General Theological Seminary: build reconciliation through justice

By Simon Barrow
October 15, 2014

The crisis at General Theological Seminary in New York has not only produced important acts of solidarity towards eight fine professors unjustly sacked for their protests about what they have experienced as bullying within the GTS administrative system, it has also begun to spark some wider questions about the future of seminary-style education and mainstream US Protestantism.

Those latter issues are very important, and deserve attention. Right now, however, the issue has to be the right treatment of the dismissed faculty, and attempts at reconciliation based on restitution and facing up to difficult questions about power and authority.

Tomorrow (16 October 2014), as we have reported elsewhere (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20944), there is a long awaited meeting between the Board of Trustees and the faculty-in-dispute, including Dr Deirdre Good, with whom Ekklesia has been pleased to work. I have expressed my own wishes for that meeting (to be facilitated by the respected former Episcopal Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold) in the following terms to Bishop Mark Sisk and the other Board members:

"...I am both saddened and distressed at the current situation facing GTS, and in particular at the dismissal of eight highly qualified, effective, competent and dedicated staff members.

"The pretence that these faculty members 'resigned' when acting under duress is not one which does the BoT, GTS or the Episcopal Church any credit.

"The issues they have sought to raise about administration and practice over many months are very serious indeed, and deserve (as do the faculty) to be treated with far greater respect than this.

"Removing from post people who raise difficult questions about alleged abusive behaviour is entirely the wrong message and practice for a Christian church to be associated with. It brings shame and discredit to the gospel.

"I sincerely hope that a path of restitution and reconciliation can be reached at GTS, and a viable future negotiated for a historic seminary that can and should be part of equipping the whole laos at a critical juncture in the life and witness of the Church.

"The first step that needs to be taken is clearly the reinstatement of the eight faculty members. Whatever else is agreed tomorrow, I hope and expect that this will be the cornerstone of your actions as a Board.

"It is within your power to ensure that this happens, and as Christian sisters and brothers I would ask you to exercise that power with grace and humility."

Meanwhile, in response to an online article about the GTS crisis (http://drbones.typepad.com/openly_episcopal_in_alban/2014/10/as-has-been...), the Ven Canon Dr Christopher Brown, Canon Theologian of the Diocese of Albany and a 1985 GTS graduate, wrote: "The current debacle with Dean Dunkle cannot be construed as a conflict between 'progressive' faculty and a culturally retrograde dean. As Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Florida, Dean Dunkle was the antagonist of departing conservative parishes. He was trained as a lawyer and has only been a priest for ten years. He clearly has a ruthless streak and can be boorish and inappropriate in his social interactions. The things that he has been reported as saying are shocking and don't bear repetition. I still have fond memories of David Hurd and Deirdre Good, the only faculty from my time at General. We may not always agree, but I am siding with them."

* GTS8 general petition direct, on Change.org: http://www.change.org/p/board-of-trustees-of-general-theological-seminar...

* Safe Seminary website: http://www.safeseminary.org/

* Fund to support the GTS8: http://www.youcaring.com/help-a-neighbor/support-the-gts8/243315

* Academics back dismissed faculty at troubled Episcopal seminary: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20931

* 'Reinstate the faculty unjustly dismissed from General Theological Seminary', by Simon Barrow, Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20932

* Facebook page to promote a general petition for reinstatement of the eight GTS faculty: https://www.facebook.com/events/331354327039048/

* Twitter: @safeseminary and @Reinst8GTS8

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© Simon Barrow is co-director of the religion and society think tank Ekklesia.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.