Friday, March 12, 2010

An Open Letter to Mr. J. David Chestnut, President of the Erskine College Alumni Association, Regarding Erskine College-v-ARP Synod

This letter, which was sent electronically, was precipitated by the decision of the Erskine College Alumni Association to join in the action Erskine College-v-ARP Synod. For more information on that, click here. --DC+

Dear Mr. Chestnut,

My name is Drew Collins and I am a 2002 graduate of Erskine Theological Seminary who is canonically resident as a priest in the Diocese of the Southeast of the Reformed Episcopal Church, a part of the Anglican Church in North America, and currently serves as Chaplain for a hospice in Charleston, South Carolina.

I have fond memories of my time at Erskine Seminary and am thankful for the education that I received there as well as the godly leadership, care, and compassion that was modeled for me and my fellow students every day by the faculty and staff at both the seminary and at Erskine College. Since graduating I have recommended both Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary to a number of prospective students. I also played an active roll in promoting the Doctor of Ministry program among my fellow clergy in the Diocese of the Southeast resulting in several of them, including my current Bishop, becoming students; classes for Erskine Theological Seminary in the Charleston area are now offered at the headquarters of my diocese in Summerville. I have sought to be supportive of an institution that greatly blessed me and I continue to do so.

It was with deep sadness and profound concern, then, that I learned of the decision of the Board of Trustees of the Erskine College Alumni Association, on behalf of the entire membership, to join in the action Erskine College-v-ARP Synod, unilaterally filed by Mr. Scott Mitchell, Esq., Chairman of the Board of Trustees -- an action that the Board of Trustees as a whole refused to join. Quite frankly, sir, I resent you speaking for me!

The called meeting of General Synod acted out of concern for the mission of Erskine College and Seminary. It was bold action and some would argue -- perhaps with some validity -- that it was too drastic; I tend not to think so, but as a non-ARP I really have no say in that matter. I do know that good and sincere Christians, men whom I count as fathers and brothers in the faith and whom I got to know and respect when I was a part of the ARP Church, could be found on both sides of the issue.

But once the portion of Christ's Church responsible for Erskine College and Seminary -- the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church -- spoke, and spoke so decisively, one would only expect all of her churchmen to respect that decision to at least some degree. What one would not expect -- at least what I certainly didn't expect -- was to find Christians suing Christians in a civil court! St. Paul wrote most disapprovingly about such actions:

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. -- 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 (ESV)

While I claim no say in how the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church governs itself, as an alumnus of Erskine Theological Seminary I do have an interest in that institution. As an alumnus I protest most vigorously the entry into this litigation by the Alumni Association, do hereby disassociate myself from this action, and urge you and the board to reconsider and repent of this violation of the passage of St. Paul's letter to the Church at Corinth.

May our Sovereign Lord guide and direct all concerned with this and, even in this, bring glory to His name.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Charles A. "Drew" Collins, Jr.+ (M.Div. '02)

P.S. The mere fact of this lawsuit is a scandal to the Church of Christ -- regardless of who "wins" in court, the witness of Christ's Bride before the world will be damaged. For an outstanding discussion of this I would warmly commend to you "What is at Risk in the Erskine Lawsuit" by the Rev'd Fred Greco, a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and a former practicing corporate attorney, which may be accessed at:


  1. Excellent, Drew. I myself sent an email to the Director of Alumni Relations at Erskine last evening. I heard back from him; let us know if your letter receives a reply.

  2. Drew, my wife and I withdrew from the EC Alumni Association. Thanks for your post.

  3. Drew — Wrong on every count. The Synod proceeding was dishonest and unethical. The court will so decide. Love the pipe.

  4. Drew,

    I believe I Cor. 6 refers to frivilous lawsuits. This is not a trivial matter at all. What would have happened if the Church had the opportunity to file a suit in Nazi Germany? would you oppose that action as a Christian. The people involved at the genesis of this process completely abandoned Scripture and assassinated the character of many good people!
    Jay West

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  6. Well, Jay, just whom would the Church have sued in Nazi Germany and where would they have sued them? St. Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 6 have to do with believers suing believers in the civil courts, not with believers suing just anyone (i.e., if the Roman Catholic Church [or another church] wanted to sue Planned Parenthood for the wanton slaughter of the pre-born then they would have my applause and support; although I think Morris Dees is a grandstanding charlatan, I applaud the lawsuits that were brought on behalf of several black churches --victims of arson -- against the Ku Klux Klan, greatly diminishing their power).

    Y'all in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church are members of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council and have been for a number of years. If the actions were as heinous and un-Christian as has been alleged then could they not have been appealed to for redress? That would have been, in my humble opinion, a case of rightful appeal perfectly in keeping with 1 Corinthians 6.

  7. Drew,
    Like you, I am not an ARP. I grew up in a PC-USA church, and often attended ARP services. Like you, I am an Erskine alumnus. Regrettably, this matter has led to a lot of heartache on both sides. I agree with you that this would have been better settled without having to resort to civil court, and I hope that re-appraisal will lead to a settlement within the confirms of the Synod or perhaps as you suggest, in the North American Presbyterian Council.

    For the record, however, here are some facts: As I understand it, the Moderator's Commission presented its findings to the Erskine Board of Trustee'sand the Synod in an untimely fashion that was not in compliance with Synod Rules. Despite that, the Trustee's agreed with much of the Commission's findings, as I do. The Board asked to be allowed to implement the recommendations over a period of time in accordance with their By-Laws. This reasoned call for a thoughtful process was rejected by the Commission, who then took the matter to Synod.

    The resulting dismissal of the Board is clearly in violation of SC law. I'm no lawyer, but I have yet to see anyone challenge this statement. Could the Commission, who are represented by Ken Wingate, an expert in non-for-profit law, not foresee that civil legal action might result from their course of action? Who then bears greater responsibility for this being thrown into a civil court proceeding?

    I have read with interest and concern the letters from the SAFE students ( as well as letters from students who respectfully disagree with the views of SAFE ( I have posted to and read postings on the Erskine Alumni Facebook page:!/group.php?gid=114898180624

    and the postings on the Facebook site of Supporters of the ARP Synod and the Moderator’s Commission. Further I have read Charles Wilson’s blog and articles in World Magazine, Gairney Bridge, and the Ruling Elder. In short, I have tried to get as balanced a view of the issues as I can. If you have not done so, I urge you to take a look at these sites for yourself.

    I will tell you that after pondering this for some time, I find myself on the side of the College Board of Trustees and its Alumni Association in this matter. I believe in the rightness of the Board’s actions, but am saddened by the resulting schism between the Synod, the Erskine Board, and the College’s Alumni.

    To quote your opening letter to the Ruling Elder: “I have fond memories of my time at Erskine Seminary and am thankful for the education that I received there as well as the godly leadership, care, and compassion that was modeled for me and my fellow students every day by the faculty and staff at both the seminary and at Erskine College.”

    My questions to you are these: Do you think that Erskine College is at this time so far off the mark of being the model of a Christian institution of higher learning that we all desire it to be? Doesn’t Erskine already successfully blend Christian ethics and belief with a great liberal arts education? And if that is the case, would it not have been better for the Moderator’s Commission to have accepted the duly-appointed Board’s recommendations for how to approach change? The College and its Board, alumni, and supporters should always strive to make it an even better adherent to its mission, but I for one am not so uncomfortable with where it is right now that I would have supported the Commission’s recommendations, which have led us to this juncture.

    My sincere thanks to you and to all of those who participate in discussions concerning the future of Erskine College. Let us all hope and pray that Erskine College emerges stronger from those discussion and our actions.

    David Danehower

  8. I want to thank you, David, for the charitable, courteous, and genuine tone to your message. Kudos, sir.

    I actually was an ARP during my last year of college and most of my time in seminary -- I had to take some time off before returning and completing my work -- having entered the ARP church when I began to prepare to train for the ministry having come to the conclusion that the PC(USA) --into which I had been amalgamated against my 12 year-old will when the Presbyerian Church in the United States (the old Southern Presbyterian Church), into which I had been baptized and which I had joined, ceased to exist on 10 June 1983-- was not a church in which I would minister in good conscience. In the end, the draw of the Book of Common Prayer was too great and I have happily been an Anglican for ten years, a deacon since 2001, and a priest since 2003.

    I have followed the various site that you mention with much interest. Those who know me will tell you that for all of my various shortcomings an deficiencies, failing to keep up with my Facebooking is NOT one of them (all too much the contrary!). While all of the sites are interesting, I must candidly state that the tenor of those on the "anti-Synod" side (if you will) is frequently lacking the charity and courtesy that you exemplify. For instance, a cursory check of the Alumni For Erskine -- A Christian Liberal Arts College group on Facebook reveals a Mr. Aldon Knight referring to the leadership of the General Synod of the ARP Church as "true idiots," a call from the same Mr. Knight for the ARP Church to "cleanse itself of this hard-right minority" [at or greater than 60% hardly seems like a minority to me], an accusation by a Miss (Mrs.?) Susie Brown that the ARP Church is misogynistic because they do not ordain women to the office of elder (one wonders what she would think of my own Reformed Episcopal Church, which does not ordain women bishops, presbyters, or deacons) and an implication by Dr. Jay West that those on the Commission are Pharisees. Those are just from the past three days and that is hardly an exhaustive list. I do not deny for a second that there has been stridency on both sides, but there seems to be a particular nastiness among many of the defenders of the status quo; I'll not even mention the Alumni for an Independent Erskine Facebook group that has as its stated purpose the secession of Erskine College and Seminary from the ARP Church (sort of a Furmanization, if you will).

  9. My entire Erskine experience was at the seminary, so I cannot knowledgeably comment on the College, which is where a liberal arts education would take place -- a theological seminary being by definition a professional graduate school concentrating on one area of study (theology) rather than a comprehensive liberal arts curriculum (the assumption being that almost all students will have that prior to entering).

    No one has denied that it is possible to go to Erskine and get a Christian education -- the oft-maligned Ken Wingate said as much in his radio interview -- but the concern seems to be that Erskine had become a bit too much like Sewanee or Furman -- that it was possible to go through four years there and avoid getting a Christian education. If that is true, then that is a concern.

    When I read of a student who is told by a professor that he would see him in Hell and that he is a "liar for Jesus," then I can see how that would be a concern.

    The focus of my open letter, and my primary concern, is that the Alumni Association that purports to speak for me and all other graduates has violated the admonition of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 and taken their Christian brethren (and in fact Christ's own Bride, the Church) into a civil court. I find that profoundly troubling.

    I certainly hope and pray that Erskine College and Seminary will emerge stronger from all of this. God bless you!

  10. A slight self-correction. When I wrote:

    When I read of a student who is told by a professor that he would see him in Hell and that he is a "liar for Jesus," then I can see how that would be a concern.

    I misquoted the professor. He instructed the student to "Enjoy hell."

    I regret any confusion.