Theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas has become the latest high-profile figure to become embroiled in the controversy surrounding New York's General Theological Seminary (GTS).
Eight members of the faculty there have made allegations about the management style of the dean and president, the Very Rev Kurt Dunkle, saying that it was authoritarian and that he had made inappropriate sexual, racist and anti-gay remarks. They withdrew from teaching until their concerns were addressed but the GTS issued a statement saying it had accepted their resignations, which they denied they had offered.
Hauerwas, emeritus professor of divinity and law at Duke Divinity School, was scheduled to deliver the GTS Paddock lectures. However, he wrote to Bishop Mark Sisk, GTS board chair, to withdraw. He said: "I have not wanted to do anything that might be interpreted as 'taking sides' because I am on the outside of this situation. However, I am aware that the faculty has made a constructive response that might offer a way forward. As things now stand, if there is no possibility of reconciliation, I would find it very difficult to give the Paddock Lectures."
Bishop Sisk responded saying that the situation was "sad if not actually tragic"
Hauerwas wrote to Dean Dunkle, saying: "Bishop Sisk's letter in return offered little hope that a resolution would be possible between the faculty and administrators. I very much regret that this is the case."
He told Religion News Service: "As a longtime faculty person, I can't help but feel sympathy with the faculty. I do not know enough about the details of their concerns and about Rev Dunkle to be able to say I'm on the faculty side. I think it was extremely unfortunate that their letter was phrased in a way that sounded as if they were resigning from their positions."
A letter in support of the eight faculty members' "right to strike" and promoting a teaching boycott of the GTS has been signed by more than 900 academics. It says: "We ask that faculty and administrators honour the boycott until the eight faculty whose positions were terminated are reinstated to their former positions. We furthermore ask that the Seminary vow that no retaliation or other negative actions, explicit or implicit, direct or indirect, be visited upon the supporters of those eight faculty members amongst the staff or student body at the General Theological Seminary."