A Saga Spanning the Centuries
Here is a drama spanning centuries and cultures. There are four main characters: John Calvin, John Calvin's Seminary, Renee of Ferrara, and me, the narrator. This written drama is an ongoing process, so if it seems incomplete, stay tuned. (The above date indicates only the date this site was originally posted.) I begin the drama with three letters--one to each of the other three characters.
A Message to Monsieur John Calvin
Like you, Monsieur Calvin, I am a convert to the Reformed faith and, like you, I am not Dutch—neither of which bodes well for your followers today. You were hounded out of Geneva; I have been hounded out of that little Geneva on the corner of Burton and the Beltline—that little Geneva named for you: John Calvin’s Seminary.
I have great respect for you, Monsieur Calvin, though I’m not sure you would always appreciate me and my ways—especially my sense of humor and my forthright manner of speaking. The centuries separating us would stymie any serious attempt at social interaction. But, on another level, I have no doubt that you would defend me and stand by me in this debacle that I have been enduring. Your penetrating eyes would see right through the dishonesty and deception. Indeed, you would be outraged by the awful injustice carried out in your name.
You’re a small school, a few hundred students and fewer than two dozen faculty—located on the corner of Burton and the Beltline in Grand Rapids. Conservative, confessional, traditional, classical, Reformed. These are terms that fit. And for some strange reason I thought I did too. But, with no warning, you gave me a terminal appointment. It took three years after that to crush me. On August 31, 2006, with my office cleaned out, I finished my terminal appointment. You gave no speeches, no thank-you’s. I simply walked to the parking lot and drove away in my cluttered green minivan, leaving six years behind.
But John Calvin’s Seminary, I’m still a part of you. True, my books have been removed from the faculty “show case;” my mailbox assigned to another; my spot in the faculty meeting (closest to the door) now filled by others.
I will no longer be walking your halls or teaching in your classrooms where more than 40 large framed photos of men (and only men) hang. But my touches on the railings and the podiums linger, as does the sound of my voice reverberating in the classrooms. And the gazebos I gave you still stand in the courtyard. An invisible part of me is present, the visible no longer welcome. Outside your hallowed halls, I, Like Jacob, wrestle for my blessing. I will not let go.
To Renee of Ferrara (1510-1575)
My dear, dear Duchess Renee. We are so far apart, separated not only by centuries but by social standing. Yet, I feel closer to you than I do many of those I see singing in the choir on Sunday or shopping in the supermarket during the week. Your voice is somehow familiar—despite language and other barriers.
I have known you for many years, dear Renee, but hadn’t thought about you for a long time until a few weeks ago. Husband John and I were on the slow train from Venice to Florence, enjoying the Italian countryside and stopping at non-descript towns along the way. Then, with no warning, the sign at the station screamed FERRARA. “We’re in Ferrara,” I gasped. It was too late to get off and Florence was beckoning. But Ferrara will be a destination stop on our next trip to Italy. There your presence lingers in the air and in the grand historic sites of centuries gone by.
I love your spunk and your forthright manner of speaking. You were not a sweet compliant smiling royal--as a princess is supposed to be, daughter of King Louis XII of France, no less. Indeed, you realized early on that gender made all the diffrence in the world, and your words were biting: “Had I had a beard I would have been the king of France. I have been defrauded by that confounded Salic Law” (which denied women succession to the throne).
Your voice rises out of the grave encouraging woman today to not be afraid to take an unpopular stand and speak up when it would be easier and more ladylike to remain silent.
A Word from Ruth Tucker
Who is this fourth character of the drama, the narrator? Some of who I am is in the “about” section of this site as well as in my books and my other sites where I often incorporate personal aspects of my life. For this site, I am a recent professor at John Calvin’s Seminary, now without a job. I continue to write and speak and teach courses whenever the opportunity arises.
Previously I taught for 17 years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, flying into O’Hare each week with a student picking me up and driving me to the Deerfield campus. My courses were in the fall and spring quarters, and when the decision was made for the school to switch from the quarter to the semester system, my comfortable teaching routine ended.
I was pleased to get a call in 1999 from one of the professors at John Calvin’s Seminary (only a few miles from my home in Grand Rapids), asking me if I would submit my CV. I did, and after a nearly year-long interview process, I joined the faculty in August 2000.
That I was the first full-time woman professor in a century and a quarter was not the issue. Teaching classes to smart and eager students is what I love. But the joy of teaching ended suddenly on January 2, 2003, when I was informed, without any warning, that I was being given a terminal appointment. See “My Calvin Seminary Story” at www.ruthtucker.net or click on site above on sidebar.
Message to Monsier Calvin, cont. . .
I come back to my message to you, Monsieur Calvin. I have no doubt that you would be outraged by what has happened to me. I know that in your day, the idea of women ministers and professors might have seemed absurd—not that the issue was foreign to you. You had a great appreciation for Duchess Renee and you were well aware of her plea to attend Synod. Indeed, you might have stood up to your stooge, Francois Morel, when he spouted the Apostle Paul’s words against her, but you didn’t.
But the matter here is not your position on the “women’s issue.” It is rather your position on basic honesty and decency. I’m certain you would stand up to the administration of your seminary (and its cowardly faculty) and demand that documents be opened. You would not cover for a false evaluation—be it written against a man or a woman—and you would be infuriated by the fabrication of two sets of notes used to falsely accuse me. I hear your voice is rising out of the grave in condemnation.
Message to John Calvin’s Seminary, cont. . .
I will not let go. You have worn out the “confidentiality” excuse. So also, the veiled condemnation of me that there are deep dark secrets yet to be revealed. Where are those sins in your 257 pages of documents—apart from your false accusation that I did not attend chapel in 2003? How long will it take before you agree to have this documented ordeal opened up? Word is that there will be a call for such at Synod 2007.
Duchess Renee wrote some very telling words to Monsieur Calvin: “I would say that if there are any on earth rejected by God, it is those who pervert the truth with their insolent lies.”
Message to Renee, cont. . . .
Our common cause, dear Renee, is our plea that Monsieur Calvin listen to us. That was your compelling request when you wrote:
“Monsieur Calvin, I am distressed that you do not know how the half in this realm behave. They even exhort simple women to kill and strangle. This is not the rule of Christ. I say this out of the great affection which I hold for the Reformed religion. I beg you Monsieur Calvin, to pray God to show you the truth. . . . Monsieur Calvin, may God watch over you.”
Monsieur Calvin did not heed your words and do enough to stop such carnage against Catholics and others, and I certainly don’t defend him. Indeed, I will take up that matter and the matter of Servetus with him later on.
Together, we are pleading with Monsieur Calvin to listen and check into the facts of the matter.
What motivated John Calvin's Seminary to give a terminal appointment to it's first full-time woman professor? I've been asked a version of that question countless times. It is true that the mediators did not find purposeful gender discrimination. But most gender discrimination is not purposeful. I believe with all my heart that if I had been a sweet, compliant, submissive lady this would have never happened to me. Those adjectives do not describe me, nor do they describe most of my male colleagues. Thus, the charge of sex discrimination. For John Calvin's Seminary to insist that it is free of any gender discrimination is ludicrous. That is the first clue that the school is so utterly unaware of gender issues.
Just today (10-31-06), I received a message from a recent female graduate who also encountered gender discrimination: Her opening sentences: "I have seen your recent blogs. And am so, so sorry to hear about how things finished up at Calvin. But not surprised. My own end at Calvin was unhappy too." I have received dozens of such messages in the past several weeks. Yet, the denial continues.
I have been thinking a lot about “forgive and forget” these last few days since a reader brought the matter up in a comment and then has continued corresponding with me on the subject. Forgiveness is a difficult concept to comprehend, and it could be argued that the Bible appears to be less than consistent in dealing with all its ramifications.
As I contemplate forgiveness, I am reminded of the “Reconciliation Guidelines” that you laid out a year ago. What is most striking about that document is the silencing clause that states: “the parties agree to not talk about events that occurred before October 19, 2005.”
When I think of reconciliation, I think of truth and reconciliation—as in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, and I think of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words: ”Making the truth public is a form of justice." He goes on to say: "This is a moral universe and you've got to take account of the fact that truth and lies and goodness and evil are things that matter."
Making the truth about what happened to me public, John Calvin’s Seminary, is a form of justice. Reconciliation cannot occur without truth.
Geneva in the sixteenth century had a reputation for being a haven for women. Was that because of you, Monsieur Calvin? I'd like to think you treated women fairly, though it's hard to believe it would have been a real picnic for a woman--or a man--to live in your town. And children didn't fare any better. Punishment was often severe--though I do think it set a good presedent to punish a "young man . . . because he gave his bride a book on housekeeping with the remark: 'This is the best Psalter.'" That actually was a pretty sexist remark!
I wonder how well I would survive under your rule--or, closer to home, how would "Jeanne" survive. "Jeanne" wrote to me from Geneva two days ago (10-29-06). She writes about your seminary and her words are stinging. What do you say, Monsieur Calvin?
This is a message . . . from a Calvin College graduate and former CTS student who left after her first year . . . and, in spite of very strong feelings of loyalty to the CRC, never could force herself to return to CTS. . . . I was an "insider", both culturally and spiritually. . . How then can I explain my feelings of social and intellectual rejection. . . . I did not consider myself a feminist while at CTS. I simply had lots of questions about God, about ministry as a woman, about how to nurture my own and others spiritual growth. . . . During the memorable year within CTS's hallowed halls, I suffered from major depression. . . . I have never suffered from depression since that year.
Needless to say, Ruth, I admire you. I admire John too and the "inside" support he represents in a delicate situation like this one. My analysis from this distance is that your sense of humour did you in at CTS. Neal Plantinga-- just to name one of the CRC men who take themselves ever so seriously when it comes to protecting God . . . does not have a sense of humour. Your placard with "RT for President" must have been like warm acid on cold steel. This, my dear, is a clear example of your “ungodly” behaviour
Furthermore, I not only respect but understand perfectly your choice not to bring this issue into a civil court. Biblically you are on exemplary ground with this view. It is not cowardly but BRAVE to call these men to settlement OUTSIDE the protective secular walls of justice, where you would undoubtedly win.
And the price one pays personally IS too high, at least for most women who refuse to see themselves as victims. . . . As you so wisely said: A woman at CTS is asked to play hardball with a puffball. That describes my experience there ever so well. And I was only a lowly student. I too was Zapped at CTS. The experience tempered, but did not destroy me. I am proud to see now that I belong to an inclusive club of delightful women.
Thank you for providing me with an opportunity to break the Code of Silence and shed the last few ounces of a load I've dragged around. . . . As an “insider”, I didn’t have the courage to stay and play the game to the end. May the CRC be reformed by your joyful presence. Kindest regards,
This evening's news (11-1-06) was the third in row in which former presidential candidate John Kerry was the top story. A couple of days ago, he made a "joke" about the poor education of US troops in Iraq, and until late this afternoon he refused to apologize. A Republican strategist commented that this is the best thing that could have happened to the party this close to the election. The worst thing for us, he went on to say, would have been if Kerry would have immediately apologized--if he had said he was sorry as soon as he realized what he had done.
Why is it so hard to apologize? Is it more difficult for men than women to apologize? Is it more difficult for those in high position to apologize?
I couldn't help but thinking as I heard this news story how much better it would have beem for John Calvin's Seminary if the administrators had apologized to begin with--if they had aplogized as a colleague urged them to do. It would have been over more than three and a half years ago. But like so many men in high places, they dig in their heels and the story doesn't go away.
I read a post on CRC-Voices today (11-18-06) that reminds me again how John Calvin's Seminary has spinned this story. I've answered the spin before but I'll do it again. The writer says this: "The following was reported in the GR Press and to the best of my knowledge has not been disputed by Dr. Tucker."
The committee recommendation was sent to the Seminary Board for its consideration. Before the Board met and had an opportunity to accept or reject its recommendations, Ruth Tucker tendered her resignation.
The writer goes on to say: "The Board president was quoted in the Press as saying that he believed the Board was ready to substantially follow the committee recommendations. What the exact offer might have been will never be known. But that is not CTS's fault."
This is pure spin. The documents show otherwise, and I want all the documents opened up--including the 257 pages the seminary submitted to the Board committee and the mediators.
The truth is that in the summer of 2005, a Board committee met and issued a report calling for "redress" for me but leaving the specifics of the redress to be worked out in "conciliation" that would "mediate the differences." Mediators were hired (at a high cost, as I understand), and they called for specific redress, including my immediate appointment as a full professor, retroactive pay to 2003, that charges of ungodliness be deemed "inflamatory," as well as other things that I've specified elsewhere. After this mediators' report was read aloud to the 3-man administration, the board officers, me and others, Duane Kelderman argued strongly that it should be taken off the table because it was looking backward not forward. At no point, and I emphasize AT NO POINT, were any of the specifics of this redresss offered to me.
When I met with the board officers a week later and brought up the mediators' report, it was stated again that the seminary wanted to go forward and that any consideration of redress was looking backward.
Instead of offering any form of redress, what the CTS administration offered was a document titled "Reconciliation Guidelines" stating that my being made a full professor (presumably back on tenure track) was "on the table." But most importantly, this "on-the-table" offer was accompanied by a silencing clause (quoted on my site: http://silencingclause.blogspot.com/).
That silencing clause would have deep-sixed all the evidenc in this case and would have left the charges of ungodliness and other accusations on my record with no opportunity for me to set the record straight.
I did not tender my resignation, as Board President Sid Jansma, Jr. has claimed, and he knows better. That is spin. I was teaching on a terminal appointment. I worked to the very last day of that appointment, August 31, 2006. I did not resign, but neither did I re-apply for another appointment, considering the seminary's refusal to consider the mediator's call for redress and the silencing clause.