Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Salmon should resign

This Open Letter was penned by Fr. Marcus Kaiser a Member of the Board. We post it here with his permission.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Once again, I am writing to you regarding the upcoming visit by the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church (TEC) to the Nashotah Campus. There has been little open communication to the Nashotah community and stakeholders, and so I offer this, one person’s perspective, openly. Of course, I do not speak for the Board, but only as an alumnus and a member Trustee.

When I was a seminarian at the House just a few short years ago, there was some tempest in the teapot which led the then-Chairman of the Board of Trustees to address the community. I remember well the Chairman’s words to the group. He put the whole story on the table. The truth, he told us, will always survive the light of day. That Chairman was the same Bishop Salmon, once my own bishop and now Dean and President of Nashotah House.

The sad reality is that during the current situation in the Nashotah community, the whole truth has yet to see the light of day. I therefore take Bishop Salmon’s admonishment and attempt to allow the truth to speak for itself.

The Past:

In a video statement, the Dean correctly recounts that the Board discussed a letter of request from the late Deacon Terry Star (though he mistakenly attributes it to the May meeting instead of the October 2013 meeting). As the Dean recounts, that discussion took place without three of the non-TEC bishops present, Archbishop Duncan, Bishop Iker, and Bishop Lawrence, all of whom were at the GAFCON II conference. However, during that discussion, which was off the record in executive session, the Chairman recounted discussions with them, promising to “have their back.” Bishop Ackerman was absent for much of the discussion, so Bishop Wantland and I were the only two non-TEC clergy left in the room.

However, my recollection of that conversation was that most agreed that precisely this type of invitation would be unhelpful at best. All members spoke carefully about recognizing that a full one half of our stakeholders would find this unacceptable if not handled correctly. Before he left, Bishop Ackerman warned against a “photo op.” We seemed to agree in the majority that the best scenario would be an open forum with the Presiding Bishop and the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), ideally with the Archbishop of Canterbury or his delegate moderating. All agreed that the request from Deacon Star was made in good faith and with good intention.

Most also agreed that there could be a scenario, such as the one mentioned above, where an invitation could be helpful, so long as it was not issued in a manner that indicates some understanding of communion between the Presiding Bishop and the House. The Chairman did end the discussion by referring it to the Dean. I believed then, and still believe, that the Dean understood these guidelines.

Furthermore, to my knowledge neither the Dean nor the Chairman had any further discussions with the absent members prior to the invitation. The Board as a whole found out about the invitation only after it was both issued and accepted, in a manner and to a venue that I believe violates any consensus we had during the October discussion, a manner that demonstrates communion in its deepest sense.

After this, Trustee Bishop Iker resigned and Honorary Trustee Bishop Wantland indicated that he could not support Nashotah under the current administration. Several Trustees emailed the entire Board to express concern that some might make this into a larger issue. When the Chairman emailed to inform the board of the invitation, he wrote, “It only has to be a crisis if we are looking to have a crisis.”

I personally sent a letter to the board that same week. First, as an Alumni Trustee, I collected the response from a number of alumni, the vast majority of whom were outraged. I also included my own response to the Dean’s defense of the invitation, the crux of which is a strong belief that this invitation was practically unwise, theologically indefensible, and recklessly destructive.

Seven board members, of which I am one, made a request privately to the Chairman of the Board for a special meeting. That request was denied on both procedural and substantive grounds, with a response to the later questions coming from the Chairman alone even though questions were specifically put to the Dean. The seven then made a second request for a meeting, this time appealing to legal arguments to attempt to affect some discussion. That request was denied by the Secretary on legal grounds, with no mention of the merit of the concerns. One bishop then sent a personal request that we have a face-to-face meeting. The result was an invitation to discussion only, about which I shall say more.

Of the Dean’s video defense of the invitation, the obvious logical and theological issues are manifold and have been covered with far more alacrity and in far more depth than I am able. Suffice it to say that the idea that a seminary’s pulpit is somehow more resilient to heresy than a parish’s is indefensible. The idea that seminarians are more immune to heresy than are “ordinary” parishioners is both demeaning and unjustifiable. If the history of our tradition over the last half century has taught us nothing else, it has at least taught us that our seminaries are precisely where erroneous doctrines are incubated. The idea that professional and courteous attention to one known to present a false gospel will somehow be a witness and corrective thereto defies logic and is in violation of the clear injunctions of Holy Writ.

The Present

The Board today is split. A majority either laud the invitation, simply do not want to make it into a crisis, or have remained silent. A minority believe that this is a crisis, and that it is the embodiment of denial to pretend otherwise.

Evidence for the latter includes the fact that more than one half of the current student body hails from non-TEC jurisdictions. 13 of the 25 bishops who currently have students at the House are from outside of TEC. The ACNA House of Bishops have stated their strong objection to the invitation. The alumni, at least the vast majority from whom the Alumni Officers have heard, are in an uproar. Whatever you think of the invitation personally, the devastating consequences cannot be ignored.

Last week, the Chairman emailed to let us know of a new itinerary for the visit. No longer is the Presiding Bishop preaching at a Eucharistic service, and we must receive that as a positive step. Instead, the Presiding Bishop will speak at an “academic colloquy” and preach a eulogy at Evensong for the late Deacon Star. The former venue is far more in line with the Board’s original discussion. The latter will still fan some flames, though not nearly so many as the original invitation. In addition, the Chairman emailed the Board to inform us of a conference call on March 28th and a face-to-face conversation prior to Alumni Day.

However, some major issues remain unabated. First, to date the Dean has made no statement of remorse, repentance, or even acknowledgement of the harm done. A statement recognizing that the initial invitation was a failure on the Dean’s part to recognize the offense caused to so many would go a long way in healing this situation. I do not wish to impugn or even assign motives. Yet it is ironic that the Dean, one whom I so admire, one who’s gift to the Church has been in the importance of relationships, would not now publicly seek to repair the relationships that his own actions have torn asunder.

Second, there has been no public statement for the reasons for the change. Instead, it appears that the administration is attempting to have it both ways – to give those offended by the original invitation a “win” by changing the venue while allowing those favorable toward the invitation the freedom to think that the recent passing of Deacon Star was the impetus. The idea that the tragic death of a student would be manipulated for gain is unthinkable, so why has the administration said nothing to the contrary?

Third, the invitation to two unofficial discussions is not an adequate response to the request for a Board meeting. Conversation is fine, but since these two events will not be official sessions, the Board may take no action until its regular meeting in May, only after the Presiding Bishop has come to campus. The Statutes of Nashotah House state that the Board of Trustees is “Responsible for selection, oversight, and, if necessary, removal of the Dean…” (Statute III,A,1,d). By refusing a meeting prior to the Presiding Bishop’s visit, the Chairman and Secretary of the Board are explicitly denying the Board its required statutory responsibilities.
Perhaps the Board would take no action at all, but as it stands, they are without the means to do so. I am left to wonder, as is the entire community, if we as a Board do not share the common will to be the voice of the House and decry both the original invitation and the subsequent lack of transparency about the change.
It ought also be said openly that the main agenda for our October meeting, my first meeting as a trustee, was the very real threat to the accreditation of the school. In another great irony of this whole situation, the Association of Theological School (ATS) placed the following notation on the school: N8.3, “The governing board exercises its authority or discharges its responsibilities ineffectively or inappropriately.” This is a charge for which we must answer in very short order or face the reality of loosing our accreditation. I came to the October meeting not knowing what to expect, having only read the ATS’ previous notations, knowing of the apparent hostility between the office of Dean and the Board, and wondering just how dysfunctional the Board was. What I found was an apparent desire to fix the dysfunction, to find a new model of governance, to find a new way forward past the distrust and hostility between the administration and the Board. I told several alumni over the subsequent months how encouraged I was for the future of the house, how we seemed to be entering into a new era of trust, openness, and shared governance. I must wonder now if that was all lip-service, if I was duped, or if we have simply changed our collective mind. I haven’t the faintest clue how we could argue that we have demonstrated anything but an ineffective and inappropriate exercise of our authority and discharge of our duties.

The Possible Future

My appeal is twofold. First, to those who would withdraw students and support for Nashotah House, or who have already done so – I still believe that Nashotah boasts the finest faculty in North America. It is a place where Evangelical Christianity is taught, received, believed, and practiced in the fulness of what it means to be the Church Catholic. By your silent withdraw, please do not let this truth become an epitaph for a once-great seminary. Nashotah will become a TEC-only seminary only if stakeholders assist in making it so by their silence.

To my fellow Trustees- By our continued silence we are aiding in a movement to make Nashotah House a TEC-only seminary. Given the financial pressures we already face and the real need to heed the evaluation of the ATS, this is the height of insanity no matter your personal feeling. My outspokenness and that of others has not made this a crisis. It is that. If you believe that this outcome, the reality of a new TEC-only Nashotah, is laudable, stand up and be counted. Say so, that our stakeholders may know where we stand.
I can handle being outsmarted, outspoken, and outvoted. My identity is in Christ Jesus, and that can never change. What I can not handle is good men and women remaining silent while the House burns. We must meet and we must speak on the record, not for our bruised emotions, but for the health of the school. I renew the call for a special meeting, formal and called, to discuss only this issue and our response. The May meeting, after the Presiding Bishop has come and gone, is too late.

I do not imagine that this is in any way an exposé, nor do I intend to hurt or embarrass anyone. However, I do want those who care about Nashotah House to know that the apparent silence from the Board thus far has not been unanimous complicity. I write this open letter only after three failed attempts to call a meeting. Continued public silence is, for me, simply no option left to my conscience. The way forward seems clear – choose to be a voice that prevents the community from being torn in two or decree a reality that will force precisely that. Please know that I shall continue to pray for you all, for Nashotah, and that I remain,

Your Servant in Christ Jesus,

the Reverend Marcus A. Kaiser, Sr.

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