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,
Rev. Jana Childers, PhD
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,
Rev. Jana Childers, PhD
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.
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.