Beliefs

Stanley Hauerwas drops out of General Theological Seminary lecture series after controversy

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has decided to not to give a series of lectures he was supposed to give at General Theological Seminary. Photo © Duke University, Photography by Jim Wallace

(RNS) Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has declined a series of lectures he was scheduled to give at New York’s General Theological Seminary in November in the wake of the crisis roiling the school.

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has decided to not to give a series of lectures he was supposed to give at General Theological Seminary. Photo © Duke University, Photography by Jim Wallace

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has decided to not to give a series of lectures he was supposed to give at General Theological Seminary. Photo © Duke University, Photography by Jim Wallace

On Wednesday (Oct. 8), the Christian ethicist said he does not want to get in the middle of a controversy involving the resignations or firings of eight faculty.

Two weeks ago, the eight faculty members quit teaching classes and attending official seminary meetings or chapel services until they could sit down with the Board of Trustees.

Hauerwas, who is professor emeritus of divinity and law at Duke Divinity School, said he pulled out of the lecture series so he would not appear to take a side.

“I was looking forward to going because I’ve known of General for my whole academic life, but I had never been there. At one time, it represented a commitment to an Anglo-Catholic tradition with which I’m very sympathetic,” said Hauerwas, who attends an Episcopal church in Chapel Hill, N.C. “I think the situation is one of deep pathos; it’s just pathetic. I’m sorry that I’ve gotten caught in it.”

GTS, the flagship seminary that has produced generations of bishops and noted theologians, is the only Episcopal seminary overseen by the national church.

“It’s been the seminary of record for the national church,” Hauerwas said. “Symbolically what’s happening there has reverberations throughout the church. I think that’s the primary reason people are taken aback by the fact that in some ways what has happened is the death toll of General Seminary. What student is going to go there?”

During the turmoil, the board said it accepted the faculty resignations, but the faculty members said they never resigned.

Hauerwas was invited by Joshua Davis, one of the professors whose positions were terminated, to give the seminary’s Paddock Lectures, but Hauerwas wrote Bishop Mark Sisk, chair of the GTS board, to bow out.

“I have not wanted to do anything that might be interpreted as ‘taking sides’ because I am on the outside of this situation,” Hauerwas wrote on Friday. “However, I am aware that the faculty has made a constructive response that might offer a way forward. As things now stand, if there is no possibility of reconciliation, I would find it very difficult to give the Paddock Lectures.”

Hauerwas said that Sisk responded, saying the board is seeking a way forward.

“This is truly sad if not actually tragic situation,” Sisk wrote in his letter.

Hauerwas also wrote to the seminary’s dean and president, the Very Rev. Kurt Dunkle, on Monday, saying he saw little hope in a constructive way forward.

“Bishop Sisk’s letter in return offered little hope that a resolution would be possible between the faculty and administrators,” Hauerwas wrote. “I very much regret that this is the case.”

Dunkle has yet to reply to Hauerwas. A representative for the seminary said Dunkle would not be available for comment.

The eight faculty charged that Dunkle shared a student’s academic records with people who were not authorized to see them, which would violate federal academic privacy standards. The faculty also said he speaks in ways that have made women and some minority groups uncomfortable on several occasions.

“As a longtime faculty person, I can’t help but feel sympathy with the faculty,” Hauerwas added. “I do not know enough about the details of their concerns and about Rev. Dunkle to be able to say I’m on the faculty side. I think it was extremely unfortunate that their letter was phrased in a way that sounded as if they were resigning from their positions.”

Some 900 scholars from across the country have signed a letter of support for the eight faculty, saying they will not lecture or speak at the seminary. Noteworthy scholars who signed the letter include James H. Cone of Union Theological Seminary, Gary Dorrien of Union Theological Seminary and Francis Schüssler Fiorenza of Harvard Divinity School.

During the 2013-14 school year, GTS enrolled 70 students and had $10.6 million in expenditures and $27 million in investments, according to the Association of Theological Schools, an accrediting organization. GTS had faced about $40 million of debt that it was attempting to pay down through property sales and redevelopment.

YS/MG END BAILEY

About the author

Sarah Pulliam Bailey

Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a national correspondent for RNS, covering how faith intersects with politics, culture and other news. She previously served as online editor for Christianity Today where she remains an editor-at-large.

18 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • I think this whole thing is an underhanded way for the church to sell the property for millions of dollars and fill the Episcopal church coffers. GTS is over.

  • As an Episcopalian, I am saddened and outraged at what has happened. As a schoolteacher for almost forty years, I am appalled that such an emergency situation is not immediately addressed by the trustees. I cannot believe that the Dean is trying to hold on to his power and position in the face of his behavior, or that he would be allowed to do so. In regular secular academia, any one of Rev. Dunkle’s remarks and attitudes would be grounds for immediate dismissal. How can this behavior be accepted as a part of religious academia (inappropriate, condescending talk and language, and refusal to meet with faculty who are begging for help)? The world is watching. Would Jesus himself turn away from a group of people in crisis? Would a parent? Would a principal or school board? Isn’t this the Christian Church of God we are talking about? Get real, get off your high horses…..for the sake of the future of the church and of the millions of Christians whose names and public faith are being tarnished by such selfish ungodly behavior. Do not make us embarrassed to be Episcopalians.

  • Conservatism and “traditional,” male centered theology strike a potentially lethal blow to GTS. Make no mistake, this is an underhanded move by the board to secure future funding from conservative benefactors who will remain nameless and will refuse to underwrite a shaky investment, ie, progressive theological views.

  • But that is the thing. When it comes down to it and what led to the boards actions, has nothing to do with Dunkle’s comments. This is about power and control. These professors wanted control of things the board could not give them. They did not like changesvin the schedule Dunkle made – or it could be they did not like that Dunkle could make those changes (because I remember talk of similar change when I was a student there beforevDunkle) The entire injustice thing and the comments Dunkle made, which remember are only allegations they made, we have not heard from Dunkle and they have not been proven, is a distraction from what this is really about – power. Not many people would support them if they just focused on the power play. It would not make for interesting news either.

  • I want to also add. I was a student there until I was unjustly dismissed by these very people. Ironic yes? I have seen a side of these people that few have. They treated me very badly – many of the very things they accuse Dunkle of. I was left homeless and destitute after being given two days to vacate my dorm. I lost hundreds of dollars worth of property. By this “Christian” school. I was discriminated against, bullied and intimidated.

  • The Episcopal Church continues to demonstrate its near-complete absurdity. Shori couldn’t have done more damage to the church if she had had the devil for her mentor. And now this–eight faculty contra their president. I don’t know who is to blame because I don’t know all the facts. But THAT it happened is enough to show how irrelevant the Episcopal Church is today.
    Sunday at church, the sermon was “descriptive’, ie, not existential; there wasn’t a smile on anyone’s face–and this is “church?”

  • The biggest “shaky investment”? Theological education, of any flavor/type. With all churches shrinking, “Progressive” and Fundiegelical alike, these places are teaching a skill that’s in rapidly declining demand-and they charge much too much to do it, too.

  • There is no room in leadership of any type of institution let alone a religious
    one were the Dean of that institution is not accountable simply because of
    his position. Power is a very corruptible vise that needs it checks and balances
    which in this case seems to have failed those that needed it the most. Its
    a sad day for a religion struggling to finds its was in todays society.

ADVERTISEMENTs