Unless there is great duress, a college board goes in the direction the president desires and sets. With the concurrence of the board’s chairman and input from chief administrators, the president oversees and approves the framing of agendas for board meetings.
The Erskine board meeting in Due West last Thursday and Friday (February 21 and 22) was not an exception to the rule. The outcome saw the fulfillment of President Rob Gustafson’s agenda: the betrayal of those who worked to make him president. That is, the betrayal of those he convinced his vision for Erskine was a Christ-centered college, an Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church controlled college, Christian liberal arts college, and a college which emphasized academics over athletics.
So, what happened at the board meeting?
Two things happened:
- the board voted to petition General Synod to restore the president of the quasi-Erskine Alumni Association to the board with “voice” but without “vote”; and
- the board petitioned General Synod to remove the Moderator of General Synod from the board as a “voting” member and to redefine the Moderator’s role as one with “voice.” Therefore, making the Moderator of General Synod and the president of the quasi-Erskine Alumni Association equals. These two actions equal betrayal by Gustafson.
Remember the quasi-Alumni Association is an arm of the Erskine Administration which is allowed to function as though it were an independent entity with a mandate to determine the direction of the college of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Remember the Moderator of the General Synod is the chief officer of General Synod, elected by the majority of the delegates at the annual meeting of General Synod. The Moderator of General Synod is the chief officer of the denomination which owns Erskine College, Inc., and the president of the quasi-Erskine Alumni Association is the head of a quasi-organization which has no title to anything which is Erskine. In other words, the Moderator of the General Synod and the president of the Alumni Association are not equals when it comes to matters regarding the Erskine board.
Furthermore, (and I will speak to this again) are the members of General Synod prepared to sanction a board member who is not only a non-Christian but outspokenly opposed to evangelical Christianity? Remember the quasi-Erskine Alumni Association is not a Christian organization. It is a loose association of some Erskine grads (and, yes, many Erskine grads refuse to participate in it, saying, “It doesn’t represent us!”). It is not necessary for their president to be a Christian. Also, (and this is easily established by the comments on their Facebook site) many of the members of the quasi-Erskine Alumni Association reject the traditional values of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church on marriage, sexuality, and abortion. Does this not concern the board? Does this not concern the leadership and faculty of the seminary that a situation may soon arise where a board member does not only reject the basic tenants of our Christian faith but despises them? The 2018 Synod preempts these issues. Dr. Gustafson cheered the action of the 2018 Synod. Why is he now bringing back what he sanctioned and cheered last year? Why is he revisiting a settled issue? Have we forgotten the events that led to the “Snow Synod”?
One can only ask: President Gustafson, what are you thinking? Why are you pandering to the godless? Why are you going to Christ’s enemies for help? Why are you seeking aid and comfort from those who mock evangelical Christian beliefs?
“Toys-Я-Us” may be bankrupt, but “Athletes-Я-Erskine” is doing well in Due West — so far! Indeed, a student who is not an athlete is not easily found.
What is the prediction for this fall? Presently, a Head Football Coach has been hired and two assistant coaches; and, at least, two more assistant coaches are expected to be hired — and this while the college has no foreign language department (or the expectation of one), and this while there is an inadequate number of faculty members to deal with future enrollment needs, and this while present faculty members (both college and seminary) are awaiting relief from the draconian pay cuts of the Kooistra Days. Amazingly, funds are found and allocated for coaches, coaches, coaches!
Nevertheless, the administration is jubilant with the expectation of 100-plus football athletes this fall, which should bring enrollment to the max of 700. Indeed, whatever is left of the historic “Due West Women’s College” is now a paragraph in the history of Erskine. The female dorms are being prepared to house male athletes. I understand housing off-campus is being sought for female students. Look for a male-to-female ratio of above three-to-one. Effectively, Erskine is a male athletic camp where one can also obtain a college degree — maybe. But, degree or no degree, the average student will leave the environs of Due West with a massive load of student loans.
To provide entertainment for the male-dominated student body, the administration has provided a women’s beach volleyball program. I suppose the beach on Lake Academic, west of the baseball field and just past where the bass boats are moored, will be used for matches (and, if you are not in the know, bass fishing is now a sport at Erskine). It is rumored about a coach has been hired, and she has asked for a barrier of barbwire and Concertina wire be setup around the beach in order to protect her players from the female-starved male athletes. I do not believe the rumors about the building of a wall with gun towers. Now, of course, I am writing tongue-in-cheek; nevertheless, a women’s beach volleyball program is now a sanctioned sport at Erskine. I suppose a coach will be hired. The Lord be praised! This is just precious!
Ruble, Norman, and Kooistra spoke of turning Erskine into an athletic camp; Gustafson has achieved it. But at what personal cost to his soul? Just after Gustafson was elected president, former board member Ms. Dody Morris hosted a dinner in Atlanta for Gustafson to meet friends-of-Erskine, and I attended the dinner. At this meeting, he was asked what needed changing at Erskine. He said a divarication between academics and athletics had occurred whereby athletic programs triumphed and academic program were withering; moreover, he said a reversal of the condition was essential for the survival of Erskine as a legitimate academic institution. Sadly, at this point, Dr. Gustafson appears to resemble a carpetbagger.
As a matter of fact, when Gustafson worked for former President Kooistra, this was one of the issues over which they clashed. As a matter of fact, in my presence (and two others) at lunch in Anderson, SC, Gustafson unequivocally stated if Erskine were to become an athletic camp there was no reason for Erskine to exist. Well, Dr. Gustafson, Erskine has become an athletic camp. Is there any reason for Erskine to continue? Do we now operate Erskine to the glory of God in order to compound athletic programs for less than stellar student athletes because each one brings revenue of about $20,000 per year in order to facilitate the paying of the salaries of some rather unremarkable coaches? Regrettably, Dr. Gustafson makes it difficult to trust his word.
At Synod this year, look for the proliferation of balderdash in the Erskine report. There are two things which will be shoveled on Synod’s delegates like fertilizer on a field in spring. The first is the idea of a Worldview Institute. This is a sort of think-tank for academically-minded students to think Christianly about apologetics, politics, morality, culture, and other subjects. But where are the academically-minded Christian students to be found for such an academically challenging program? At this time, it is very difficult to recruit non-athletes to a campus which is saturated with athletes. The balderdash about the Worldview Institute is about smoke screening Synod’s delegates. It is political candy. Gustafson is well aware Associate Reformed Presbyterian ministers are academically inclined, and a conversation about a Worldview Institute just may divert attentions enough to minimize hard questioning. In the words of the Wizard of Oz, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”
The second piece of balderdash is a program which makes it possible for an Erskine student to get both a BA from the college and a MDiv from the seminary in five years. This is a terrible idea if one is actually attempting to prepare ministers for ministry. However, ministry is not what this is about; the program is about grant money. Well, in the words of John Calvin: “Good luck!” I hear the congregations which make up the Erskine Seminary catchment are flooding the seminary office with requests for 22-year-old ministerial candidates.
The motion asking General Synod to restore the president of the quasi-Erskine Alumni Association is not only an act of pandering to the loud voices of godless alums, it also is an act of throwing-friends-under-the-bus. Last year when the motion to remove the president of the Alumni Association as a voting member of the board was brought to the floor of General Synod, the motion was not done without the concurrence of and the buoying up by the president. Yes, Gustafson knew what was taking place and said it needed to be done. Permission was asked and permission was given to those who brought the motion to the floor. Remember the motion was passed overwhelmingly, and followed by a standing ovation by the delegates. Why is Gustafson now retracing his steps?
Gustafson and the board are pandering to the members of the quasi-Alumni Association who (by way of their Facebook site) have made it abundantly clear they are opposed to the evangelical faith of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Dr. Gustafson and the board are now pandering to a godless mob in the hope they will give something to Erskine. So, may I be so bold to ask, what has been promised? However, if past performance is an indicator of future actions, they will not give much. One is a fool to trust the promises of these people!
As far as regular members of the board are concerned, they are vetted by General Synod’s nominating committee as to their willingness to serve on the Erskine board and their compatibility with the doctrinal standards of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. I know this to be true because I have gone through the process. Now, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is asked to accept a board member who has not been vetted by our committee on nominations. Interestingly, the members of the quasi-Erskine Alumni Association do not ask whether their president is a Christian, let alone whether he/she agrees with the standards by which other board members give assent. Essentially, this establishes two levels of board members. In the past, Gustafson has stated it is ludicrous not to expect board members to affirm the standards of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. If that is the case, why is he getting back in bed with the devil?
In these matters, personally, I feel a great sense of betrayal. As readers of ARPTalk are aware, I refrained from writing about matters regarding Erskine for a year. Because of what Dr. Gustafson told me, I felt compelled to give him space to do what he said to me he was going to do. He even said to me that I should not withhold my public comments and analysis if I saw he was leading Erskine in a direction which is contra to what we discussed. Yes, he invited my analysis and dissent. Well, I now feel compelled to write. I feel deep sadness. I feel I have been manipulated by one who called me “Brother!” I feel a great sense of betrayal, as do others who esteemed him highly.
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
I was not present for the discussion that led to the two petitions you mention, so I do not consider myself full informed. However, if your portray of the facts is accurate, then the solution seems simple enough. If General Synod is not in favor of the petitions, then General Synod should vote to reject them.
I have, however, been involved in the 3+2 degree and would like to make a few comments in light of your criticism. First, we are not the leading edge here, but the cow’s tail. TEDS, Southern in Louisville, and our neighbors at CIU (among many others) have had such programs for years. We are late to the game.
Second, the intent is not to produce 23 or 24 year old senior pastors, but to provide a stream of young men who can serve as assistants or associates while gaining the needed real-world experience, beyond mentoring that will occur during their academic studies, to enable them to grow into a generation of solo or senior pastors fully equipped for ministry.
Third, the program is not dependent upon grants, though the grants would help by providing an experienced program director to mentor the participants and to provide some additional scholarship support. (The program is a polished version of some policies we have been using for the last few years to facilitate a 5 year BA/MATS sequence.) The program will begin with or without foundation support and Erskine will not grow fat off the foundation money. I have seen the budget and it all goes into the program and the students.
Fourth, we are in a period when many of our churches cannot support a full-time pastor, and the trend is getting worse. Tent-making is probably going to be the wave of the future for many seminary graduates. With the reality of rising costs and declining support for full time ministers, it is critical to minimize the student debt burden, and shaving two full years (of tuition and room and board) off the academic process will do just that. In 2017, the NAE published a report on rural ministry noting that, 30% of pastors have over $36,000 in student debt. To put that in perspective, when I finished at Westminster in 1988, I had $7,000 in student loan debt and that included my college degree, four master’s degrees, and a PhD (about $16,000 in today’s dollars).
Fifth, admission into the program will not be automatic, but will involve an application and vetting process, a minimum Grade Point Average, and satisfactory participation in a cohort mentoring group. S
Sixth, with the accreditors finally listening to their members, we are now able to reduce the unnecessary redundancies between, for example, a junior course in church history with Dr. Evans at the college and a junior course in church history with Dr. Johnson at the seminary. This has never made any sense, but for years we were hamstrung by outdated rules governing advanced standing and transfer credit. I hope this sheds light on our real intent.
Dear RJ Gore,
Thanks for the comments.
First, I don’t think I said ETS was at the leading edge of the 3+2 program. Whether from TEDS, Southern, CIU, ETS, the cow’s head or the cow’s tail, the idea is bad if the task of a seminary is developing ministers for ministry in real-world congregations. Interestingly, a few years ago I seem to remember one of the advertising points for ETS (and a legitimate draw I cheered) was the maturity of the student body. As I remember, the average age of a graduate was 37. At this point, RJ, I am fundamentally opposed to the 3+2 program.
Second, like you, RJ, my educational background is checkered. We did not take the traditional path. Some of the most beneficial courses I took at RTS/Jackson were courses I had in college or grad school. Those courses were not redundant. They were a new look through the eyes of a 30 year old who had a wife, a child, had worked in the real-world, and who was focused on ministry.
Third, I agree with you that ETS will not grow financially “fat” off the program. I am willing to bet money against holes-in-donuts the demand will be small. Most of the ministers I know did not go to seminary directly from college.
Fourth, if the cost of seminary today is too exorbitant, perhaps a new model is needed. I think we are agreed that the model we have now is not serving the church well.
Once again, RJ, thank for the comments. As I analyze what you write, to a great extent, you have made my point.
I hesitate to write to you about the recent ARPTalk because one always hesitates to publicly criticize a brother. However, while I will refrain from commenting on major issues within your report simply because time does not permit me to do that. Some of us are too busy about the work of the Kingdom to have time to respond to every ill-informed statement that is published.
My position as Erskine Seminary Provost demands that I speak to that and correct ARPTalk misinformation concerning the proposed five-year BA/M.Div. dual degree program. First, this idea has been and is being thoroughly researched by a group composed of academic leaders from both Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary. Erskine people have been researching this degree for well over a year so far. We are not in a hurry to “roll it out” because we want it to be a good thing for the church.
First, this research was begun without any view to grant money was considered. In that regard, friend, you are just as wrong as it is possible to be and you owe us an apology. It is not “balderdash.”
Second, lest there be any misunderstanding, from the beginning we have said that this is not a program for every student. It never was intended to be a “quickie” lightweight degree. It is a rigorous opportunity designed specifically for exceptionally bright students. They would fulfill requirements for the degree by carrying overloads and would at all times be under the oversight of Erskine faculty members and their respective presbyteries. The degree is to be fully accredited by the two accrediting agencies to whom Erskine Seminary is accountable. In other words, as is currently our standard, there is no more highly accredited seminary degree anywhere in the world than a degree from Erskine Theological Seminary. We are not going to compromise that.
Third, in considering this degree, we are joining with other fully accredited academic institutions, including many of the world’s finest schools, who are already offering a joint BA/MDiv program.
Fourth, while it would never be our intention to turn loose unprepared ministers into the church, as is implied in this ARPTalk, the fact is that this degree does provide the church with exceptionally qualified young ministers whom we would expect to be well mentored both during and after their graduation. Moreover, it is structured in such a way as to save them (or perhaps their parents or churches) two years tuition.
Chuck, my friend, the world of seminary education has changed greatly from the time when you and I were in school together. You would be amazed at what good seminaries are able to do today. Have you heard about these amazing new contraptions called, “computers”? They are wonderful. They provide students a wonderful way to connect with one another as well as their professors when they are not in the classroom, or even in the country! Indeed, because of this new Information Age technology, it is possible for a student living under, for example, a repressive Moslem controlled regime that is closed to Christian missionaries to receive a fully accredited Erskine theological degree. Indeed, God willing, we will graduate just such a student this year. Now, imagine what God might do in the Moslem world if we can just train enough students in those countries where the name of Christ cannot be spoken publicly!
So, as I said, it is not the world into which we were once graduated. It is a far more challenging world, a world that desperately needs to hear the gospel through people adequately trained to present it. We can sit here and try to do ministerial training as it used to be and ultimately die. Or we can rise to the challenge “For Christ and His Church!”
Now, friend, let me suggest that you consider this matter further and open your eyes and your heart to what God is doing at Erskine Theological Seminary!
For Christ and His Church,
Dear Leslie Holmes,
Thanks for the comments.
BTW, how much grant money is involved?
So far, friend Chuck, not a penny!
Dear Leslie Holmes,
Thanks for the comment.
You answered a question I didn’t ask. I didn’t ask how much money has been received at this time?
I asked “how much grant money is involved”?
Brother Chuck, I appreciate your willingness to get in the line of fire for truth. Reading the history of the ARP, there seems to have been a time in the past when the leadership in the ARPC had enough spiritual discernment and plain old common sense to know better than to accept that money. God help us!
Bobby Alford – Inactive (sort of) Elder, WOARP Church.
Dear Bobby Alford,
Thank you for the comment and the kind words.