Failing the Faith Test at Erskine

Potential candidate for president of Erskine College withdraws over objections that he is a Baptist

The candidate believed he could meet those standards. Cliff Smith, a spokesman for Erskine, declined to name the candidate, but said that he withdrew because, based on “the views of some board members and church members, he felt he would be in the position of creating tension or dissension and further conflict” at the college and didn’t want to do so. Smith said that “there are some in the church who were making a little bit of a dust-up because this candidate was not Presbyterian.”

 

Many religious colleges strive to have presidents who reflect the faith of the college, but many others — especially from denominations that are small — have grown more flexible on the issue.

It appeared last month that Erskine College — the only college affiliated with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, a branch of the Presbyterian faith that is closer in beliefs to the many evangelical Christian denominations than are other strands of the Presbyterian faith — was on the verge last month of accepting its first non-Presbyterian president.

But the candidate, who is not known but sources said was the vice president of a Christian college, withdrew because of objections to his Baptist faith. While the college has had presidents who are not ARP members (as the Associate Reform Presbyterian branch is known), it has not had a non-Presbyterian.

Further complicating matters, the Erskine board chair resigned on Thursday, making it unclear who will decide how to proceed on a new search. A spokesman for the college said that no search plans had been announced, but that it was his understanding that the search would start fresh.

Erskine, a small liberal arts college and a seminary in Due West, S.C., has struggled for years over issues of how closely the college must adhere to a view of the world that treats the Bible as history and a guide to all academic subjects and campus conduct. Since 2010, about the time there was a search for a president going on, church leaders have asserted more control over the board, to the consternation of some alumni, students and faculty members who have valued the liberal arts traditions of the institution.

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