our system is easily abused. But, if we get a strong sense that you aren't being forthright about who you are, (especially if you are debating people who are being forthright about who they are) then we aren't going to publish your comments.

If you feel like you have a good reason to use a pseudonym, please let us know by using the comment function to explain your reasons. We won't publish that particular comment, but we will get back to you with our decision.

Cheers,

Jim Naughton

editor

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Levi
Guest
Levi

JC, last time I checked, Romans 13 and I Peter 2 and 5 and Hebrews 13 were in my Protestant Bible, and ordination vows were in my Protestant Prayer Book, and models for authority and discipline were in the canons of my Protestant Church.

That's part of the problem here: entire generations of Episcopalians don't believe there *is* any authority to which they must submit. Not bishops, not deans, not trustees, and not the Church as democratically constituted in the General Convention. All people have to submit to authorities -- police, bosses, courts, parents, tax assessors, teachers, vestries and presbyters, and on and on. Them's the breaks. And bless their hearts, acaddmics have to submit to authority, too. They aren't special or exempt. They don't constitute laws unto themselves. What you proffer isn't government; it's anarchy. What you profer isn't Christianity; it's self-idolatry.

Levi Samuel

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
tgflux
Guest
tgflux

"submit to legitimate authority"

Oh brother.

Are you sure you wouldn't prefer Rome, Levi? The Tiber is that-away...

[Or if Rome while Francis is Bishop is getting too squishy, perhaps the Southern Baptist Convention might better suit your "We Demand Submission!" requirements.]

JC Fisher

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Gary Paul Gilbert
Guest
Gary Paul Gilbert

The board of trustees are a bad advertisement for General and the Episcopal Church. Tenured faculty are not supposed to be easily fired. Management, apparently, is supposed to have absolute authority in this new, conservative model for General.

The brand has been damaged to the point where Stanley Hauerwas was pretty much forced to cancel his upcoming lectures.

The seminary is largely responsible for its poor public image.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Obadiah Slope
Guest
Obadiah Slope

As a member of a Union I have been involved in many strikes. I have also been involved in a scheme of mass resignation to force a chief executive to step down. (It was successful BTW.) They were two very different actions. Saying "we are on strike", or "unless that person leaves we will not work here" are different things. I suspect the GTS8 were poorly advised.

John Sandeman

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Levi
Guest
Levi

William, Addison Bross's comment at this link addresses that pretty well: https://www.episcopalcafe.com/lead/seminaries/gts_faculty_on_strike.html

But your argument is a red herring. They didn't go on strike. They said they could no longer continue in their jobs if Dunkle stayed. It wasn't, "Do X, or we strike." It was, "Do X, or we quit." Why don't you find for me, in the faculty members' verbose missives from September 17 and September 25, where it says they're going on strike. Go ahead; I'll wait.

Okay, it's a trick question, because it isn't in there. These are very educated people, perfectly capable of expressing themselves clearly, and yet they never say they're striking. They say they're not going to work there anymore unless Dunkle goes. This strike business is a post hoc attempt to cloak petulant and ill-conceived behaviors and demands in the flag of solidarity. This was rebellion against the duly elected leaders of an institution and their duly elected President. The only undemocratic high-handedness has been the acting-out faculty's unwillingness to submit to legitimate authority and comport themselves with patience and Christian dignity.

Levi Samuel

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
William Gilders
Guest
William Gilders

Levi, you are aware of what a "strike" is, aren't you? To use your own words: "I refuse to work unless or until X...."

Do you think workers who strike should be fired? (I won't be surprised if you answer, "Yes.")

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
steve
Guest

Did anyone in authority on the GTS board give a reasonable time frame notifying the eight professors of the boards impending action and its consequences for them?

Steve Bie

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Levi
Guest
Levi

They were fired for refusing to work. And you know what? If I -- or most of the other non-academics and non-clergy here -- went to my boss or his superiors and said I refused to work unless or until X, I would be fired too.

They were heard in their September 17 letter; when the Board responded by appointing investigators, they were heard again on September 25, when they ratcheted their demands up a notch in another letter and said the Board's action wasn't good enough; and they were heard again on October 16. They've all been heard to death.

They didn't want to be heard. They wanted their way, and they didn't get it, and they got canned for refusing to work until they got it. They wanted to leverage the Board into firing the Dean, and they didn't have the stroke to get it done.

This is kindergarten playground material. It's no more sophisticated than, "I'm not playing with Johnny anymore. Johnny said a bad word. If Johnny stays in the sandbox, I'm leaving. And by the way, if you ask around and find out that Johnny really *didn't* say the bad word, I'm leaving anyway." And their teacher has told them, "Fine enough; find another playground."

Levi Samuel

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
William Gilders
Guest
William Gilders

Levi Samuel, don't worry. You're going to get the very Church you want ... run by "rational adults," like Dunkle and Sisk, who will keep uppity professors in check ... and make the trains run on time. That's TEC's future ... one I won't be part of.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
JohnRobison
Guest
JohnRobison

Yes, Levi, academic integrity must be set aside before the creeping corporatism of TEC. They refused to be abused and demanded their right to be heard, and were fired for showing that the Emperor had no clothes.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Levi
Guest
Levi

Translation: unless you hire me back and do what I say, you're being un-Christian.

They didn't just lodge complaints. That is a gross misinterpretation of the plain facts. OF COURSE, if the faculty had merely lodged complaints and been fired for it, the Board would be out of line. But that isn't what happened. The faculty members threw down the gauntlet and an ultimatum: us or Dean Dunkle. The Board chose Dunkle, and the jobless faculty members are having a hard time grasping how anyone could find the Dean's contribution to GTS more valuable than their own.

They said in their September 17th demand letter, "We have reached a breaking point and working with [Dean Dunkle] IS NO LONGER POSSIBLE FOR US." (Emphasis added.)

They said, "We have collectively concluded that WE ARE UNABLE TO WORK FOR OR WITH HIM ANY LONGER. 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."

They said, "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."

When the Board appointed a commission to investigate, the faculty members on September 25 reiterated, "WE ARE NO LONGER ABLE TO WORK WITH DEAN DUNKLE." They reiterated in the next paragraph, "A working relationship with [Dean Dunkle] IS NO LONGER POSSIBLE. Simply put, it is irrelevant to us whether a law firm concludes that legally admissible evidence supports or fails to establish whether President Dunkle violated stated policies." Translation: it doesn't matter what the facts are; we will have our way, or else!

Apparently unafraid of redundancy, they said in the next paragraph, "WE CAN NO LONGER WORK WITH WITH PRESIDENT DUNKLE. The conclusions of an outside law firm cannot change this very sad but unalterable reality."

They continued, "WE WILL DISCONTINUE TEACHING AND PERFORMING ALL OTHER ACADEMIC AND ADMINISTRATIVE OBLIGATIONS," until the Board demonstrated an intent to "take action" on their demands.

The Board, unable and unwilling to meet their far-reaching demands, took the faculty members at their word and agreed with them: the demonstrating faculty members were no longer able to serve in their positions.

I don't know this Bishop, but his rendering of the facts is an exercise in contortion. A person can be angry at the situation, but let's at least call the situation what it is. The faculty made threats that backfired when the Board called their bluff. They are aghast to discover that they are expendable, that words and actions have consequences, and that some behaviors are not acceptable in communities of rational adults.

This calls to mind one of my favorite maxims: when you ride out to kill the king, you'd better kill the king.

--Levi Samuel

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
William Gilders
Guest
William Gilders

Wharton Sinkler: my thought, too. And it may very well lead to some of us becoming unchurched.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Wharton Sinkler
Guest
Wharton Sinkler

The action also goes a long way toward confirming to the churched that institutional religion cannot be trusted.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Gary Paul Gilbert
Guest
Gary Paul Gilbert

Finally, a bishop speaks out for justice and academic excellence!

The others don't seem to care, which is not surprising.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Like (0)
Dislike (0)