Reflections On Andover-Newton Theological School, Or Why I Will Not Be At the Inauguration

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.

I assume that the president of a Christian seminary, unless he explicitly states otherwise, upholds the covenant of marriage according to the definition of two people who are faithful to each other unto death. Many couples have negotiated different terms to their marriage, but it is clear from Martin Copenhaver’s letter to the community that he and his wife did not do so, nor are they polyamorous. If they were, it would certainly be within their rights to allude to that and ask that the community respect their privacy. Non-monogamy within marriage is one commonly negotiated between spouses. I do not object to non-monogamous married people serving in leadership roles in the Church. As a never married feminist, however, I do question the privileging of marriage as a widely-regarded marker of maturity. I have seen the preference given to married ministers in the search process, for instance, and have had my own maturity or worthiness questioned because I am not married.

I am one of fourteen offspring of my father and his three brothers, and the only one who never married. The other thirteen have all been divorced. All of them. Marriage is not a natural talent in my extended family. I deeply respect those who do it well, and cheer on those who attempt it at all. It is a most demanding spiritual practice.

For me, knowledge of the president elect’s violation of his marriage covenant is a revelation of distressing facts about his character and religious integrity. How do I, or the wider community, forgive a revelation? This confuses me, and feels like a misdirection of my attention, which I would like to keep on whether or not I can trust Copenhaver as an individual of good character.

Because he has served on the Board of Trustees and been involved with the school for a long time, we have actual information about the Rev. Mr. Copenhaver’s character. People on the ANTS board know him. Ostensibly, they admire and respect him.  I would rather have had the board write to the wider community about their firsthand knowledge of  Martin Copenhaver’s good character than preaching to us about grace and forgiveness, which are not as germane to Copenhaver’s ability to do the job as is his reliability and integrity. The letter reads to me like a revival meeting, with tired, sweat-soaked preachers trying desperately to evoke the power of the Holy Spirit among a dazed and silent people.

The Holy Spirit most certainly is at work here. She is at work in truth-telling and blowing fresh air through harmful secrets. To force the Holy Spirit of forgiveness through a bellows and into community when it has just been knocked over by truth is inauthentic at best and manipulative at worst. But I forgive the Board of Trustees, as I have the compassion and experience enough to know how exhausting their work these past weeks must have been.

The central role of the covenant in Western religious thought is that God chooses us to be God’s people. In the covenantal theology of the Congregational Way (of which both the Rev. Mr. Copenhaver and I are descendants; he as an ordained United Church of Christ minister and I as an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister), God gathers congregations together so that they may “walk in His ways as are known and shall be made known” to those individuals, who have been made a “people” by entering into covenant with each other and their God.

A seminary is not a church, and there are ecclesiastical questions about what kind of ministry a seminary president really has. It is not exactly pastoral, priestly or prophetic — the three traditional roles of the parish minister — and no one in the community has said if the Rev. Martin Copenhaver is under review for ministerial fitness by the ecclesiastical body to which he is accountable as a UCC minister. (A 2011 case that seems to provide a precedent is reported here). I think it would have been wise for the Board of Trustees to wait and postpone Copenhaver’s inauguration until those questions had been answered and any ministerial review conducted and concluded. This is practical information that the community deserves to know before being counseled to forgive.

It matters to many of us in the community that this information came to light after a third party threatened to make the information public. It matters to many of us that the affair went on for four years, and that it ended so recently. It matters to many of us that rather than resign, the Rev. Mr. Copenhaver offered to resign and therefore left the decision in the hands of a volunteer board who was probably very tired, very inclined to want to be able to trust him, and that is mostly not clergy. Clergy have a particular stake in this decision because it is we who suffer most the public’s scorn when we behave in ways that validate their sense that religion is a special haven for hypocrites.

It feels so good to be able to forgive. It is so Christian to forgive. But as I write this, on the Sabbath eve of Yom Kippur, I am reminded of the differences in Jewish and Christian teachings on forgiveness. In Judaism, you cannot forgive someone for something that was not done to you.

I cannot forgive Martin Copenhaver because it isn’t my place to forgive him. I am not married to Martin Copenhaver and cannot forgive him for committing adultery. That open question lies between him, his wife, and the person from whom he accepted love, romantic energy, comfort, emotional support whose contributions to his life can never be honored in public. Again, as a never-married feminist, I take this moral failure perhaps more seriously than any other. I have been propositioned many times by married men (including clergy) and am very well-acquainted with entitlement too many married feel to female attention, comfort and support. I have always been vocal about my own resentment of such emotional selfishness and physical greed.

It has been made clear that the long term relationship the Rev. Mr. Copenhaver had while married was not with a parishioner or intern under his pastoral care, and therefore the relationship does not fall into the category known as sexual misconduct. For some, this is reassuring. For me, it says a lot about our low expectations of religious leaders that we should find it occasion to breathe a sigh of relief that our ministers are having kosher extra-marital affairs. Sad commentary.

From the moment I heard the news, my first thought was not about sex but about lies. How many lies does a person have to tell to his family, his spouse, his staff, his congregation in order to conduct a long term extra-marital affair? Too many to count. To live in such deceit requires impressive powers of compartmentalization, and I would wish for Martin Copenhaver a period of recovery from such a long, bad internal practice.  I believe that time away from important leadership roles are necessary in such recovery, and I am troubled by the Board of Trustees’ lack of recognition of that fact.

We talk of clergy burn-out all the time in the ministry. For some, clergy burn-out looks like depression and isolation. For some, it feels like a desert. For some, it takes the form of alcohol abuse or illegal drug addiction. For some, a heart attack sounds the alarm. For some, it looks like an escape from covenantal obligations  in a romantic relationship. In rushing forward with the Inauguration, I feel that the Board of Trustees is forcing a dangerously exhausted star back onto the stage. “Get out there and dance!” This does not look like grace. This looks like enabling and exploitation of a career-driven pastor who has very recently driven his car off the road and into high weeds, and requires time and privacy to get it back on the road.

Like almost every other seminary in the nation, Andover-Newton desperately needs funds. The Rev. Martin Copenhaver’s most recent tenure — and a long and very successful one — was as Senior Pastor at a very large and very wealthy congregation in Wellesley Village, Massachusetts. He is a talented fundraiser.

Many have suggested that the options for Mr. Copenhaver’s future with Andover-Newton are either judgment or forgiveness. This is a false and distracting dualism, and I am embarrassed by the simplicity of the arguments of those who claim that asking for Copenhaver’s resignation is non-Christian and “judgmental.” They speak of casting first stones and quote Jesus.

In the gospel passage during which Jesus admonishes an angry mob that they should only throw rocks at the woman caught in adultery if they themselves are without sin, he was taking the side of a powerless woman who had no other advocates present and was about to be executed. The Rev. Mr. Martin Copenhaver is no less a vulnerable child of God than that woman caught in adultery, but he is not at all without power or without advocates. He is a gifted and well-loved professional who has a long and esteemed ministry among people who know his good works as well as his fallible human aspect. If he takes time away from leadership in order to better attend to the strengthening of his faith, his marriage, his spirit, his joy and happiness, that should not be regarded as a punishment or failure by any community except one that regards any career path but a strictly vertical one as a failure.

There are many secular ideas and anxieties about job security and career paths being woven into the community’s reflection on forgiveness and reconciliation. This trend can be seen most clearly in those who conflate forgiveness of Rev. Copenhaver with his right to remain in the job of Andover-Newton president. In the Christian tradition, forgiveness does not guarantee any worldly honors. Those who are reconciled with the covenanted community may worship within it and receive Communion. I personally welcome and embrace Martin as my brother in community even as I question his fitness to represent a seminary I want to be able to unequivocally and unashamedly speak well of and support as an alumnus and internship supervisor.

In our Congregational tradition, ministers are called by a vote of the congregation. The church’s by-laws specify by what percentage of a “yay” vote a congregation may extend the call to the new minister. Again, a seminary is not a church, but no minister who wants to serve well would accept a call from a divided church, even if they technically have the percentage of votes to get the job. Andover-Newton is a divided church right now.

It is not judgmental or un-Christian to resist the urge to move immediately from knowledge of someone’s long deceit to warm “forgiveness” so that one’s seminary president can be inaugurated as the official head of the institution. In the Congregational Way, forgiveness of an individual who has sinned began with a confession before the congregation, but did not conclude there. It is possible to forgive someone but still not feel that they are the best possible person to represent one’s institution in the top leadership role.

Finally, I am interested in this moment as an analyzer of clergy image. I have seen Martin Copenhaver preach and lead worship, and he fulfills every physical attribute that most New Englander’s have in their mental image of Trustworthy Pastor. I am proud of Andover-Newton Theological School’s commitment to studying and teaching anti-racist/anti-oppression theologies of justice, and think it legitimate in this situation to examine the ways most members of the community have been socialized to respect the power and authority of able-bodied, white, heterosexual, married men in the Church. We are all responsible for understanding unconscious needs and scripts that are being activated here. Andover-Newton has a large international student body for whom these unconscious associations are not in play. I crave their perspective but have not had a chance to hear it.

No one has had sufficient time to hear anything. That is how shock works in a system. I will not be attending tomorrow’s Inauguration out of respect for the community’s shock, anger and legitimate unanswered questions, out of respect for the ministerial fitness review process that I believe is warranted here, and as a protest against what I feel was a premature and immature plea for forgiveness on behalf of a fairly sequestered body of busy volunteer leaders that is responsible for the fiscal well-being of the seminary. I do not blame the board for its decision; I simply think it was the wrong one. They have made their decision, and communicated it to the wider community. Now it is time for us to respond, and I hope we will.

God be with us all, and move in our community as holy wisdom.


[Note: All of the details I have shared here have been confirmed by current students at Andover-Newton Theological School although they were not all included in the letters from the Rev. Copenhaver and the Board. All of the points I make in this post are distillations of points I made in a community conversation in the virtual Town Hall of Facebook the day the letters came in the mail to most of the community. I was contacted privately by a number of alumnae who knew I had this blog and asked me to publish my remarks for easier reading and sharing, and I obliged them.  – VW, 10/6/14]










37 Replies to “Reflections On Andover-Newton Theological School, Or Why I Will Not Be At the Inauguration”

  1. Thanks Vicki for putting your voice to this issue. This needed to be said. You “hit the nail directly on the head.” – Colleen

  2. Your paragraph about lies is particularly powerful. I a also concerned about the judgment involved in determining it was safe to apply for a public position while holding this secret and all those lies, particularly when the Rev. Copenhaver had to know the wounds the ANTS community suffered over a sexual misconduct case not very long ago. What kind of care and concern were shown, and are being shown, for students, alums and faculty in the process of choosing to apply, and accepting the call to be the President? What kind of care and concern has been shown by choosing to remain in the job? His capacity to compartmentalize will remain a concern for me as I hold the ANTS community in prayer.
    Martha Spong (M.Div. 2002 – and friend of Karla’s)

  3. “It is possible to forgive someone but still not feel that they are the best possible person to represent one’s institution in the top leadership role.”

  4. I’m grateful for your thinking, writing, sharing. I’ve been copying and pasting whole paragraphs, giving you credit, of course. I second Martha’s appreciation of your writing about the compartmentalization necessary for lying, and the need of time to recover from such compartmentalization. I also like your compassion for the board and all involved. What I like best is that I think what you wrote can be applied more broadly, to other breaches of trust. I know that when a breach of trust is so public, it triggers off other breaches of trust, public and private. I want to remember that so much of the emotion raised around this breach of trust belongs here, but also to past breaches of trust, similar facts or not. Your writing reaches back for me to other breaches. Lastly, I have a hope for myself and our communities and congregations, that we cling not to right or wrong, but take the healing time to identify with each party in turn to name what we recognize in ourselves so we may know/hope/learn more clearly how to walk in the light and in covenant. Thank you, Victoria.

  5. Thanks for this post, Vicky. It’s very clearly written and you express many of my thoughts on the subject matter.

    I’m wondering about Mrs. Copenhaver. You didn’t mention her or whether or not she has forgiven her husband or plans to divorce him or is “standing by her man” at least for the moment. I suspect you don’t know but, even so, I’d love to hear your thoughts. [I want to respect her privacy and hoped to do that by not speculating about her feelings, intentions or actions. I wish her well, more than I can express. – PB]

    I’m thinking that, with all the shenanigans going on at EDS, GTS and now ANTS, there has to be something in the baptismal water.

  6. Thank you for your thoughtful analysis of this sad situation. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I was at ANTS — Fall 2012 when a well-respected and beloved professor was removed for crossing boundaries. The explanation given then was essentially we must practice what we preach and teach. We went through that experience as a “beloved community” and the healing process came from within, not without. The Board is forcing the forgiveness issue — not something that can be done. It demeans this beautiful and humbling process of return to rightness with God and community. [I was remembering the situation in 2012, too. No one expects our institutions to be perfect but it is fair to expect them to be consistent. I was very upset to hear the news of the sexual misconduct at ANTS but I felt like it was handled in a responsible and covenantal way that would allow everyone involved to do the work they needed to do.- PB]

  7. Thank you for this thoughtful, well-crafted and clear post. You have put into words what my heart has been feeling all week. I am not an alum, but I care.

  8. That is the meanest fucking thing I have read in a while. You don’t know this man’s life. If he is seeking forgiveness, it is between him and his wife. Who are you to judge?

    The idea of a minister acting this way. When Christ came upon the crowd ready to stone the woman taken in adultery, what did he do? Did he say, “We must forgive her, but that forgiveness guarantee any worldly honor like getting out of her stoning.”

    Without worldly consequences forgiveness is empty, means nothing. Forgiveness is just empty breeze if it doesn’t effect the world.

    We all need forgiveness for something.

    Who are you to cast the first stone?

  9. Vickie,

    I appreciate your ability to see the deeper issues and name them. I also appreciate how you prayerfully considered the many voices in our Social media thread the other day. I do hope for a resolution that has some expectation of accountability and virtue restitution.

    Blessing my friend for your prophetic voice.


  10. This was helpful. My initial reaction was that this was not an issue or at least not necisarily one of necisarry concern. But when you framed it in terms of how burn-out can look in the lives of various clergy that helped. I was a bit troubled to learn that he had already been on the board which did add a whole new layer in what all was at play here.
    Here was the thought that came to me on reading this. Suppose in just such a situation and supposing there is strong support for the candidate- what if instead of just giving lip service to the need for growth and self care as we proceed with rejecting a candidate and perhaps at the adjudicatory level suspend credentials etc.- The hiring body agree to a year long interim or extend their interim with the expectation of a 6 month review and reaffirmation or resumed search process. (there is a sentence for you)
    [Thanks, Ralph. I am always in favor of creative and courageous ideas that help people get time, space and freedom that they need to be humanly vulnerable and be professionally responsible. I consider talented leaders a resource of the institutions they serve, and think that boards need to be good stewards of human resources as well as fiscal ones. When good pastors burn out, succumb to addictions, and otherwise drop their basket, it is fair and right to do a review of their fitness to serve in that capacity. Probationary or interim terms seem like a fair option to me when such a review is underway. It will be interesting to see what happens next. I wish everyone good and wise decision making. Very hard situation. – PB]

  11. President Copenhaver has been “on the job” since June; he has been our president for four months now. Tomorrow’s inauguration isn’t something that changes his status as our leader, but is rather the public, formal recognition of the change in leadership that happened at the beginning of the summer.

    And since the Board and the Faculty, after review and discussion, have decided to trust and support him in the role that he was hired for, it is entirely appropriate to not cancel this event on such short notice.

    I don’t have nearly the detail or understanding of the situation that those who made the decisions have, but I have faith in them to have made the best choice in a difficult situation. I wonder, though, were some of the facts presented in this blog originate. In none of the official communication or meetings which I’ve attended have the duration of the affair been stated or even alluded to, nor has the mechanism by which it came to light.

    If the Board is too close to President Copenhaver to be able to hold him properly accountable and use good judgment in this decision, then they were wrong to ever have hired him: It is the Board’s role to hold the President accountable, and this revelation changes nothing about that situation.

    Yes, the revelation has shock value. But given the decision to not fire the president, it is now crucial that the Board demonstrate their faith in their decision. While I believe it was a brave, and difficult, decision to retain President Copenhaver, I fully understand and support the decision to keep the inauguration ceremony as originally scheduled.

    Finally, I wonder how this blog is adding to this conversation. It is the first time I’ve seen any of the details aired in public, and the only hit I see in a Google search that references this incident. It is a brave, and not insignificant choice to break such news to the world beyond ANTS. May something good come of it. [Since the news broke to the wider community beyond the board and faculty, Facebook and e-mail have served as the virtual Town Hall for community conversation about it. The conversation I have seen there has been fair and thoughtful, if occasionally emotional. It is also the only place I have seen the ethical insights of feminist and AR/AO theologies applied to the situation. I was asked by half a dozen or so members of the wider ANTS community to take my contributions that first appeared in Facebook threads to a more accessible location so that they could easily be shared and responded to, and so I did. It is not surprise to me that all of these requests came from women clergy of long experience and excellent professional standing, whose experience in ministry has been impacted by the entrenched sexism in the Church. As happens in any community, people shared information that was revealed at meetings on campus, and confirmed. Everything I have posted has been confirmed by those who have heard it directly from the leadership or from Martin Copenhaver. Much of what I know about the situation, I have not posted here because the facts are not public or generally known. – PB]

  12. So much of this is between Martin and his wife. Her voice is not heard here, and it’s not for us individually to hold him accountable. It’s not up to us to speculate or repeat hearsay (as I’ve seen you do on Facebook) on the particulars of the affair. These things are not known to us, and it is incredibly hurtful behavior towards his wife. You do not speak for her. [Where did I speak for her, Anonymous? I do not, nor do I repeat hearsay on Facebook. For you to make that accusation here anonymously is highly unethical. My name is on everything I post, which holds me responsible for it. Where’s your name? – PB]

    This issue is between Martin, his wife, and the UCC. The UCC determines who is fit to be a minister in their denomination, and he needs to go through that process with them. If you were a UCC minister, or a member of the board or committee that is reviewing this issue, then you get to know these details — and not speculate on them publicly.

    There’s another issue that’s not being mentioned as part of this discussion. ANTS, and the liberal Christian and UU denominations it serves, are not on an upward trend. I worry that some of these denominations will virtually cease to exist during my lifetime. Martin was chosen particularly over other candidates because of the fundraising and fiscal leadership that he brings. This affair does not invalidate that experience. Maybe it’s the case that he should continue to be ANTS’ president, but is not recognized as a minister in good standing with the UCC, and he must undergo a program of growth in order to regain that standing.

  13. I received both an M.Div and a Certificate of Advanced Theological Study from ANTS. I go back further than most of you, I believe, and remember “The Rainy Days” in 91-93 when we as community wrestled with a President whose call was ultimately found to be “un-salvagable.” It was a painful time for different reasons but still a reflection on the Search Committee. I thought then that the Search Committee had made a terrible mistake and asked the wrong questions. I think that again. It is a thankless job. I appreciate the volunteers, but I also think the questions asked and the recommendations verified should be thorough and do not appear to have been in either case. I too am concerned for a wife in the spotlight. I also feel for a man or woman who was involved those four years in a relationship which may have ended in a very painful way. They may also be a victim.

  14. Thank you so much for your thoughtful and perceptive reflection, Victoria. I am a current ANTS seminarian. After many conversations last week, including ones with the deans and board chair, I concluded, like you, that I could not in good conscience attend the inauguration today. I have many friends there, but many also elected to boycott what they viewed as a “sham service.” Healing takes time, space, support and attention – none if which are in evidence here. Urgency never feels right to me in complicated and sensitive situations and that is the primary feeling I’ve gotten all week. I love this school, but we have a lot of work to do.

  15. I join this conversation as a graduate of Andover Newton (DMin., 2012) and as one who has been personally and professionally wounded by the lies and manipulations of privileged men in positions of power and influence.

    May I recommend that the entire ANTS community (students, faculty and administration) enroll in Professor Earl Thompson’s course on the Psychology and Theology of Forgiveness to learn what forgiveness really means. The extended ANTS community has been asked to give “cheap” forgiveness, the kind we give quickly – often because we are uncomfortable with our feelings of resentment, bitterness, hostility, anger, fear, and powerlessness and want to get rid of them ASAP. The road to true forgiveness is “long and arduous,” and begins by identifying and experiencing the negative consequences of the injury. Hiding behind Christian forgiveness (which has been sadly misinterpreted often to the benefit of abusers), I fear that many in the ANTS community have not even begun to acknowledge or understand the negative, harmful consequences (psychological and practical) that Martin Copenhaver’s deliberate actions are having – and will continue to have – on individuals, the school, and the extended community.

  16. Your wise reflections are a great testimony to the calibre of theologians-in-community ANTS helps create. Prayers for all caught up in this dilemma.

  17. Thank you for your thoughtful reflection. I am also a 2011 DMin. When I received the letter I was appalled by it all. You name the manipulative factors, the issues of privilege, and the concerns for pastor burnout. Forgiveness is not the question for me, either. However, trust and covenant are serious concerns for me.

    Inauguration or not, plans can change and I pray that they do. ANTS needs a leader that can be trusted with sacred covenant.

  18. I am an ANTS M.Div graduate of 2008. I decided to not attend the inauguration this afternoon. Personally I was the cheated on by ex-husband. This act of betrayal tore our family apart and altered the trajectory of mine and my children’s lives forever. It took years to forgive him and years more for our children to find a sense of normalcy from the many lies that were told to them by him. I doubt their trust in relationships with their chosen partners will ever be totally free from the pain of their first betrayal from another human being, their father. Forgiveness should not be cheap nor should it be expected to come easy. It is a process and one that takes time. I don’t feel I or the wider community have to forgive Martin but I do believe his wife does. I pray she has had the time to process all of the lies and deceit; and that together they can become one again if that is what she chooses. I question whether the demands of the office of ANTS presidency will afford him time to do the work of reparations and the true repentance needed for the forgiveness process between him and his wife to occur. It is also a fair question to ask if he can be trusted with the integrity of the office of President of the oldest seminary in the country if he is dishonest with the one person in his life who has pledged to be faithful with. Four years is a long time to lie to another person who you come home to every night.

  19. Thank you so much, PB. For so many reasons, I am grateful for your analysis and your willingness to speak.

  20. I am a two-time graduate of ANTS, M.Div ’84 and S.T.M. ’86. This is the first I’ve heard of this. I received a letter from the school in the mail but I put it aside assuming it was another request for money that I don’t have.

    I am troubled by Martin Copenhaver’s failure to disclose the affair at the appropriate time during the search–when that would have been, I’m not sure. It’s not surprising that the association in which he holds standing is planning a fitness review. One comment above is that he should have been put on administrative leave while an investigation was under way. I think that would have been the best way to go. It would not have been a punishment, just a pause in his service as President while questions were being asked and answered.

  21. Vickie,

    Thank you for your thoughts. They capture many of the same concerns that I am wrestling with.

    I did go to the inauguration and, as might be expected, found it a strained event. Each speaker, and there were many from different communities, had the task of speaking to Martin Copenhaver and each spoke about the admitted infidelity, yet none mentioned it directly. They spoke of his coming with all his human strength and frailties. They spoke of entering the calling with humility. They spoke of devotion as the defining and necessary characteristic; practice above skills.

    The elephant is clearly still in the room.

    Your reasons for not going to the inauguration, among them respect for the process of ministerial review by the UCC, are important and to be honored.

    My reasons for going are in the same vein. A process of trust building has been set in motion by the trustees–perhaps prematurely with another important review not completed; certainly heavy handedly in the repeated stress on the Christian value of forgiveness—but none-the-less it has been set in motion. I believe it important to be present for that process. It is important not as a teaching moment but as healing that needs to happen. I went out of respect for that process.

    I do not think you are wrong for your decisions. I do not think I am wrong for my decisions. Such is the messiness of the situation we find ourselves thrown into.

    And perhaps that is where many need to find a way to forgive. Martin’s infidelity, while primarily a breaking of covenant with family, has also thrown numerous communities already stressed by broad cultural issues into further stress. A leader has shown an inability to be an example. That threatens to break what is already fragile. It will be a test of the communities to move through this messiness without splintering; without allowing individual and divergent discernments about how best to move forward to break the community bonds.

    As others have commented. This is happening. It’s real. It’s important. It cannot be ended by fiat. It won’t be over until it’s over. Yet I do believe that these communities have the strength and resiliency to move through it and it is my commitment to be present even when do not find myself in agreement.

    With blessings and prayers for a brighter day,


  22. Transparency, Truth, and Trust is on trial at Andover Newton Theological School. (D.Min., 2011)

  23. I am also an ANTS grad – M. Div 2013.

    Rev. Weinstein, I found your words well worth reading and deeply thoughtful. What resonated most strongly for me was this paragraph: “From the moment I heard the news, my first thought was not about sex but about lies. How many lies does a person have to tell to his family, his spouse, his staff, his congregation in order to conduct a long term extra-marital affair? Too many to count. To live in such deceit requires impressive powers of compartmentalization, and I would wish for Martin Copenhaver a period of recovery from such a long, bad internal practice. I believe that time away from important leadership roles are necessary in such recovery, and I am troubled by the Board of Trustees’ lack of recognition of that fact.

    On the other hand, I am troubled by the surfacing of these issues, and the naming of specific names, in a public arena. That it needs to be put into the public arena is beyond doubt, but I question it being done as it has been, here. Those who have been most directly harmed by Rev. Copenhaver’s actions should be the ones who are given ample opportunity to make the decision as to what is to be said, and when.

    And, as for where to go from here, I agree with John Brock’s comments above. I do not believe Rev. Copenhaver to be a bad man, nor a bad leader for that matter, but he has been a very reckless, foolish and arrogant one: putting his own self interest ahead of the best interests and needs of his family, the person with whom he had an affair, his church, and the institution that he successfully campaigned to become the leader-of; not to mention the many who look up to him, as I do, because of his ministry and writings.

    One thing that sin does – besides distancing oneself from God and our fellow human beings – is that it breaks covenant. From that perspective, I feel very strongly that going ahead with the inauguration was a very big mistake – an attempt to affirm and celebrate a covenant that was already forever broken.

    Also, when such failure occurs, the person who is at fault cannot remain in the driver’s seat – allowing them to continue in the role they had before the failure is made known allows them to determine their own destiny with respect to the parties they were in covenant-with at the time, and allows the opportunity for the sin to continue (perhaps in other forms). And, as I already said, it is also an attempt to continue a relationship that has died, a covenant that has been broken.

    I agree that Rev. Copenhaver should not have been allowed to continue in his new post, or at the very least, time was needed to discern where to go from here, rather than continuing on the original trajectory. And, I agree with you that his failures are a strong indication that deeper issues exist, and need to be addressed, before he returns to the public arena in any capacity. His actions up to this point cause me to seriously question his fitness to lead anything at all in the foreseeable future, particularly a faith-based institution of any sort.

    But, beyond the personal trials and challenges Rev. Copenhaver, his family and his ex-lover face; my concern is for the institution of Andover Newton and the many people who touched by it’s work – past, present and future. What of them? It is right and proper, even demanded, that we give Rev. Copenhaver room for his own healing and room for the healing of all those directly affected by his actions. But, ANTS, and we whose lives have been impacted by ANTS, need healing too. It will take time to discern how that process will occur, and time to allow it to unfold.

    So, I am with John Brock: we must be present in this process, even though we may well disagree with how things have gone to this point, and will certainly disagree with some of the decisions and trajectories that this healing process will take in the future.

    Therefore, I will have concern and respect for the man, for those he affected, for the office he currently holds, and for the institution he currently represents. As faith leaders – whatever title or role that such leadership may manifest in our lives at present – we are called to uphold the community(ies) we are a part of. ANTS is one of those communities. And so, we are called to love, not to judge – what is done, is done. We must now become a constructive force for the healing of all who are involved in this tragic narrative, including ourselves. Being present and involved is in our own best interest, and in the best interest of the institution that is ANTS.



  24. I am not a graduate of ANTS, though I am married to a graduate and I do have friends who still work there, so I am intimately acquainted with the campus, its culture, its history and its past struggles. I have also served on the COM for several Associations where we were faced with the discipline of Pastors who committed adultery in one form or another. Each case is different, of course; the players and their relationships to one another and the congregation (in this case, the seminary). But what they do have in common is the sense of broken trust, broken covenant. (There are of course, other commonalities, but naming those are matter for another time.) A thousand little lies have been told over an extended period of time. We are a people who believe in grace and forgiveness, and in every case, that should be extended when the time is right. I am distant enough now from ANTS (both geographically and connectionally) to accurately judge whether that time is now, though I doubt that it is. Credibility on all sides is strained. Trust may or may not be able to be rebuilt. There is not yet full disclosure to the alumni about what happened (though we are learning more via unofficial means). Your reflection on this is spot on, Victoria, and I appreciate your words.

  25. I’m the child of two ordained ministers who have been married more than 50 years. My parents’ marriage endured multiple affairs. They did a lot of hard work to stay together. Their marriage is stronger now than it has ever been. [If I may be permitted a smile here, I assume that it is easier to maintain calm and unity in a marriage when the couple is in advanced age. Lovely to hear about your parents’ strong bond. – PB] What I learned from this is that marital infidelity, of any kind, does not have to be a dealbreaker.

    The notion that institutional leaders can only be good examples if they pass some sort of purity test is mind-boggling to me. I see in this situation a rich opportunity to contribute to profound formation for future ministers and academics. Throughout our lives, we have to deal with people who break our trust. The success of all relationships depends on how we handle failures, betrayals, and infidelities of all kinds, much more so than on how we handle good times.

    The common thread I see in all these seminary controversies are people who are dealing with fear by wanting to annihilate the objects of their fear. He/she goes or we go. [“Annihilate” is a strong word for a recommendation that a board made the wrong choice in deciding to continue with plans to inaugurate a leader I believe would greatly benefit from time off and privacy. I have not heard anyone on this thread say “He goes or we go.” Is anger a permissible response to revelations of deceitful behavior over a long period of time? – PB]

    Don’t these seminaries exist for the students? How are the students learning generous pastoral responses in these environments? How will they handle a case of infidelity or betrayal when a parishioner brings it to them? [There isn’t an analogy here. A parishioner is not the president of a Christian institution of higher learning and ministerial formation, nor does he or she represent the church in the public eye. – PB] Insist that the offending party be boycotted or ostracized? How do you learn about forgiveness if you’re not challenged to practice it in the most difficult situations?

    Don’t be afraid. Love one another. Those are two of the clearest commands Jesus is alleged to have spoken. They’re easy to remember, but they’re the most difficult to follow, which is probably why he repeated them so much. I see lots of fear in all these controversies, and not much love. That’s a pretty toxic environment to try to live in, much less learn anything.

  26. While I share many of these concerns about confessions/absolutions/etc, and deeply wish the Board had had more time, I do have also point out that Copenhaver states that his affair was not with a parishioner, student, advisee, intern, or anyone with whom he related from a position of authority. This is clearly different from the AN professor who was hitting on his students, and also differs from the UCC president who was dating someone over whom he had (nominal) supervisory authority. In fact, the Board states that they do not believe Copenhaver’s action requires a formal denominational review — because it does not involve the abuse of authority. I’m not sure I agree; I’ve been in associations which would have dropped his standing without a quibble, but that’s not a decision for AN; it’s a decision for the Metropolitan Boston Association’s Committee on Ministry. I wish to God that Copenhaver had never done this; I think it’s a terrible example for students and I don’t see how either keeping or firing him can be as good for AN as having it never have happened.

    That said, the real question for AN is – what’s the best thing for the school right now, going forward. Would the school have been better off to fire him, & have the place run by temp leaders for a couple of years while they did another search? Or is it better to have a president whose basic competencies are as available to us as they were six weeks ago, but who is now limited by a loss of prestige & trustiness? It sounds to me as though they went with the latter choice. I’d guess that means they thought the school needed consistent leadership right now. I doubt their decision was so much about “forgiving Martin” as it was about the pragmatic needs of the institution.

    AN’s been thru a lot over the years — nasty theological fights, moves that didn’t work out, untimely deaths, inexplicable internecine fights, incompetent leaders. If this creates a long-term unworkable relationship, the school can always fire Copenhaver later. And he still may be disciplined by the MBA. I’d say let’s work towards the future of the school, and see how things play out.

  27. I have long been an admirer of Martin Copenhaver. I have quoted him often in my sermons and have referred to him as on of the best pastoral theologians of our time. Receiving yesterday’s news was deeply disappointing. I am sorry for the ANTS community and feel the decision to move ahead with yesterday’s inauguration was not in the best interests of the institution or for Martin. Why not hit pause in order to discern the will of the community and give Martin the time to discern what might be best for him and his family? Why not engage in a season of prayer as steps are taken toward reconciliation? Why the rush to solidify something that may all too quickly become an embarrassing situation for everyone involved? I have such high respect for ANTS and for Martin Copenhaver, respect that has been severely damaged through yesterday’s revelation and decision. I will be in prayer for everyone involved. In God’s grace, Scott Landis

  28. Thank you for carefully naming so many cogent points.
    My take ~ for a start: It was an egregious misrepresentation to all pertinent communities in those years, with pretenses-compartmentalizing-duplicity unrecognized by those closest, including the Board.
    It’s also about the future integrity of all closely concerned ~ especially trust in a reliable perceptiveness on the part of Board members, who knew him so well.
    If “fundraising” was a determining asset, but integrity, honesty & covenant are issues, & women will be asked to support ANTS, what then? How about angered constituencies who have experienced betrayal without support.
    It’s beyond marital fidelity for me: it’s “truthiness” ~ honesty ~ reliability ~ integrity.
    One person has asked “How can I recommend his books now?” What can we think about all those meditations posted, encouraging us to live by faith and principle?
    It’s both a sad revelation and a regrettable decision.
    Lots more to be said about this, but for a wild example (written now with irony and anger), and without the same particular issue of integrity and morality: Bernie Maddof was great raising money from so very many people. Let’s forgive him & consult him on how to get people to open their pocketbooks to contribute to a good cause.
    OK, that was a teeny bit sardonic & scathing. Mea culpa?

  29. Dear fellow sinners and friends in faith,

    Thank you to all for sharing your thoughts and feelings. How can we help one another and our beloved school? I am compelled to write and speak my conscience. I can do no other. Please forgive me if any offense is found in what I have to say.
    Mark Compenhaver has been inducted into the ANTS Presidency through an inspiring, high quality worship, but devoid of full disclosure and confession. Hidden and not openly addressed was what most people attending had keenly in mind: recent wounds, disappointment, and distress. When Martin said in his Presidential Address “I am holding my heart in the palm of my hand” many of us felt that reality, would indeed in some way, be communicated. It was not. For the rest of the message sucked out was the wind and spirit. Words about hope were hollow and without authentic walk. What do we do now? No claim is being made by me that the answers are easily found.
    True, forgiveness must be enthusiastically preached and practiced. Wouldn’t you agree though, that leniency, permissiveness and ’sweeping under the carpet’ cannot be part of forgiveness? Forgiveness is hard and long work. According to Desmond Tutu and his daughter Pmho, forgiveness involves at least a fourfold path of telling the story, naming the hurt, granting forgiveness, and renewing or releasing the relationship. [This is immensely helpful and relevant. Thank you. – PB] Time does not heal; God heals. However, every illness has its own span of months and years. Can that process be performed while one is at the same duration in the office of ANTS Presidency? What assurance can we have that simultaneously requirements for mending can be accomplished adequately and rigorously? Is not our profession, as no other, one of loyalty, trust, and fidelity? When that core is transgressed by anyone, he/she, rightly and usually, loses position and standing until full recovery is realized.
    Are we not wrestling with dysfunction and disarray that include adultery, deception, lying, and not acknowledging the breach until it was revealed by someone other than the perpetrator? Does with whom It was committed lessen the sin? Is she not, regardless of her status, still a child of God?
    How can ANTS’ inauguration of Martin Copenhaver, for whom we have respect and love, be other than a damaging and destructive sham?
    Yes, we should always worship regardless of, and even more because of, the tragedy in which we find ourselves. How can gathering be an authentic entering into a new covenant of working together for theological education when the sacred covenant of family and ministry have been flouted and, as far as we know, not repaired. Needed is a service of confession and earnest asking of God’s help and guidance to give the best of spirit and strength, both firmness and fairness, to Martin, ANTS, and to all concerned. Does having Martin in the Presidential Office provide the necessary therapy to help and heal him and others who are offended? Is rushing into a new covenant going to give us the prerequisites of utmost integrity and inspiration. Cannot ANTS carry on with an Interim President? Is there in our nation no one else but Martin Copenhaver qualified with intellectual ability, genuine morality and authentic ministry to be the leader of ANTS?
    Hearing from you and listening to you would be for me a great help and privilege, for I am yours faithfully, fallibly, and with the highest of esteem for you,

    The Rev. Gordon Collington Swan ’73, Minister Emeritus FBC Needham

  30. I had not caught this in my first read through. I admire the whole of your thought on this but a point you alluded to here and have expanded on elsewhere is the fact that married men are accorded special privilege for being married men. The status of marriage has, particularly in ministry, conferred a sort of moral authority that those of us who were single were believed not to possess (having married late in my career, I can testify to this fact, even as a woman, although it holds less weight). Marriage, like color or gender, confers a certain social privilege and a marriage based on deception seems like a way to access that privilege in a dishonest way. In other words, not only is the adulterer dishonest with his spouse, but he is dishonest with those who privilege him for his status as a married man. Oddly, the fact that the church’s previous married male minister engaged in an adulterous relationship did not always discourage them from searching explicitly for a “stable” person by hiring another married man rather than calling a, presumably less “stable” single woman.

  31. I do not want to intrude into the privacy of Rev. Copenhager’s marriage, or to know the private details of how the extra-marital relationship began. So I will just say that men and women embark on extra-marital affairs for many different reasons. For some it comes out of a deep sense of sexual entitlement; for others, it may originate in a deep loneliness within their marriage that they may have struggled, for years, without success, to remedy. In still other cases, a man may be pursued aggressively by a woman and, in a moment of weakness, give in to temptation. Would we judge all such men the same?

    I’m struck by this passage within your blog: “I have been propositioned many times by married men (including clergy) and am very well-acquainted with entitlement too many married feel to female attention, comfort and support.” I’m sure you will deny this, but since you give no other accounts of infidelity, the subtle implication is that Copenhager’s behavior belongs to this species. But what if his infidelity sprang instead from some deep and private suffering? One can imagine all sorts of possibilities: a wife who had been unfaithful to him; a wife who refused physical affection with him; a wife who was emotionally abusive to him; a wife who was not physically unfaithful to him but was having an emotional affair with someone else; a tragic sense of realization that one had met one’s soulmate, who was not the person he was married to.

    Where we do not know, let us be a little slower to judge.

  32. Clergy have had lives and careers damaged or destroyed for much less serious events than a 4 year affair. Out of respect and solidarity for his colleagues who lack his resources and powerful contacts, Mr. Copenhaver needs to step down. Shame on the Board of Trustees for not holding him to some level of accountability.

  33. Rev Copenhaver must have known that by withholding pertinent and damaging information in the hiring process he was putting the seminary he too badly wanted to lead at risk. Yet he chose to do so. The Trustees ought to realize that this is not just a matter of past dishonesty and unfaithfulness; rather it is a pattern that continued through the hiring process and remains an issue today.

  34. What a load of self-serving, self-righteous, sanctimonious, judgmental babble emanating from this blog!!

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