Doug Petersen, pastor of Boyce Memorial ARP Church in Kings Mountain, N.C., and a former trustee of Erskine College and Seminary, attended the called meeting of the ARP General Synod in early March at which the Synod voted to dismiss some Erskine trustees, appoint a new interim trustees board to serve temporarily until the June ARP General Assembly, and to adopt some new bylaws.
A South Carolina judge has issued a preliminary injunction barring the ARP from implementing any of the actions approved at the special meeting after three original trustees “dismissed” by the ARP and the Erskine Alumni Association filed a lawsuit.
Petersen spoke at the March meeting, and was asked to put in writing the major points of his statement.
His conclusion: “The action of the Special Commission on Erskine and the called meeting of the General Synod are so egregious, the violations of Synod’s own Standards and Directives are so numerous, the treatment of the trustees of Erskine is so arbitrary and cruel, and the consequences of these actions are potentially so catastrophic for both Erskine and the ARP Church that they call for immediate redress.” He called on the ARP Executive Board of Synod to exercise its emergency powers to suspend the actions at the called meeting, refer the matter to the ARP Ecclesiastical Commission for Judiciary Affairs, and recognize as the rightful Erskine Board of Trustees the board in place before March 2.” Indeed, that Board is still serving by order of the court.
Petersen’s is a detailed, policy-specific critique of the ARP actions.
His points include: 1) The investigation by the special commission went outside the bounds of its charge; 2) By appointing himself a voting member of the commission, the ARP moderator “departed” from the ARP Manual of Authorities and Duties (MA&D) and created a conflict of interest; 3) The commission’s preliminary report cherry-picked quotes from many years of ARP General Synod minutes to reinforce its claim that the minutes included “long-standing concerns” while it over looked many instances in the minutes when Erskine College and Seminary staff, faculty, and administration were affirmed; 4) The commission’s preliminary and final reports “engage in sweeping generalizations and employ highly opinionated language… .”
He said he has received messages both affirming and criticizing his statement. He knows his statement was presented to the ARP Executive Board, but has heard nothing in response. He was asked to write out his thoughts as spoken in March, he says, because it did suggest “a way out” of the tangled denominational and academic situation in which both the ARP and Erskine find themselves.
The ARP is “a big family,” he says, and the Erskine situation has frayed relationships among proponents of the differing viewpoints on the actions taken by the ARP leadership.
Petersen told the OUTLOOK that the denomination had never dealt with a situation like this before and didn’t know how to deal with it. “I think we stumbled into a minefield,” he said. His statement was an attempt to find a way to deal with the situation “without triggering any more mines than we have to.”