PC(USA) Updates

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Update:  Initial Rulings on our Remedial Complaint at the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC)

8.18.20

Dear SFTS Community,

I write to provide an update on our ongoing negotiations with the Committee on Theological Education (COTE) of the PCUSA about our post-merger status. If you have been following developments this Spring you know that COTE is contending that SFTS ‘no longer exists’ and ‘is no longer Presbyterian’. Our position is that not only do we exist but we continue to meet each and every criteria for Institutional Membership in the denomination. In addition, we note that the church law is clear that COTE does not have the power to remove SFTS from membership, only the General Assembly can do that. Since the General Assembly took no such action at its meeting two months ago, SFTS remains the PCUSA related seminary it has always been.

In my last communique on this topic I let you know that we had received a signal from the PCUSA Co Moderators that they might be ready to help us move toward mediation with COTE. We were glad to get that news. We requested of COTE that we agree to delay the move toward a court date to give us time to try mediation. COTE agreed to mediate with us, but only after some initial rulings on our Remedial Complaint at the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC).

The GAPJC met Friday to hear arguments about preliminary issues (standing, jurisdiction, timeliness, etc). It was a sleepless weekend. Did we make ourselves clear enough? Would they agree we had a case?  This morning we got word that our complaint against COTE has survived the initial decisions and our case can proceed to trial.

Bottom line: the GAPJC said that if we can establish the facts as alleged in our complaint, then COTE violated the church's constitution. 

While no one relishes conflict between entities of the church, we are grateful to have a venue where our story can be told and heard. We will again ask COTE if it is prepared to mediate with us and, if they agree, we may be able to place on hold the proceedings before the GAPJC.  Either way, we are pleased to be getting closer to a resolution to the questions that have been raised about our seminary, and to the day a full-force practice of our calling will be restored.

Meanwhile, we are grateful for you all and for your love and support for SFTS.

With many thanks,

Jana Childers Signature.pngRev. Jana Childers, PhD

POST GA: An update on SFTS’ status as a PC(USA) Seminary

6.29.20

Dear Friends,

On the opening night of General Assembly, several Commissioners made a decently-and-in-order attempt to get SFTS ‘seated’ as a corresponding member of the GA, a right accorded to all PCUSA seminaries. However, the Stated Clerk ruled the amendment out of order. When pressed to explain, Dr. Nelson replied it was the custom of GA leadership to take the advice of COTE in these matters and COTE had reported that in the merger with the University of Redlands we had “been purchased” and had “dissolved” ourselves and so” did not exist”. We were not happy. The Stated Clerk was not happy. The General Assembly, already facing a compressed format meeting and with profound issues before it, was frustrated.

It was a painful start to a challenging meeting. However, over the course of the following week, SFTS “Friendlies” (Commissioners and other leaders supportive of SFTS) worked to better understand our detractors, to communicate our concerns and to seek out those willing to work for reconciliation. By the time we got to GA’s closing day, a way forward had been found; the new Co Moderators of General Assembly, Moderator Elona Street-Stewart and Moderator Gregory Bentley, had agreed to lead the way. In the last hours of the 224th General Assembly Moderator Greg announced that he and Moderator Elona would bring COTE and SFTS together to work out their differences, realizing – at least in my hearing – the 224th’s theme for the week and moving us “From Lament to Hope

So where does that leave us? SFTS is still a PCUSA Seminary. We fulfill every one of the criteria for membership. The 224th GA did not make a decision to change our status and, of course, we have not been purchased and we do exist. We look forward to sitting down at the table with COTE and the Co-Moderators and are hopeful that we will find a solution together.

Most of all, we are filled with gratitude for the outpouring of support over these last three months (if you are a newcomer, please see the back story) from SFTS alums and friends. Thank you for the letters you wrote on our behalf, the emails you sent, the phone calls you made. We will keep you posted in the weeks and months ahead about how the negotiations go and very much hope to have good news to report … soon!

In the meantime, we send our love. We hope that you are staying safe and sane. That you are fighting the good fight where you find it. And that you are enjoying the grace of our God, the God whose love is unfathomable and whose mercies are new every morning.

Grace and peace,

Jana Childers Signature.pngRev. Jana Childers, PhD

 

Brief Statement on SFTS and the PCUSA at General Assembly

6/3/20

We thank you for your attention to SFTS and its situation at the PCUSA General Assembly (224). It is a complex and confusing situation and we hope the materials posted here will provide some assistance in clarifying the issues. We do not expect all of the ongoing conversations about the institution's legal status to be resolved immediately, but it is our hope that a few key points can be addressed at this General Assembly:

We still exist.
We are still Presbyterian.
We are still training students for ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
We are still accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

The merger with University of Redlands complicated our institutional structure and made our legal name much longer. But we are still a school not, as some have claimed, a mere “program of study”.  And we are still Presbyterian. The faculty, curriculum, campus and students are the same as they were on the day before the merger took place.

 


 

THOUGHTS FROM THE COMMUNITY

"If COTE is still in conversation with SFTS and the UR, how could it eliminate SFTS from the list of institutional membership of PC(USA) seminaries? In reaching its decision to eliminate SFTS from the list of PC(USA) seminaries, the COTE repeatedly and deliberately flaunted due process – excluding SFTS and its supporters from participating in broad dialogue and exploration of the best option for the SFTS and the denomination."

—Yushin (formerly Yubang) Lee, Acting Executive Director of the National Caucus of Korean Presbyterian Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA)

“It is the wrong time for our denomination to be threatening the existence of one of its leading institutional expressions of struggle for equity for Black and LGBTQ Presbyterians. You should know that behind the murky defense of the actions affecting San Francisco Theological Seminary of the Committee on Theological Education as being all decent and in order is its threat to the continued existence of the seminary.  Though reduced in size, among its seven tenured faculty are two distinguished African American women scholars, unmatched percentage in any other Presbyterian institution outside its historic black institutions.  This is a result of more than 50 years earnest struggle by this seminary with the racism infecting all our institutions.  Is now the time for Presbyterians to threaten that legacy, rather than embrace and celebrate it?”

—Rev. Dr. Hugh Wire, Honorably retired member of the Presbytery of San Francisco

“I have had the pleasure of serving as pastor to St. John’s Church for the past 17 years. I have also served as the moderator of the Presbytery of San Francisco as well as many roles at the General Assembly (GA) and the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) denomination...Therefore I am surprised that a decision like the dissolution of relationship or change to covenant relationship between PCUSA and SFTS is not given an opportunity for discussion and discernment by the wider body at the upcoming General Assembly this June nor the wider PCUSA community. Does it make sense that a 150-year relationship doesn’t even get 150 seconds of docket time?

—Rev.Dr. Theresa Cho, Pastor, St. John’s Church, San Francisco

“The Committee on Theological Education(COTE) made the decision to remove San Francisco Theological Seminary(SFTS) from the list of PCUSA seminaries and submitted to report to the General Assembly for its approval. In short, it has caused not only legal and ethical but also theological problems. San Francisco was the mission gateway to Asia-pacific countries and SFTS has faithfully served for the Korean church for 130 years by sending missionaries and providing higher theological education thereafter. Numerous SFTS graduates actively dedicate their lives to the Korean church and society as distinguished leaders. “

—SFTS Alumni/ae in Korea

“From 1972 to 1983 I served SFTS as Vice-President for Southern California…I raised nearly thirteen million dollars for SFTS. I could identify several million dollars in gift annuities I raised from our  committed donors whose gifts were channeled to the Foundation for safe keeping. Most of these donors are now in the care of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
My point?  I do not recall one donor who would object to the merger with the University of Redlands and San Francisco Theological Seminary…I am eighty-seven years old and sixty-one of those  years as a graduate of SFTS. The inference: the accusers are fraudulently attempting to erase my years as a Presbyterian minister by erasing SFTS's identity as a Presbyterian school of the church, and steal its life line of funds.”

—John J Skelly, BD, 1959;STD, 1981

“I am not privy to the inner-workings of the PC(USA) and the current challenge, but it seems to me that there must be many, like me, who have benefited profoundly from the SFTS. To use Jewish terms, the SFTS has been a powerful force for the "sanctification of God's name" in my life, and the life of so many others. It is hard to believe that this is not consistent with the mission of the PC(USA). From my vantage point,  any move which weakens the SFTS would be a set-back for the forces of healing so badly needed in our fractured world.“

—Rabbi Dr. Joel Zeff  ישעיהו זף


Follow-Up Statement/Clarification from Rev. Jana Childers, PhD:

After I released my statement: "Agency of Presbyterian Church (USA) moves to excommunicate San Francisco Theological Seminary, denying due process," I received a "cease and desist" letter from an attorney representing the Presbyterian Foundation. The attorney alleged that I made false statements and that I defamed the Presbyterian Foundation. While I do not believe that my statement was, in any way, defamatory, I do agree that two corrections should be made:

(1) I stated that the Presbyterian Foundation "manages a number of SFTS' investments" and I stated that the Foundation holds funds that "represent millions of dollars of donations made to SFTS over the years." I am not an avid investor and I used imprecise language. I apologize for that. This would be a more accurate way of saying it: Over the years, the Foundation has received millions of dollars in donations that designate SFTS as the beneficiary. The Foundation has a fiduciary duty to provide SFTS with the proceeds of those invested funds. Despite its fiduciary duty, the Foundation has withheld funds and, we believe, broken the trust of donors while threatening to go to court based on spurious claims.

(2) I stated that the Foundation notified SFTS that "since you are no longer Presbyterians, we will be keeping your funds." While that statement accurately characterizes the gist of the notification, the Foundation did not use those precise words in that order and thus I should not have placed that in quotation marks.

Let me be clear: While I think the Foundation's actions have been shameful and wrong, I am committed to truth and fairness. Having now modeled what a person should do to ensure accuracy and fairness, I would welcome corrections from all the entities and individuals who have shared untrue and inaccurate things about SFTS and the University of Redlands.