A response to WORLD Magazine

In press release, Erskine College and Seminary challenges the content of a recent story

What Erskine is doing is not an easy task, but it is worthwhile. The 2011 ARP Synod commended Erskine’s trustees and President Norman, who was just completing his first in office, for their effective work. Again this year, the 2012 ARP Synod commended Erskine’s trustees and administration for being willing to continue the dialogue on these issues.

WORLD magazine recently published a “Web Extra” post at worldmag.com entitled “Separation of church and school: The struggle over the governance of Erskine College and Seminary continues” (June 8, 2012). That article has since been republished or linked by several other blogs and news services.

Since Erskine did not have an opportunity to provide comment or perspective for the original article, we would like to offer that perspective now in hopes of providing your readers with a more comprehensive and more accurate understanding of the facts regarding Erskine’s current and future relationship with the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP).

Since publication, some details have since been revised on the original post at worldmag.org, providing more accuracy. However, since those details may not be revised in all versions of the article, we address them below.

The article, both by its title and the general direction of the content, would give most readers the perception that by refusing to abide by “directives” from the ARP Synod, Erskine’s trustees and its administration are signaling their desire and intend to break away from Erskine’s founding denomination. One could also perceive that separation is also the prevailing desire of the ARP Synod

Unfortunately, this presents a somewhat skewed view of the current relationship between the ARP Synod and Erskine. More specifically, it misinterprets the events of the past two Synod meetings and the future intentions of Erskine regarding this relationship.

While consideration of alterations to the college’s governance to provide a process for the Synod to remove trustees from the Erskine Board were part of the content of the proposal, the motion of the 2011 ARP Synod was worded, received by Erskine, and acted on by the Erskine trustees as a request to consider and report back to Synod, not a “directive” to make changes to Erskine’s charter or bylaws.

The authority of the Erskine Board of Trustees to govern the college is clearly outlined in Erskine’s charter as well as the “Statement of the Philosophy of Christian Higher Education” provided by the ARP Synod. Both the ARP Synod and Erskine trustees understand that the Synod cannot direct the Erskine Board to change its governing documents.

By the time of the most recent meeting of the ARP Synod (June 5-7, 2012), the Board of Trustees of Erskine had, in fact, complied with that request. An ad hoc committee of trustees had studied the matter, reported to the full board, and the board had voted on a response, which was provided to Synod.

While the Erskine trustees concluded that it was wiser to retain the current governance structure rather than alter its charter and bylaws in the manner suggested, they provided a document that lays out the research conducted and reasons for that decision. Additional information then came to light, after the Erskine trustees’ initial response to the Synod was sent. Both the Synod and Erskine acknowledge this information requires more consideration.

Throughout this process, at multiple times in a variety of ways, including the official written communications and presentations to the assembled 2012 ARP Synod, Erskine’s trustees and President David Norman have made it clear that Erskine does not desire to sever ties with the ARP. Erskine values its unique relationship the ARP. Founded 175 years ago, Erskine was South Carolina’s first and now its oldest four-year institution of higher learning founded by a church.

The ARP Synod still maintains its vital and historical role of spiritual oversight and retains sole authority to appoint all Erskine trustees to the board. Erskine is laboring in earnest to preserve its long-standing relationship with the ARP, being organically and meaningfully connected to its founding denomination at a time when many colleges have long since cut ties or marginalized the relationship with their churches. Erskine Trustees and President Norman have consistently communicated this message to the ministers and elders that comprise the ARP Synod, to alumni, faculty, students, prospective students and families, as well as to the general public many times over the past two years.

During that time, the Board of Trustees and President Norman have worked diligently to address the ARP Synod’s concerns. The results have been significant revisions to Erskine’s bylaws, policies, and procedures that are designed to reinvigorate and accomplish Erskine’s mission to glorify God by equipping students to flourish as whole persons for lives of service through undergraduate liberal arts and graduate theological education in a way that is authentically Christian, academically excellent, intentional, and sustainable.

What Erskine is doing is not an easy task, but it is worthwhile. The 2011 ARP Synod commended Erskine’s trustees and President Norman, who was just completing his first in office, for their effective work. Again this year, the 2012 ARP Synod commended Erskine’s trustees and administration for being willing to continue the dialogue on these issues.

The motion referenced in the WORLD post was in two parts, the first of which was this commendation. The second part established a Synod committee that would continue to study additional information regarding the governance relationship and its structure as the Erskine board did the same. The issue at hand deals with both the feasibility and advisability of altering the governing documents of Erskine to provide a process for the ARP Synod to remove Trustees for cause.

In the article, the language and intent of the motion and comments made by its framer expressing his desired outcome were conveyed in a way that implies that the ARP Synod desires to pursue separation. While there may be individuals who hold that opinion, future separation was not at issue in the Synod’s action. The motion did not imply or suggest a future separation between the ARP and Erskine. Nor did it assume the outcome of the proposed joint effort to study the matter further.

The Erskine Board of Trustees and administration appreciate the ARP Synod’s continued commendations for our work and progress in recent years to ensure an academically rigorous and authentically Christian education for our students. Erskine welcomes the opportunity to continue reviewing the issues and concerns brought forward for further discussion into 2013.

Erskine values the mutually beneficial relationship shared with the ARP Synod and is committed to retaining it in a way that aids our respective missions. We at Erskine look forward to continuing to equip men and women with the knowledge and guidance necessary to pursue lives of significance in service to Christ and his Church, their families, their communities, and the world. This ultimately is something both the ARP Synod and Erskine can agree is worth doing well.


Editor’s note:  This press release was received in an email from the office of the Director of Communications at Erskine.  They are asking that any internet entity that reprinted or commented on the story in WORLD magazine would published this response.