Tuesday, May 5, 2015

An Open Letter to the Fourteenth President of Simpson University: Dr. Robin Dummer

I am writing this as an open letter in order to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” in that my criticism of Dr. Larry McKinney (former president of the Simpson Universityy), Dr. Robin Dummer (formerly interim and now permanent president of the university), the board of trustees, and other key leaders of Simpson University has been aired publicly. My beliefs have not changed about the difficulties we have faced, and still face, as a result of their previous and present actions and inaction. But I am still seeking an effective treatment, even cure, of the conditions my alma mater/employer faces. Are some right to see this as hopeless idealism? Perhaps. But I am who I am, and I believe I am where I have been called to be. On that basis, I felt compelled to appeal to the same Spirit seeking God’s will for Simpson University through others who are who they are, where they have been called to be. (Romans 13:1 applies here, I belive.)

Dear Robin,

I am writing to offer my sincere congratulations on the occasion of your appointment to be the fourteenth president of Simpson University. As gratifying as such an honor must be, I can only imagine that it comes with a very strong sense of the weight of responsibility, especially given the university’s recent history and present circumstances. Therefore, in what follows, I hope you find the encouragement I intend.

In each of the first two congregations I served, I was not their first choice as pastor. The first, Dragerton Community Church in East Carbon City, Utah had no other candidates available to them, and they still voted against calling me. They had good reasons. And their decision might have stood if they had been offered more than one other option.

The Rev. Richard C. Taylor, Sr. (as in our campus’s “Measell-Taylor Residence Hall”) only shared the details with me years later. He had presented two alternatives to the church board. They could call this “too-young” pastor (And I was too young—twenty-two years old, having followed Jesus Christ for just over four years at the time), or he could padlock the church and send “the dozen who’d run the other two hundred off” over to join the Baptists across town. That was what the District Executive Committee had voted to have Rev. Taylor do as District Superintendent. And he would have, except that there was this Bible college graduate who insisted that he felt called to the East Carbon City church. So, rather than close the church, they allowed me to serve them. Recently, thirty-two years later, the current pastor’s son—a Tozer Seminary student—reported that the church perseveres as a strong Christian witness amidst what is still a very difficult community in the Book Cliffs of central eastern Utah.

My perception today is that any successes in those first two congregations depended upon my naïveté. I was simply ignorant of much beyond Dick Taylor’s admonition: “Love the Lord, love your people, and the rest will all work out.” I had far more choice in my fate than did Esther, but I still found myself blessed to be where I was, as I was, “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14) in both of those “redevelopment” churches.

My perception of you as the fourteenth president of Simpson University, holder of a doctorate in Education, and the author of a dissertation covering this institution’s history, cannot support any claim to naiveté. Neither can Simpson’s board claim ignorance of the pattern that has been followed, and which is now further ratified by their decision to appoint you after two years of service as interim president. And yet, I still believe that you are who you are and where you are “for such a time as this.” Here’s why.

You may be familiar with a phrase representing the antithesis of naiveté, “Only Nixon could go to China.” Those who would have been most critical of the president’s attempt at détente with the world’s largest communist nation were the very ones who were most supportive of Nixon. Not just a conservative Republican, remember, he was the U.S. president who had begun his congressional career on the House Un-American Activities Committee, famously persecuting suspected communists, among whom Alger Hiss was best known.

I believe the corollary holds up: “Only Dummer could lead Simpson to repentance.” I believe that you recognize the duplicity inherent in the university’s contradictory positions. Dr. McKinney asserted that we could not follow the standards of Christian community (or even of the grievance process as written into our own handbooks) on the grounds of our obligation to the contract and employment laws of the state. Today, though, we continue to assert that we are excused from our obligation to follow the laws of the state on the grounds that we are a Christian community. (Need I mention that this also runs counter to declaring the university “a business providing educational services?”)

Dr. Dummer and Dr. Betty Dean, Board Chair
I believe that you see the conflicting positions clearly. I believe that you understand that a recommitment to integrity must form the foundation of the desperately needed financial appeals to our constituency. I believe that you do have the support of the board that appointed you, and could therefore also weather the storm that would accompany any reconciliation of the divergent positions we have taken. And I believe that you would find greater support among staff, faculty, alumni, and other supporters when it becomes clear that there is a single direction in which we are being invited to pull together.

I hope that such repentance will be in the direction of renewing our heritage of Christian community, ethics, and ministry. The liabilities of such a course are clear. It would require us to address justice and mercy in humility with those who have been ostracized from our community for a variety of legal, political, and/or economic reasons. If for no other reason than the potentially expensive restitution that would be required, I accept that repentance might lie in a different direction.

The alternative seems far more reasonable to those whose paradigms are formed through secular business involvements. It could be possible to eventually unify the university in moving toward the business model you have advocated in the past. That course, however, if it were pursued with integrity, has its own liabilities. It would require us to come out from behind the skirts of the ministerial exception and face the judicial consequences of our previous actions.

Either choice would be difficult. But to continue on our course of duplicity would be disastrous. If there is no change, we cannot effectively appeal for support in prayer, fund-raising, and recruitment from a constituency that highly values integrity and ethics. They are eagerly waiting to hear that we are pulling together in the same direction. I also believe they are anxious to see us pull together in the direction of being “The Christian University in Northern California” as more than our marketing slogan.
So, because I believe you are who you are and where you are “for such a time as this,” I offer my congratulations and my support in prayer for the man I believe can fulfill the calling incumbent in this moment: “Only Dummer could lead Simpson to repentance.” I pray that you do. And I commit to praying for you, either way.

Your servant for Jesus’ sake (II Corinthians 4:5),


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