Bishop: GTS Vote Divided

Update: Megan Castellan of Episcopal Café reports that trustee Jeffrey Small has resigned from the board in protest.

The Rt. Rev. Andrew M.L. Dietsche writes to members of the Diocese of New York.

Bishop Dietsche’s predecessor, the Rt. Rev. Mark S. Sisk, is chairman of General Theological Seminary’s board of trustees and former dean and president of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary.

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.

Image of the Close at General Theological Seminary by Beyond My Ken (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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