UPDATED 6-8 ARP Synod: Attempt to suspend Erskine funding ruled out of order, fails by 2 votes; ‘governance issue’ to return in 2013 – by Daniel Wells

Rev. David Vance, the committee’s chairman…noted that in recommendation 8 (Minority Report), the committee desires the $431,000 allocated funds to Erskine to be placed in escrow until there is a satisfactory response and action from the Erskine Board. Principle Clerk Ron Beard referred to recommendations 6-8 as out of order since the Minority Report of Erskine is out of order in terms of Synod’s program.

 

The highly anticipated report from Erskine College and Seminary began with Erskine Board Chairman Joe Patrick, Chairman-Elect David Connor, and President David Norman delivering comments.

Mr. Patrick spoke first and gave a general statement of Erskine’s difficulties with enrollment management and financial difficulties as well as what God is doing in the student body.

Dr. Norman spoke concerning the 2011 Synod’s request to amend the charter. At the May meeting of the Erskine Board, additional information was given to the Board that they did not have when they produced their initial report in February, and a new ad hoc committee is being formed to continue studying the issue, including members of different perspectives concerning the governance of Erskine. Dr. Norman noted the importance of the visitation of SACS and ATS in March, and additional information from SACS and ATS was included in Synod packets for delegates.

Mr. Connor addressed the court regarding the Board’s relationship to the ARP Church. Mr. Connor pledged that the Board has no intention to sever their relationship with the Synod. The relationship between Erskine and the ARP Church has benefited Erskine in terms of financial support, but Mr. Connor noted that such is not the lone benefit for Erskine. But the desire to restore Erskine’s kingdom mission is why Erskine desires to maintain a relationship with the Synod. In addition, the relationship gives Erskine an important theological identity as well as a hindrance to institutional drift. Finally, the mission of Erskine is indebted to the institution’s relationship to the Synod.

However, there are benefits for the Synod, Mr. Connor says. First, Christian education applies to all ages. Second, it is consistent with our covenantal theology. Third, Erskine has impacted students for Christ. Finally, Erskine has assisted the Synod in training future ministers for the denomination.

A video presentation was then shown. Two professors in the video, Dr. Brooks Kuykenall (music professor) and Dr. N. Brad Christie (English professor; Academic Dean) spoke about the importance of “mission fit” and of the establishment of a Personnel Committee which interviews potential faculty members about their scholarship in light of Erskine’s mission. These professors also spoke of the perception of disunity between newer faculty and faculty hired 10-30 years ago, but in more recent years there has been a greater unity among the faculty.

Dr. R.J. Gore, professor of Systematic Theology at Erskine Seminary, spoke in the video about Erskine’s MEDCOM program. He noted the seminary’s failures with MEDCOM’s guidelines, but that these errors have been corrected.

Dr. George Robertson, pastor for First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, GA also spoke through media of his appreciation for Erskine. He also spoke of Erskine Seminary’s attempts to “clean itself up theologically” in recent years and how this has been positive for the institution. He exhorted the Synod “don’t quit” when it comes to Erskine Seminary.

Erskine College students comprised the final portion of the video, particularly students who are studying abroad.

Mr. Patrick then gave a brief closing statement. Of note, Mr. Patrick stated that the Erskine Board acknowledged in February 2010 of its failings and its commitment to change, and there is still a need to relate to the Synod, that there needs to be a restoration of trust between the two parties.

UPDATED 6-9

Editor’s Note:  We have updated this story by including the actual eight motions which were presented to the General Synod by the Moderator’s Committee.  Motions Number 6, 7, and 8 were ruled out of order by the Primary Clerk as explained in the text of the story.

 

1.  That any vote on motions regarding Erskine be done by secret ballot, excepting the student union funding request and the request for season of prayer (#2 and #9 below).

 

2. That recommendation Number 1 (That a season of prayer and fasting for Erskine College and Seminary be held in the churches of the presbyteries in the ARP Synod)

__X__BE APPROVED _____NOT BE APPROVED

 

3. That recommendation Number 2 (That special days be designated when the work of Erskine College and Seminary can be presented to the congregations of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and when special offerings to support the ministries of the institution can be received)

_____BE APPROVED ___X___NOT BE APPROVED

 

4. That recommendation Number 3 (That Synod track and report back to Erskine those churches that participated in the two opportunities mentioned in

Recommendation #2 and #3)

_____BE APPROVED __X__NOT BE APPROVE

 

5. That recommendation Number 4 (That its budget request presented through the Board of Stewardship as follows:

$518,000 operating funds

$500 ARP Student Union)

_____BE APPROVED __X__NOT BE APPROVED

 

In addition, your committee recommends:

Regarding the recommendations from the May 25 Erskine BoT report:

6. Committee recommends that the recommendation to be granted another year’s study NOT be adopted.

 

Regarding the recommendations from the Erskine Minority Report:

7. Committee recommends that recommendations 1 and 2 be adopted.

 

8. That the 2013 allocated funds in the amount of $431,000 from the ARP Synod allocated to Erskine College and Seminary be placed in escrow beginning June 6, 2012 until a satisfactory resolution by a vote of Synod is forthcoming concerning the BoT response to Synod’s request and the satisfactory compliance by a vote of Synod in 2013 as presented by the committee assigned by the Moderator of General Synod.

 

9. That the Erskine Student Union’s request for $500 in the 2013 budget be approved.

 

 

The Committee’s recommendation to have votes on Erskine be done by secret ballot was defeated in a standing vote. Recommendation 3, that special days with special offerings occur in ARP churches for Erskine, was not approved by committee, and the court voted with the committee in the negative. Recommendation 5, which dealt with designating funds for Erskine and to Erskine’s ARP Student Union ($518,000 and $500 respectively) was not approved by committee. During discussion, Rev. Barry Dagenhart, Chairman of Board of Stewardship, spoke and said that this Synod has already approved the allocated funds to Erskine. Rev. Dagenhart also said the previous vote to allocate funds superseded anything from the Erskine Report. Rev. Andrew Putnam stated that the only thing affected in this vote is the $500 to the ARP Student Union. Rev. Rob Patrick (Bartow, FL) noted that there is confusion as to the rationale for the committee’s actions. Rev. Morrie Lawing said that the committee as an additional recommendation addresses the allocation of the funds requested by Erskine. Rev. Chuck Wilson requested that Rev. David Vance, the committee’s chairman, provide context to the voting rationale of the committee

Rev. Vance noted that recommendation 8 being adopted over recommended 5 is the rationale for the committee’s disapproval of recommendation 5. In recommendation 8, the committee desires the $431,000 allocated funds to Erskine to be placed in escrow until there is a satisfactory response and action from the Erskine Board. Principle Clerk Ron Beard referred to recommendations 6-8 as out of order since the Minority Report of Erskine is out of order in terms of Synod’s program. Rev. Jeff Kingswood said that we received the report on Tuesday and adopted its place in the program. Principle Clerk Beard disagreed with Rev. Kingswood. Rev. Putnam concurred with Mr. Beard and asked Moderator Steve Suits if he referred the Minority Report to the Moderator’s Committee on Erskine, Moderator Suits affirmed that he did.

At this point, a rarity on ARP Synod history occured as Rev. Putnam challenged the Moderator’s ruling. It went to a counted vote to decide whether to sustain the Moderator’s ruling. Amazingly, the final vote was 128-131, rendering the Moderator’s decision overruled.

During such tense moment in debate, Rev. Clint Davis asked the court for a time of prayer. Rev. Davis, Rev. Lawing, and Rev. Vance led the court in prayer. Afterward,

Recommendation 5 was approved by the court through voice vote, contrary to the committee’s decision. At that point, Rev. Rhett Carson made a motion to reconsider recommendation 3. Rev. Jodie Gaston, who voted on the prevailing side, also requested to reconsider. The court approved to reconsider voting on recommendation 3.

There was confusion as to the vote of recommendation 5 to defund Erskine. Moderator Suits thought that the vote had not happened, but the court corrected him that it did occur. Rev. Lawing claimed that the “No’s” won the vote and that Moderator Suits goofed by saying the “I’s” won. Moderator Suits suggested a revote on recommendation 5 to provide clarification.

In a humorous moment, Mr. Patrick requested to withdraw the recommendation to avoid confusion since the allocation of funds to Erskine were approved, but Rev. Putnam reminded both Mr. Patrick and Dr. Norman that the recommendation is now the property of the court, to which Mr. Patrick replied in a chuckle, “Sorry, we tried.” A needed moment of light humor for a divided room.

The court finally voted in full favor of recommendation 5 (again). The court then revoted on recommendation 3 and it passed this time around.

Rev. Lawing then made a two part motion. First, the funds to Erskine be dispersed various ways in response to the Board of Trustees showing competency, a) 1/3 in monthly payments prior to October meeting b) 1/3 begining in November provided that Board has taken demonstrable action, to include language in bylaws related to Synod as due influence in life of Erskine, c) 1/3 beginning in March 1/3 that Board has incorporate language language of due influence in other documents. Second, to authorize the Executive Board to determine whether benchmarks are reached. Rev. Lawing stated his desire is to see the attempt last year to amend the charter in connection to funds given to Erskine. Dr. Bill Vandoodewaard spoke in support of Rev. Lawing’s motion. He mentioned that the school he teaches at, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, is owned by a denomination and allows the denomination to remove board members “without or without cause”, contrary to the claims of the Erskine Board’s report from February 2012. Rev. Kyle Sims said he agree with Dr. Vandoodewaard, but that the Erskine Board is willing again to revisit amending the charter. Dr. Mark Ross respond to Rev. Lawing’s motion in terms of the timing, that such a study to amend the charter cannot be completed before October. Dr. Ross also mentioned that the Minority Report on Erskine carried important information that deserves careful study. Dr. Ross stated, like many, that he was disappointed with the February report from the Erskine Board and that their use of analogies were inflammatory and inappropriate, but he discovered that the Board did not mean those analogies in the manner that they were poorly written. Dr. Ross also mentioned that he was told by five ATS and two SACS representatives that they would be looking closely at the Synod to see if “hostile action” would be taken against Erskine, and so the Synod should do anything resembling “blackmail” toward Erskine.

Rev. Paul Mulner pointed out that the motion from Rev. lawing deals with bylaws, not the charter and that October is not the deadline for changing all the changes, which means the Erskine could receive every payment from Synod with their cooperation, and that it isn’t blackmail (as referenced by another speaker) for a denomination to ask its own institution to comply with requests in order to receive funds, but it is blackmail for an accreditation agency to threaten a denomination in how it chooses to run its own school.

Mr. Connor spoke against Rev. Lawing’s motion, and he pleaded the Synod to read the Board’s supplemental report distributed at the beginning of Synod before voting on this matter. Rev. Billy Barron asked a question on the possibility of the Executive Board to make these decisions about Erskine Board’s cooperation. Dr. Vandoodewaard spoke again that there should be no issue with accreditation. Rev. Putnam responded that ATS reps told him that it is not possible to have the Synod remove trustee members, though Dr. Vandoodewaard noted that an ATS representative told him an opposite perspective. This led to a question among many delegates of the Synod as to whether there really is any objective standard that ATS or SACS appeal to on this specific issue of governance and trustee removal by the appointing agency, or whether such statements from these accreditation representatives are their mere opinion or whim in the moment.

The question was called, and the court voted down Rev. Lawing’s motion.

The former Moderator of the Synod, Mr. Steve Maye, gave two part motion. First, to commend Erskine College and Seminary to be willing to study the additional information and come back in 2013 with their findings, and second, for the Moderator appoint a committee (with at least half the members being Ph.Ds) to study this same issue on a parallel track as the Erskine Board and come back in 2013 with their findings and recommendations. Mr. Maye gave a moving speech of his love for men who may oppose him on these issues. He concluded that if we can’t see Erskine become a faithful institution after a year, then the two institutions should separate and let Erskine be Erskine and the ARP Church be the ARP Church so that peace would reign. Mr. Maye’s motion was overwhelmingly approved.

Thus, the Erskine story will continue for at least another year with Synod funding an institution that is currently in search for its identity as either an agency of the church or as an external body with a historical affiliation with the ARP Church. The Erskine Board will meet this summer before their annual October meeting. Moderator Suits should reveal over the next few months the individuals on his committee to study these governance issues parallel to the Erskine Board. Will the 2013 Synod mirror the 2012 Synod, or will clarity reign at next year’s meeting at Bonclarken.

 

Daniel Wells graduated a year ago from RTS Charlotte and is currently serving as a Church Planting Intern with the Hill City APR Church Plant in Rock Hill, SC and is serving as a volunteer intern with The Aquila Report for the 2012 Synod.

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