from The Rev. M. Sylvia O. Vásquez, Rector St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Walnut Creek, California
Last fall a terrible injustice was committed. Soon after the arrival of the dean, the Board of Trustees of General Seminary secretly changed the bylaws of GTS, the most egregious of which was to eliminate faculty input. When the faculty resisted the dean’s absurd leadership, the Board of Trustees, BoT, of General Seminary fired eight faculty members. The BoT’s eagerness to “accept faculty resignations” (resignations which were never offered), violated all the BoT’s own stated procedures. Using the language of resignation allowed the Board to ignore the process of dismissal appeals, appeals that fired faculty is entitled to. Clearly, they wanted above all to avoid transparency and discussion.
I was completely shocked. But the firing was not what shocked me most. What I found more alarming was that there appeared to be no sense of outrage from the larger Episcopal Church. I kept looking for statements from the office at “815”. I watched for articles from Episcopal News Service. An Episcopal institution of the stature and significance of GTS was hurtling into chaos and no one in authority raised an alarm.
We demand justice for others; yet, we sit by and allow them to fire eight tenured faculty members. We expect and call for transparency and accountability, but when the Board of Trustees (BoT) of this institution was questioned by the faculty and subsequently by other groups, as to their practices, the BoT shut down communication and the questions were re-directed to lawyers. We, TEC, pass multiple resolutions about injustice everywhere yet are very slow to live into it within our own church.
The short hand for all this is blatant hypocrisy.
The only place I saw reaction was on social media. Episcopal Café published articles and essays by people involved in the fiasco and the seminary professors (GTS8) who had been fired created a Facebook page. Several hundred people immediately signed up to join the discussion on Facebook, about the events leading up to and subsequent to the firings. Eventually there were well over 1,300 people in the discussion group for the GTS8. Mainstream media like the New York Times and Huffington Post picked up parts of the story. More than 100 professors of theology, among them noted theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, stood in solidarity with the faculty and refused to set foot on the campus. Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) began a petition to “reinstate the eight” as did MoveOn.org and thousands of people signed. The BoT remained unmoved.
Again, what I find so egregious is that we, the Episcopal Church, would be willing permit the Board of Trustees of GTS to damage and perhaps cause the demise of this venerable institution with no discussion about it. This is a serious issue that merits open dialogue and discussion. Yet, the pervasive ethos in this whole terrible saga is one of secrecy and silence.
Who does the Board of Trustees at GTS answer to? Who holds them accountable for their actions?
One would hope that the House of Bishops would have had the courage to respond to this great injustice. The House of Deputies only meets every three years, so I hoped Executive Council would have made some statement about it. But with the exception of a few individual bishops (Dietsche, Stokes, et al) there has been nothing but silence, sadly, including the office of the Presiding Bishop.
Thankfully, last fall, my own diocese passed a resolution about the situation at GTS with the support of our own diocesan, Bishop Marc Andrus. So far as I know, The Diocese of California is the only diocese that brought this issue for discussion to the floor of their convention. Here, Resolution on General Theological Seminary is the text of our resolution.
I have emails (that I received accidentally) from members of the BoT, stating they wanted to find a way to actively discourage other bishops from allowing resolutions such as ours from coming to their conventions. And, while that is problematic on its own, the real problem is that it points to a deeper more dangerous ethos in our church.
We are loath to hold each other accountable when we are acting unjustly.
We consistently model ways of hiding the truth, covering up unpleasantness, and looking the other way when confronted with hard issues. Just recently the dean of GTS wrote that the crisis of last fall is behind us and we should just move forward, he further stated that ATS accreditation is solid. Yet, only a limited number of people have seen the ATS report and the crisis is far from over. No changes have been implemented to avoid more of the same in the future. Is that denial or wishful thinking or misdirection? One thing it isn’t is genuine.
The Church is hypocritical. It is an accusation with which those who stay away from institutional religion charge us and when we allow stuff like this to go on—they are right. But more importantly, we wound the spirit of our church, we mess with the soul of who we are. We fail to honor our most primary sacrament: our Baptismal Covenant. The issues at GTS signal our incapacity to act as Christian disciples. If we cannot treat each other with dignity, justice and love, then we cannot offer that to the rest of the world with any kind of credibility. I’d say that is a crisis that we ignore at peril to the world with which we’ve been charged to transform.
We are being inauthentic Christians. We are playing at being the disciples of Jesus Christ. We are exemplifying false Christianity; empty of the power to change lives for the better. Our collective power to be agents of transformation is diminished. We are called to be “the salt of the earth, the light in the midst of darkness,” yet we have not noticed that our salt has gone flat and our lights are very dim. How can we move forward with integrity, to work on our mission as followers of Jesus Christ, with this stain on our collective soul?
I’m presenting a resolution to General Convention that will call for action on this issue. The spirit of TREC Resolution A001 is a start, but I think we need more. If you are interested in supporting this resolution, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
(From the GTS website)
“Bound up in its very name, service to the Episcopal Church nationwide became central to the Seminary’s heritage. In 1817 the General Convention met in New York City and on May 26-27 these two Resolutions passed both Houses:
- That it is expedient to establish a General Theological Seminary which may have the united support of the whole Church in the United States and be under the superintendence and control of the General Convention.
- That the Seminary be located in the City of New York.”
Here is my proposed resolution: Rector Calls for GC78 Resolution
The Rev. M. Sylvia O. Vásquez, Rector
Image credit: to Dot Cellini of the Diocese of New Jersey