Thursday, October 2, 2014

Normal Enough

The following letter was emailed to the full Board of Trustees one hour ago.

Dear Trustees of General Seminary,

Yesterday I sent Bishop Sisk my two recent blog entries on what are trying times at General Seminary, where I was formed for the priesthood and given the freedom to work to build skills that enable me to excel at my first calling as communications officer for the Diocese of California. The links to the blog entries are here and here.

When I first read the faculty's letter of September 17 on Monday (which though heavily redacted by the seminary was released at least a day beforehand in full by the faculty) I was deeply troubled particularly by their claims of Dean Dunkle's sexist, racist, and homophobic comments — and the claim that he has desired the seminary to emphasize "normal people." My first reading of that comment made me think of a classmate who has planted a worshipping community, is a priest, and whose hair has never since I've known her been a naturally occurring hair color. She's normal enough for her manner of life to be found suitable to exercise the ministry of a priest, but wonder if she'd be considered normal enough to get Dean Dunkle's attention.

I am writing to you today not in anger; I've moved past some of that and it's what delayed my writing. I write in great sadness today seeing the faculty's claim — verified by a third party — of Dean Dunkle saying that he didn't want General to be known as the gay seminary. 1/3 of my class was gay men, but that leaves 2/3 who weren't. While the concentration may have been higher than some would have liked I would not be where I am if not for how General trained me.

I went to General Seminary from the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, not answering questions to my bishop or Commission on Ministry that hadn't been asked. As far as anyone in Alabama / Florida knew I was single (though probably no one assumed I was straight). I came to General terrified of my bishop "finding out" and constantly looking over my shoulder. Because of the support of my classmates and faculty I moved from a place to fear to not being afraid, knowing that God was going before me. My counsel at General and back home encouraged me in this path. I do not regret taking it.

I am speaking gingerly about the faculty's claims because for the time being they are that — however I know the faculty. I have only met Dean Dunkle on one occasion, and it was as he chatted through the distribution of the Eucharistic Elements at a friend's ordination, unaware or uncaring that some people around him might consider that a time for prayer, quiet, and respect — not for networking and catching up.

The faculty who have been removed from their posts are people I know and cherish deeply, regardless of how much I enjoyed their class (or didn't). They are people I know to be good people of faith in their lay and ordained vocations who take counsel with others before they act, who discern in community, and who truly have the heart of students at General in their minds. I do not mean to suggest that Dean Dunkle is not deeply faithful person; I do not have the experience to know. I trust the words of the faculty and the words of students who were at General him, however. My conversations with members of the class of 2014 encourage me to take the faculty at their word in their allegations.

In a slightly different vein, I have been fraught and upset with the tactics and habits of some members of the board in engaging this conflict via social media with individuals, as well as the general silence from the board in response to the materials made available from the (former?) faculty. As a communications officer I know very much that my personal blog and social media presences cannot reflect on goings on in the Diocese of California; despite any disclaimer I make, I speak with the authority of the bishop's office. 

It has been disturbing to know that trustees have reached out to classmates and asked them not to share their discomfort (and retraction of gifts as a result of said discomfort) about the situation in public because doing so seemed indulgent and judgmental, ignoring that good people with good hearts were working and this was tearing down the body — as though racist, sexist, and homophobic comments didn't do the same, and silence on the issues builds up the body. I have been disappointed to see a trustee suggest that a media story was moving farther away from the truth — although no one was saying what the truth was other than that the faculty were lying. I am appalled that the first reckoning of the situation from the board was a board member's reflection on Facebook.

In the 21st Century it is unfair and unreasonable for those in leadership to say "I can't say anything else, but you have to trust me," when those who oppose them are saying, "They haven't listened to or trusted us until this point, so we must make a drastic move." It is particularly unreasonable to make that request four and a half years after being on the brink of absolute financial disaster. The deafening silence — or perceived silence — is only drown out by unofficial communication made in one-offs.

I understand the value of confidentiality on sensitive topics, but silence is not these same as confidentiality and discretion. A statement about the need for confidentiality and an awareness of the situation — before accepting untendered resignations during the course of an investigation — helps people have faith, grace, and patience. Failure to communicate (and collaborate) does not work in the 21st century. Google is more powerful than "please don't talk about this" and redacted letters. 

[Update 2:02 p.m. PDT, 2 October 2014: the final paragraph has been removed for the purpose of blogging to protect students on the Close who are the most vulnerable to retaliation currently.]

Normal enough for God,

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
M. Div. '12

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Letter from the Class of 2012

Dear Bishop Sisk and the Board of Trustees:

We greet you from across the nation; we greet you in the midst of the good, good work God has called us to, but we greet you with heavy hearts as we read news from General. We know some of you well, but we know the faculty deeply, and our hearts break at this schism in the seminary. Having been students at other recent moments of crisis for General, we know well the potential this community has for finding common ground in the face of division. In our own time, the faculty supported us with great courage and love, and we hope to live into the example of our Lord, who is reconciling all things to God.

In the past four days we’ve seen accusations formal and informal thrown from one side to the other, and we are deeply worried that this division will have dramatic consequences for the future of General. We are looking for visible signs of Christian mediation in good faith, and have not found them. Each side seems to have taken an irreconcilable stance against the other, though they both profess their willingness to meet and be flexible. As the Trustees, you have the highest stature in the system at this point, and so, as loving alumni and alumnae of General, we urge you to find a way to mediate this conflict quickly. Meeting with all the faculty together – separate from the Dean – will show your intention to take steps in good faith, even if some of their demands seem untenable at first request. Meeting with the faculty together will also show your willingness to take responsibility for a situation that the two sides seem unwilling or unable to fix. We worry that letting this conflict entrench is leading to a loss of trust in the institution, and will further compromise the trust of current and future students.

We speak out of deep love, and we speak out of deep respect. We also speak out of Christian authority; as leaders of the Church, we need you to fulfill your obligation to the future of the seminary.

Matthew 18:15-17 seems to be brought out in every church conflict. We remember Jesus’ final words in the passage: “If the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.” We understand that some of you feel your trust and good faith has been compromised. Yet even the Gentiles and tax-collectors found favor and reconciliation at the table with the Lord. We urge you towards a similarly-inspired charity. We urge you not to write off one side of this conflict for the other. We urge you to creatively and willingly engage this conflict in order to secure the future of the seminary.

With loving, broken hearts,

The Class of 2012


The Rev. Chris Ballard
The Rev. Rebecca Barnes
The Rev. Greg Brown
The Rev. Cathy Carpenter
The Rev. Colin Chapman
The Rev. Amy Cornell
The Rev. Jeff Evans
The Rev. Howard Gillette
The Rev. Jadon Hartsuff
The Rev. Jean Hite
The Rev. James Joiner
The Rev. Brad Jones
The Rev. Cathy Kerr
The Rev. Suzanne LeVesconte
The Rev. Renny Martin
The Rev. Sandra McLeod
Mr. Adam McCluskey
The Rev. Joe Mitchell
The Rev. Brandt Montgomery
The Rev. Jean Mornard
Mr. Michael Mornard
The Rev. Sue Morgan*
The Rev. Matt Oprendek
The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
The Rev. Linda Racen
The Rev. Andrew Reinholz
The Rev. Jim Robertson*
The Rev. Sam Tallman
The Rev. Keith Voets
The Rev. Ben Wallis

*names added after initial release due to communication difficulties allowing consent before initial release

You can't always "Shake it off" Part 2

Instead of getting down to all the troubles of the world — and heaven knows there are plenty — I invite you to get down...

to this sick beat.

By get down, I clearly mean ground yourself in this time of trial at GTS, pray without ceasing, and try to have patience and charity.