By David Conner
An anxious question within the ARP church and among friends of Erskine regarding the “removal issue” was debated strenuously with hon- est convictions on both sides, and was ultimately resolved with civil and good relations, even though each side believed their view was in the best interest of the college and for the good of the church.
In 1890, according to Lowry Ware’s A History of Erskine College, 1839-1982, the decision was ultimately made to leave the college in Due West instead of moving it to Rock Hill – in order to be closer to the railroad.
In much the same manner, the Board of Trustees of Erskine College and Seminary recently debated a different “removal issue.” The 2011 General Synod requested the Board to consider granting the General Synod the right to remove trustees for cause.
The Board’s recent response was ultimately based on the potential and/or immediate impact to accreditation, legal liability imposed on the General Synod, academic freedom, and trustees’ independence to serve the mission of the Institution. You can read more about the Board’s full response at http://arpc.wordpress. com and http://news.erskine.edu.
Although understandable, it is also regrettable that the Board’s response to the 2011 General Synod requests has caused some suspicion that Erskine is planning to separate itself from the ARP denomination. That is ABSOLUTELY NOT the Board’s intention. The nearly 175-year relationship between the church and the school is historic, unique, mutually beneficial, and purposeful; without which one might legitimately ask whether the Institutional Mission Statement would still mandate that “Erskine is an academic community that exists to glorify God by equipping students to flourish as whole persons for lives of service.”
As the Board’s response indicates, “Erskine today perceives its religious and academic programs as parts of a whole that cannot be separated; approaching education from a Christian worldview and examining subject matter from a Christian perspective” and also that “the relational bond [between Erskine and the ARPC] is one that the Board enthusiastically desires to maintain and strengthen.”
That is not to claim that Erskine and its Board have, in the past, always been completely tireless in their pursuit of the mission. Indeed, the Board expresses its contrition in the response for past shortcomings and failures, and also acknowledges that communication processes with the General Synod may not have always been utilized to their best and highest capacity.
Nevertheless, the Board explicitly reaffirms the relationship and acknowledges that “there is far more that joins Erskine and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church than separates.”
Perhaps understandably, and regrettably, the Board’s response has also caused some suspicion that the Board is changing Erskine’s relationship with the ARP denomination. Here the Board’s response has both “no” and “yes” aspects.
The ad hoc committee that researched the issues and drafted the report for the full Board’s consideration undertook a serious and tremendous task. Bathed in constant prayer and carried out in the context of an ongoing discussion, the process included researching historical documents, studying legal and accreditation issues, meetings with accrediting agencies and consultants, and meetings with alumni and students.
Relevant charter language regarding Erskine’s ownership, maintenance, and operation, and the changes to the Charter over the years were closely scrutinized; the General Synod’s historical documents regarding the Institution were reviewed and considered; and the potential impact on academic freedom and on the Board’s independence, responsibility, and authority to accomplish the Institutional mission was researched and discussed at length. In the end, however, nothing in the Board’s response changes any aspect of the legal, historical, ownership, or control issues that are discussed.
But at the same time, “Yes.”
The Board expresses its strong desire for a relationship with the ARP – one that is different, in that it is characterized by a renewed appreciation for the precise nature of our historic relationship and is committed to healing the ways that Erskine and the ARP have been “out of sync” with each other in recent years.
The response specifically quotes the 1978 General Synod, which wisely recognized that, “The hope of successful achievement of the Christian goals and purposes of the college lies in mutual understanding, deference, respect, and a spirit of Christian charity between the Board of Trustees and the General Synod, with both bodies seeking prayerfully to function wisely and well within the blessing of God, whose we are and whom we serve.”?
David Conner served as chair of the Erskine board’s ad hoc committee whose work is discussed in the article. He lives in Greenville with his wife and two children and serves as an elder in the Greenville ARP Church.