Bp Dietsche of NY issues statement on GTS, calls for reinstatement of faculty

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This statement was sent as an email to the Diocese this morning

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.

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Levi
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Levi

Ooops. Levi S. Harris, Chicago, Illinois.

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Levi
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Levi

Tom, it has been my experience that when irreparably discontented members and/or leaders leave, those who remain can start governing effectively and get down to the business of growing the church, forming the faithful, and changing the world, to borrow our mission statement for this diocese. And it isn't a one-way street. The sooner those unhappy people leave, the sooner they can find places where they *can* be happy and find new ministries so that healing can begin for them as well. The GTS8 have made manifest that they cannot work with Dean Dunkle; I'd say it's time for them to circulate their C.V.s and find new places to exercise their teaching gifts, so that all parties can go ahead and let the healing begin and move forward on the separate paths to which God calls each of them.

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William Hammond
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William Hammond

In my previous comment the beginning of the last paragraph should be: Even in a secular academic institution of higher education ...

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William Hammond
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William Hammond

It is very disappointing that most of the Trustees still seem not to understand the role of the faculty in an "academy".

Traditionally the dean comes from the faculty. It is not appropriate for the dean to dictate. Important decisions on instruction, curriculum, and faculty appointments are made in collaboration with the Faculty. Accreditation depends on that.

When a majority of the Faculty says that the Dean is not acting correctly and that they cannot work with him, that is their prerogative as members of the Faculty. They are not mere employees. It is far from resignation.

Part of "having all the information" is having a correct understanding of the situation.

Even in a secular academic education of higher learning where the faculty is unionized, it is still true that a dean cannot stay in the position when a majority of the faculty asks for the Dean to step down.

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K Attanasi
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K Attanasi

Many thanks to Bp Dietsche for this courageous and humble letter. I favor the reinstatement of the faculty and hope that Board members and others continue to advocate on their behalf.

[K. please add your first name - or let us know if it is K- thanks --ed.]

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A Facebook User
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A Facebook User

Levi S. Harris, J.D.

Sometimes labor law has no usefulness.

All over the Church pastors and parishes are in conflict. When this happens pastors typically "resign" and vestries also "resign," not because the law requires it, but for the good of the parish. While the pastor may legally stay and the vestry continue, doing so will typically kill the parish. Sometimes "stepping back" and a cooling off period can bring reconciliation, but often it does not. It might be said that a seminary is not like a parish where participation is largely voluntary. However, like a parish its future success is directly linked to its reputation. People voluntarily choose to support it and attends its classes. There are other fine seminaries...

Tom Downs

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Sylvia Vasquez
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Sylvia Vasquez

Bishop Deitche's letter took a lot of courage. I'm sure the pressure to go along with the actions of the BOT was enormous. His letter revealed many important issues that we on the outside of all this needed to hear. I am deeply relieved to know that the vote was not unanimous. I am very grateful that there were others on the board who wished to reinstate the faculty unconditionally. Why Bishop Sisk, et al, insisted on unanimity is troubling. But clearer picture is emerging about what happened at that board meeting and the more transparency we have the better off we will all be. So thank you Andy, for standing up and being compassionate and courageous enough to say what you really think and feel. I'm proud to have worked with you as one of the "Canons 7"

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Michael Russell
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Michael Russell

Sigh.

I appreciate Bp Dietsche's candor. He is a classmate of mine and a long time friend.

What both parties need is to read Jeffrey Sachs' 2007 article in Scientific American titled "Generous Tit for Tat" which analizes how Kennedy managed to avoid nuclear war in the 1962 October Crisis.

The essence of this form of negotiation is that one party chooses not to escalate the conflict for some slight while rewarding a positive step by the other side. This is the generous part. The other heart of this negotiating style is that you choose not to humiliate the opponent. Humiliation leads to nuclear escalation. Kennedy chose not to humiliate Khruschev when he could have,leaving space for Khruschev to back it down without losing face.

What we have at GTS is what we called in community organizing the "push-kill" dynamic in which the faculty's push (however apt or inept) was met with a Board kill response (however apt or inept). Then nuclear war erupted, forcing everyone into a reactive defensive posture in which adult differentiated negotiating became impossible.

Bp. Dietche's preference for standing down the conflict with a generous "reinstatement" of the faculty could have opened a door for productive discussion of their ultimatum aka "resignation". Instead the Board chose a proposal that offered only humiliation for those who would beg for "provisional re-employment."

If the parties are actually interested in reconciliation, Christian or secular, they could call a truce. At the moment the Faculty has significant public opinion in its arsenal and the Board has straight up power. Continuing this conflict can have nothing but long term negative consequences for GTS.

So the generous option is to accept a do over, a reset to the moment before the Faculty letter "pushed." Classes resume, salaries and health care happen and genuine and transparent mediaton, by a true neutral, happens.

Intelligent, faithful people, concerned for the formation of priests, deacons and other church leaders should be able to find a sufficient modicum of generosity and good will to stand down and trust that good will will be met with good will.

In mediations I was part of the dam was broken when either party said "I'm sorry" and then they could negotiate a win-win from the conflict. Surely someone in the GTS fracas can do that.

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Gary Paul Gilbert
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Gary Paul Gilbert

Bishop Dietsche's letter is, to use a phrase from Jane Austen, "most excellent." How fortunate that the Diocese of New York, after the uncommunicative Sisk and the scandal-plagued Grein, finally has a leader!

I agree with Robert Solon that faculty are not "interchangeable with teachers from off the street."

Gary Paul Gilbert

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Levi
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Levi

You guys just about beat anything I've ever seen. You remind me of John McCain and the Republican Party telling President Obama whom he could appoint and how he could govern after he beat the pants off of them and had a filibuster-proof Senate. It's as ludicrous as if General Lee had come to Appomattox and told Grant that if he, Lincoln, and Sherman would just apologize, the South *might* consider forgiving them and coming back into the Union.

Levi S. Harris, J.D.

Chicago, Illinois

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William Gilders
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William Gilders

The GTS8 are the victims of injustice, not the Dean-President and Board. The contrition to be demonstrated needs to come from Dunkle, Sisk, and others.

William K. Gilders, Ph.D.

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Jim Hammond
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Jim Hammond

Follows an edited post which I offered in another environment, but which I think obtains in this environment as well.

At least one member of the Board of Trustees has indicated in a quasi (but not fully) public environment that the Trustees have "all the information" and that the rest of us are working from more limited data. I can accept the assertion that there may be more information to apply, but alas, we have to work with the information which is available. If the Trustees wish to grace us with this additional information, I will be most grateful to receive it and adjust my thinking if need be. Until such a time, I have questions. I have so many questions.

My questions are based upon facts which have been published in one place or another by those parties immediately involved. We may not have "all the information," but we do have these facts. I accept the statements provided by members of the Faculty until proven in writing to be inaccurate. Each member of the GTS8 is a reputable scholar with superb reputations along with advanced degrees of merit, and all have chosen to put their careers, their reputations and their families on the line in this matter. It is inconceivable to me that they would dissemble about significant facts having to do with timelines, conversations, meetings and communications.

Here are facts garnered from written documents:

One, we know that conversations with members of the Board, including at least one member of the Executive Committee of the Board, began in October of 2013 by a communication from member of the Faculty Amy Bentley Lamborn in response to information released by Trustee Ellen Tillotson.

Two, from the same communication of Lamborn, we know that there were written and oral communications with Trustee Bp. Eugene Sutton (Maryland) in May of 2014. Sutton is said to have provided the information to Bp. and Chairman Sisk, who alerted Dean Dunkle. Dunkle then issued an email which was deemed by the Faculty to prohibit further communications from members of the Faculty directly with Trustees.

Three, we know from the September letter of the Faculty to the Trustees that allegations of questionable behaviors were made concerning Dean Dunkle, to include intimidation and comments believed to be inappropriate. Additionally, an allegation was made of a violation of student confidentiality (the alleged FERPA violation).

Four, we know that the word, "resignation", does not appear in the communications from the Faculty to the Trustees, although the Trustees voted to "accept the resignations" of the eight members of the Faculty. The members of the Faculty involved deny that they resigned and the written documentation seems to support their position.

Five, we now know from a communication from Bp Dietsche, the Bishop of New York, who was present at the recent meeting of the Trustees, that the reported "unanimous" vote of the Board concerning whether or not to reinstate the members of the Faculty without qualification was not, in fact, unanimous, but made "unanimous" by a second vote taken after the initial split vote carried "by a wide majority."

Six, we also know from the Bishop of New York that at least one of his students at GTS has requested his help in the process of transferring to a different school.

Seven, it is reported that GTS is scheduled for a visitation from the Association of Theological Schools for the purpose of receiving a renewal of accredited status in the Spring of 2015. We know from the report of the ATS that of eighteen actions concerning accreditation in the most recent year (2013-2014), four schools were removed from accredited status, four of eighteen! Without a qualified Faculty in place, operating in a fully collegial academic environment, it is impossible to imagine that GTS will receive an unqualified accreditation in the Spring of 2015.

My questions for Bishop Sisk or any Trustee who chooses to respond:

1) Accepting the need for a certain degree of confidentiality by the Board on sensitve matters, such a need has to be balanced by the need for openness and candor -- something more than "trust us," since trust has already been violated. Cannot, therefore, at least the report of the independent investigator regarding the Dean's behaviors be made public? If the report in entirety cannot be released, at least can the conclusions be released?

2) Can the Trustees respond in writing to the question of what "resignation" they accepted, since none was offered, nor intended to be offered?

3) Can the Trustees respond to what some see as improprieties of their own, to wit: a) passing information to the Dean which was provided to the Trustees by the Faculty, resulting in the Dean's admonition, noted above, that members of the Faculty should not communicate directly with the Trustees; and b) publishing as "unanimous" the results of a vote which initially were not unanimous.

4) Does the Board of Trustees of GTS consider that the accreditation of GTS by the ATS is an important, if not critical, element for the continuation of GTS as an institution?

I could go on, but the written answers to these questions will be immensely helpful to this retired priest to begin to make sense of this debacle.

Jim Hammond

retired cleric

Winchester, VA

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Levi
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Levi

Robert, is the Gospel a suicide pact? Why must the Church accept language and behaviors that wouldn't pass muster anywhere else in the world. The GTS8 and their defenders have said things about Dean Dunkle and the trustees that I wouldn't countenance were someone to say them about my dog. Unless they demonstrate some contrition for their behavior and a genuine willingness to move forward together with the Dean and the trustees in the vision the trustees have for the seminary going forward, those folks should no more be rehired than a man delivered from the bite of a wild animal should beg the beast back to his bosom.

(The Lay) Levi S. Harris, J.D.

Chicago, Illinois

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Levi
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Levi

Robert, is the Gospel a suicide pact? Why must the Church accept language and behaviors that wouldn't pass muster anywhere else in the world. The GTS8 and their defenders have said things about Dean Dunkle and the trustees that I wouldn't countenance were someone to say them about my dog. Unless they demonstrate some contrition for their behavior and a genuine willingness to move forward together with the Dean and the trustees in the vision the trustees have for the seminary going forward, those folks should no more be rehired than a man delivered from the bite of a wild animal should beg the beast back to his bosom.

(The Lay) Levi S. Harris, J.D.

Chicago, Illinois

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www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=697081831

I strongly associate myself with Bishop Dietsche's statement and that of Bishop Briedenthal of S. Ohio, and of the Diocese of California. This is not a case of administrative or labor law; it is about the Gospel and how we "respect the dignity of every human being." It is clear from my reading of the evidence that the GTS8 did indeed use the Matthew 18 precepts in full before they "took it to the Church," even without filing formal Title IV charges, which prima facie seems they could have done. It apparently means nothing that GTS is now a pariah in academia -it's all about The Board And It's Prerogatives. No matter that ATS accreditation - which is required so that students can get Federal financial aid - is in serious jeopardy. No matter that the Dean may be in serious breach of the canons and subject to Title IV proceedings. "Who are these people, anyway?" They are the ones who are directly forming the next generation of ordained and lay leaders in this Church. They are not interchangeable with teachers form off the street. I have personally worked with most of them, and they are masters at what they do. The GTS8 must be reinstated, as so many have argued. The Board, or at least its Executive Committee, and the Dean, should resign for the good of the institution.

(The Rev.) Robert F. Solon, Jr.

Diocese of Maryland

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Raymond Foss
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Raymond Foss

I do not have all the evidence the Board had. The Bishop here indicates that the faculty were on strike, not that they resigned. If the vote was made unanimous, the Bishop would have standing,depending on the parliamentary rules the Board uses for their business, to reopen or reconsider the votes. That might be something to consider based on additional evidence, a change of heart, etc. Not sure, but thought that might be worth considering.

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Ellen Campbell
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Ellen Campbell

This is a wonderful letter - pastoral and intellectual. These fine faculty members need to be reinstated. They deserve to be back in the class room and the students deserve to have them.

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John B. Chilton
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John B. Chilton

[Copy of a comment I left on Facebook]

Of course it's easy to forget that (1) the eight issued an ultimatum to the board (it's us or the dean), (2) followed the ultimatum by announcing and conducting a strike at the very start of the semester and (3) said they would be forming a union which they could not form (SCOTUS decision) without the approval of the board. These faculty members sought to force the board to take an action which is the prerogative of the board -- fire the dean. The board said, ok you said either he goes or we go, and then you left; what are we supposed to do with that? Can we really work with you when you want to be the faculty and the board?

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Jeffrey Cox
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Jeffrey Cox

Maybe I have a different opinion, but the faculty walked out and stopped worshipping with the community. If a Priest went on strike at a church, would the local Bishop allow this? Would the Priest be replaced?

I have to say that this is as much a class and privilege response than employment issue. When the cleaners were fired that were subcontractors, nothing was ultimately done. When people with DR. and REV in front of their name, people see them something differently.

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Levi
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Levi

Tom,

Can you think of an example in Scripture where "reconciliation" meant that a wronged party had to continue working with people who had openly professed a hostility to him and pronounced themselves incapable of relationship with him -- even if those people did not repent and seek forgiveness? I've wracked my brain, and I sure can't think of any. Joseph and his brothers, the prodigal son, David and God -- all involve contrition and making right. Elijah couldn't be reconciled to Ahab and Jezebel. David couldn't be reconciled to Saul. Peter couldn't be reconciled to Ananias and Sapphira. John the Baptist couldn't be reconciled to Herod. I worry that a lot of the folks now clamoring for reconciliation, with no mention of contrition and forgiveness-seeking by the faculty members -- one of whom, let's remember, said in the New York Times that working for Dean Dunkle was like working on a plantation! -- aren't seeking reconciliation at all; they're seeking capitulation.

The Gospel doesn't require people to be doormats. The Gospel doesn't require that those who scream the loudest and longest get their way when other parties give up and "reconcile." There's such a thing, when a recalcitrant refuses to make amends, as letting that person be as a heathen and a publican.

Levi S. Harris, J.D.

Chicago, Illinois

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Levi
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Levi

In a past life, I was an administrative law judge whose job was to hold hearings and take evidence from employers and separated employees to determine whether the latter had been fired or had quit. If I found they were fired, I would move to the next step, by determining whether the firing was for "just cause."If I found they had quit, the next step in the analysis was to determine whether they had quit for "good cause."

Having repeatedly read the separated faculty members' communications to the Board and vice-versa -- i.e., the evidence -- I can tell you what my finding would have been: they quit without good cause and, in the alternative, if they were fired, their employers had just cause to make that decision.

Levi S. Harris, J.D.

Chicago, Illinois

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GeorgeSwanson
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Making a vote "unanimous" is the tyrrany of the majority over the minority. It silences diversity. I am proud that Father Ed Warner and I voted against making the election of Arthur Anton Vogel unanimous in West Missouri.

George Swanson

george@katrinasdream.org

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GeorgeSwanson
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Making a vote "unanimous" is the tyrrany of the majority over the minority. It silences diversity. I am proud that Father Ed Warner and I voted against making the election is Arthur Anton Vogel unanimous in West Missouri.

George Swanson

george@katrinasdream.org

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Tom
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Tom

When there is irreconcilable differences sometimes the institution needs a start over. If the faculty can't stay maybe the Dean and Board need to go too. For the sake of the seminary reconcile or resign. Tom Downs

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Pete Haynsworth
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Pete Haynsworth

Sometime down the line, there will need to be a statement jointly by the GTS8 and the seminary Dean that they all can indeed work with and for each other under a resolve of patience, tolerance, repentance, and forgiveness.

Why not issue that statement sooner, rather than later?

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Pete Haynsworth
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Pete Haynsworth

Sometime down the line, there will need to be a statement jointly by the GTS8 and the seminary Dean that they all can indeed work with and for each other under a resolve of patience, tolerance, repentance, and forgiveness.

Why not issue that statement sooner, rather than later?

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Harry Merryman
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Harry Merryman

The spirit and tone of Bp. Dietsche’s statement might be taken to heart by ALL the parties either directly involved or observing. He reflects the virtues of patience, tolerance, repentance, and forgiveness that we as Christians are called to in our relations with others. His words recognize our own inherent capacity for error, hurtfulness, arrogance and pride—a recognition that, when fully embraced, opens us all to the need for mercy, 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 continue to follow and offer comment on this sorrow-full situation.

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June Butler
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Better late than never for Bishop Dietsche to speak out and offer his humble apology. After the vote on Friday, there were already questions and doubts about the true unanimity of the vote and a wish to know if dissenting opinions were voiced. It would have been far better for the members of the board who voted against the final resolution to have issued a minority statement of dissent at the time.

Still, I'm grateful and appreciative that Bishop Dietsche sent out the email regretting his action.

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