ARP Synod Seeks Clear Solution to Erskine Impasse – and Settles for the ‘Best Available”

While a lot of questions remain unanswered, and some of the business didn’t get finished, the ARP Synod’s rules forced them to go home at 9:00PM

In a full day of business meetings, the 206th Meeting of the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Church gathered at the Bonclarken Conference Center once again on Thursday, June 10.

Before the Synod were three major pieces of work – responding to two Memorials proposed by Presbyteries dealing with Erskine-related issues; acting on the report of the Erskine Board and dealing with nominations for the Erskine Board, as well as all the other Boards and committees. Oh, yes, they also had to elect a Moderator for next year’s Synod.

A full report of the day’s actions will be published in a future story. In this article we will focus on the matters affecting Erskine College and Seminary.

The first item of business was the introduction of the new President-Elect of Erskine. Search Committee Chairman, Ruling Elder Gordon Query, introduced Dr. David Norman.

In his brief remarks, Norman committed to carry out the Synod’s recommendations to Erskine through three major strategies:
· Developing and maintaining academic integrity
· Ensure financial sustainability
· Stress service to the poor through both providing education and service.
It was moved and approved to spread his remarks on the minutes.

The next item was the one considered by most delegates to be the one taking up the most time – Report of Board of Trustees of Erskine College and Seminary

Recommendation Number 1 concerning the 2011 budget was approved including a change from the Board’s request for $575,000 in operating funds, which had been reduced to $531,000 by actions taken on Wednesday in approval of the Stewardship Committee report was placed before the synod for discussion.

A motion from the floor was made that the $531,000 approved allocation for Erskine only be distributed when the Board of Erskine repudiates (meaning an action taken by the Board and placed in the minutes) all past, present and any future efforts to sue the church as an unjustifiable action contrary to 1Corinthians 6.

During discussion, the Principal Clerk exhorted the delegates not to applaud after speeches are made for or against the motion.

After a question, the Moderator ruled that the amendment was in order since the amendment only affects ‘distribution’ of funds; the earlier ‘allocation’ of funds still stands.

An amendment was made to include the clause to the effect that ‘all funds received by Erskine designated for support of ongoing lawsuits against the ARP synod be returned to the sender.’ This motion was approved.

The Synod then was recessed for lunch and after some intervening business, attention returned to Erskine. The motion before the Synod was as follows:

That the $531,000 approved allocation for Erskine only be distributed when the Board of Erskine repudiates (meaning an action taken by the Board and placed in the minutes) all past, present and any future efforts to sue the church as an unjustifiable action contrary to 1Corinthians 6, and that all funds received by Erskine designated for support of ongoing lawsuits against the ARP synod be returned to the sender.

After additional debate, the adoption of the amendment failed on a voice vote.

The main motion to approve the budget request of $531,000 was approved.

A recommendation coming for the Moderator’s Committee on Erskine for a season of prayer and fasting for the ministry of Erskine College and Seminary throughout the denomination was approved by voice view.

A motion from the floor was made that an independent audit committee be appointed by the Moderator to work with the board and its auditors to ensure that financial matters are in accord with legal requirements and if IRS irregularities are discovered, that they be reported to the IRS. The motion was withdrawn and a new motion was made that the Erskine auditors be asked to carry out this investigation, report to the Erskine Board, who would in turn report to the Executive Board of Synod.

The next motion was read by the delegate proposing the action, the Moderator asked if there was any discussion. With no one seeking to speak, a voice vote was taken and within minutes from introduction to vote, the motion was approved. This motion turned out to be one of the key decisions of the day.

The motion reads as follows: The Synod asks the Board of Erskine College and Seminary to work with the new president to specific plans for addressing the issues raised by the Moderator’s commission (actions from March 3) – including financial integrity, conflicts of interest, integration of faith and learning, board training, and other issues raised by the Commission – to develop a plan for reducing the size of the Board, and to bring these proposals before the Synod at the June 2011 meeting for the Synod’s consideration.

During the next section of the meeting a series of motions, substitutes and amendments came to the floor, with none being approved. One sought to reaffirm all the actions of the March 3 special meeting of synod. One sought to acknowledge the current Board as the ‘duly elected board of Erskine’. But before long, in the middle of a parliamentary muddle, the Orders of the Day to recess for supper was reached.

During the meal break, two delegates – one the attorney for the College and the other an attorney serving on the Moderator’s Commission – remained behind to discuss and work on a possible compromise. It was their impression, shared by many of the delegates, that the Synod needed a compromise to bring some definition of the current situation.

When two attorneys, representing opposite interests, are able to sit down and quietly and calmly iron out a proposal that would be overwhelmingly approved with an hour after the delegates returned from supper, it is clear that something special happened.

As the meeting was called to order, the Moderator asked that all matters left over before the supper break be postponed to hear the compromise motion. The following motion was then put forward:

The Synod states and establishes that, contingent upon the plaintiffs dismissing the lawsuit against the General Synod of the ARP and the General Synod not being required to pay any of the Plaintiffs attorney’s fees, the Erskine Board of Trustees as now constituted (taking account of the change in its composition with the seating on July 1 of the Trustees elected today by Synod) is recognized by the General Synod as the duly appointed and constituted Board of Erskine College and Seminary.

Further, the General Synod states that it has no intention to remove said Trustees pursuant to its March 3, 2010 recommendation number 2 which named an interim board.

During the debate on the motion, the maker of the motion argued that 3 of the 4 main recommendations made by the Moderator’s commission and approved at the March 3 meeting remain in effect, and in effect had been reaffirmed earlier in the date by the motion directing the Erskine Board to develop methods to institute changes in those areas.

Of course, not all parties agreed with the compromise. Some felt that it meant the force of the Moderator’s Commission had been lost. Others felt that the Synod should not be making any statements and wait for the courts to issue their judgment. At the end of the day, the motion was overwhelmingly approved. However, a dozen or more delegates indicated their desire to express their dissent from the action.

A few motions were dealt with following the approval of the motion, until one was made seeking Synod to make a statement that those men who participated in filling civil suits were guilty of sin and should be called to repentance. This motion elicited a considerable amount of discussion.

In the midst of that discussion, a delegate was recognized to speak and he ask that there be a ‘Quorum Call’; which means the Synod must determine if the required minimum numbers of delegates were present. The count required 114 ministers be present, and that at least one elder from 73 different churches be present.

At the first count, the quorum failed with only 70 churches being represented. The moderator than announced that the Synod would be recessed until 9:00PM (about 30 minutes) and then another count would be taken.

At 9:00PM another count was taken and the required quorum failed again with insufficient churches represented. By rule, the Synod was immediately adjourned.

It is expected that the Executive Board will take appropriate emergency action to complete any required action from the remaining eight reports that had not yet been dealt with.