One of my alma maters, Andover-Newton Theological School, is in crisis even as it is preparing to inaugurate the Rev. Martin Copenhaver as its president tomorrow, October 5, 2014.
The community learned this past week through a letter from Martin Copenhaver and one from the Board of Trustees (both arrived together) that Mr. Copenhaver had an affair, that he repents of his mistakes and the pain he has caused his family and wider community, and hopes the community will forgive him. The Board of Trustees expresses its support of the Rev. Mr. Copenhaver and desires to move forward “in grace,” choosing, as I read the letter, to use this occasion of repentance and forgiveness as a model for how healthy Christian communities behave.
I, and many other Andover-Newton graduates and students, are shocked and dismayed. We do not agree with the board’s decision, although there is no general consensus about what action would be best.
I am interested in public theology, social media, sexual ethics and clergy image and personae, all of which at play in this situation. Aside from my intellectual interest in this story, I have emotional loyalty to Andover-Newton Theological School, having earned my Doctor of Ministry degree there in 2011 and writing my doctoral dissertation on covenant and covenanting. And I am spiritually loyal to the body of Christ and the “beloved community” which includes non-Christian and non-Theistic Unitarian Universalists who are preparing for the ministry at Andover-Newton.
So I will say a word about all of these subjects in the interest of being helpful to the larger conversation, and as a way of offering a bit of pastoral ministry to those who are currently embroiled in the topic behind the semi-closed doors of Facebook and e-mail. There is no shame in being an institution dealing with human failing. Those of us who work in the church do it all day long and ourselves fail all day long. So I start from a theology of grace and a personal commitment to humor and intentional lightness of being: This has happened before. We are not players in a unique tragedy here. This is common human messiness.
I am first and foremost personally concerned about covenantal relationships –marriage being the most important one in this situation. It concerns me that my alma mater’s president should have violated the covenant of marriage for a long period of time, and that he and the board of trustees ask our forgiveness for that violation.