There is a time to tear down, and this is it.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner
It seems an odd thing to stick with you, but I can actually remember it very well. It was a muggy may day as I slogged up the hill to the Kerr building that day in mid-May. I walked into the office corridor and waited while Dr. Scott Sunquist, the newly minted President of Gordon-Conwell finished a meeting with a group of pastors from Uganda who were there to inquire about sending pastors over to study at Gordon-Conwell. They left and the new president-elect welcomed me, a graduating fourth now minted Master of Divinity and Master or Arts in Church History walked in and had a seat. We exchanged the usual pleasantries, he knew about Mercersburg so we talked about that for a bit and then I asked him the hard question I had really come to ask: “Where were you during the #BlackatFuller movement?” I asked. “I was there supporting the students and when the president would not listen, they went public” was his reply. We talked about the need for decolonializing the curriculum, how one of Gordon-Conwell’s biggest issues was that it did a great job teaching international students to preach in American Churches, but a poor job of training the African pastors who came on scholarships how to minister in and Ugandan or Nigerian context. Finally, as an Alumni I encouraged him to support and work with Dr. Emmett G. Price III who was the founder and head of the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience. For some reason his response to this encouragement is the one thing I do not remember from that conversation but Io recall him telling me he absolutely would.
Flash forward two years, continuing to build a friendship with Dr. Emmett Price III who has shown us the love of Christ, encouraged us through the first great ministry trial of our young ministry and who our first born is named after (Erin Price) and I receive word from him that he has not only been fired, but fired via email. The exact language of his email was that of his contract not being renewed. As many of you have seen in the Washington Post and Boston Globe, Dr. Price was the only fully-tenured Black professor at Gordon-Conwell and just like so many before him he was fired unceremoniously and without any just cause to do so.
It has become apparent after seeing at least one other of these same scenarios play out with one of the professors in the Hispanic Ministries program that Gordon-Conwell has a pat answer for these scenarios, when students or alumni inquire as to reason for a firing of any professor it is always the answer Dr. Sunquest gave in his letter the Washington Post quotes, it is always financial, there is never a substantive answer and once again his explanation for firing a fully tenured professor who had brought a grant of up to 1 Million dollars to the seminary through The Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience is purely financial. Even though other professors with less experience and less clout were promoted to positions that likely included salary increases. But again this is a financial decision.
Before you tell me to be gracious, consider that this has been an ongoing problem, not just within faculty decisions. When I was on Student Association the decision was made to cut supper from the meal plan and end the practice of serving a community meal from 5-7 in the Kerr dining hall. I was also working for Sudexo who managed the kitchen at the time doing food prep and washing dishes. Not only did students mourn the loss of another community space and time to gather (it was our launching point for evening social activities) but it also created a hunger problem on campus as, dorm students lost their evening meal. They installed nice kitchens in our dorms to compensate, but not everyone could cook or afford ingredients and so some went hungry, we even had to lock up certain things at night because students began stealing from the kitchen to compensate for the lack of an evening meal. If you have watched my Sermon: “The Prayer of Bartimaeus” I actually elude to this in the sermon’s application section. When we inquired as to why this was happening….you guess it….”it’s financial” was the reason given.
Now, this and the firing of the Hispanics Ministry professor were done under the former administration but it looks now as though the new administration is determined to pick up right where the former administration left off with the same actions and the same pat answer. If you think I am putting Gordon-Conwell on blast for this, I absolutely am. They are not only committing injustices against tenured professors they are doing it against their students, their Hispanic students, now their black students and the whole student body.
Even while I was there with Dr. Price though it was evident that black students and black voices, as well as the voices of our sisters in Christ were diminished by the Seminary. By firing Dr. Price all they have done is add another mark against them by the Black students and their allies on campus and brought shame on the seminary in a time where tensions are already on the rise. I agree with the Massachusetts Council of Churches, I want to know the real reason why these things are happening, this feels as though now all that we worked so hard to achieve as students during my time there has been undone in one swipe of the keys. A time when our society is already so polarized and tensions so high, Gordon-Conwell has decided to light a powder keg and it will most certainly burn the institution to the ground.
As Alumni I left Gordon-Conwell hopeful, now I am devastated. I call on the seminary and its leaders to repent, to acknowledge that this is part of their history and tell the truth about why these things are happening. If the issue is financial this is a cold and calculating way that puts both the physical health of students and the mental and emotional health of its professors at risk. I also call on the board of trustees to ask Dr. Sunquest to graciously resign his presidency as he has not kept his word to the students and because one who has been in academics his whole adult life, he should know better. Between this and his comments on Fredrick Douglas last year he has likely lost the trust of much of the student body, especially among minority students and their allies.
I know he has certainly lost mine.
Finally I pray that reconciliation and justice can be done in this situation for those hurt and for those who have done the hurting. It is time to move beyond these petty dividing walls of hostility that Gordon-Conwell’s history has rebuilt, but which Jesus tore down and wants to tear down again in his flesh through his death on the cross. I pray that Gordon-Conwell can become a place where every nation, tribe and tongue has a voice and there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, but all are in Christ and through Christ are built up into one body. So that we might get a glimpse of the wedding feast of the lamb here on earth, up on the Hill in South Hamilton Massachusetts.
But there is a lot of work to do to get there, and right now they are headed in the wrong direction.