Covenant College embarks on another year without women on the Board of Trustees after the Presbyterian Church in America’s General Assembly held discussions about leadership in the church.
On June 13, 2018, the Overtures Committee of the PCA voted down Overtures 13 and 26.
From the Nashville Presbytery, Overture 13 recommended that women in particular should be allowed on the boards of agencies established by the PCA, i.e. Covenant College, Ridge Haven, Covenant Theological Seminary, etc.
Similarly, from the Tennessee Valley Presbytery, Overture 26 sought to open up a minority of seats on the Board of Trustees at Covenant College to non-ordained church members.
ByFaith Magazine outlines the reasoning behind the General Assembly’s decision against Overtures 13 and 26. It states, “A previous general assembly has answered a similar overture on the following grounds, ‘for women to participate on General Assembly committees and agencies would allow them to exercise ruling authority in the Church, in violation of I Tim. 2:11ff. (M17GA, p. 176).’”
The effect of the Assembly’s decision impacts Covenant’s students, faculty, administration, and even alumni.
Prior to the General Assembly meeting held in June, a group of 2018 Covenant graduates considered writing a letter to the board informing them they would be withholding donations to the school until women were allowed on the board.
However, once the meeting took place, it was clear that Covenant College was not at fault for this decision. In fact, the College’s administration has expressed full support of the effort to include women on its board.
Concerning the matter, President Halvorson expressed disappointment personally and on behalf of the administration.
“We have been working on this initiative for some time, and it’s always hard to see something you’ve worked for be put to a halt,” he writes through email correspondence.
Anne Fuller (‘18), a member of the alumni group ready to take action in this situation, made clear that they will not be withholding money from or protesting Covenant. Yet, the group “does want to express concern that it’s something [they] care about.”
Students are also deeply affected by the General Assembly’s vote since decisions made by the Covenant Board of Trustees directly affect their lives. Student Senate acknowledged this and sent a survey to the student body to gain an understanding of their thoughts.
Tindol Pate, Student Body President, indicated that the survey revealed how deeply students care about this topic.
She explained that some students feel led to accept and submit to the General Assembly’s decision. However, most responses included comments like, “Covenant College is not the church” along with the frustration that the decision’s reasoning treats it as one.
Pate explained that all of the students who completed the survey want to be faithful to Scripture; yet, the general consensus is the need for an answer to the question, “Why?” as well.
“As a female member of the PCA, I wanted to submit to the authority of my church and their understanding of Scripture,” Pate said, “but was also immensely hurt that they didn’t seem to value my opinion or input.”
Women in the church are particularly affected by the decision, but how does Covenant College as a whole plan on moving forward?
According to Pate, students can look forward to many opportunities to express their own thoughts on the decision.
She said, “From Student Senate’s perspective, a lot of things are in the works to make students heard, specifically in regards to this issue.”
As for the administration, President Halvorson explained there are a number of changes taking place.
In January, Becky Pennington will most likely succeed Steve Kaufmann as Dean of Social Sciences. This will count towards one of the objectives in Covenant’s strategic plan which is, “to appoint at least two women or people of color to Vice President or Unit Dean positions by 2020.”
In addition, Halvorson has appointed two women to the college’s cabinet, joining existing member, Jen Allen.
These two women are Dr. Karen Nelson, Director of Institutional Research, and Mrs. Renee Timmerman, Director of Human Resources. “Both of those women have been regular visitors to cabinet meetings over the past year and have demonstrated themselves to be real assets to the college,” explains Halvorson.
Work is being done to strengthen the input of women at Covenant through appointment to senior leadership roles, but it is clear from the opinions of students, alumni, and administration that more work is yet to be accomplished.
Pate said, “I hope and pray that Covenant College will continue being an institution that serves its students by submitting to the authority of Scripture, not to historical precedent or to fear of change.”
Students are encouraged not to give up after this apparent setback. Halvorson hopes all parties involved, “will learn persistence through this situation. Change at the denominational level is not easy, and is not fast… I hope we’ll soon see some seats on our board opened up for non-ordained persons. I would like for our board to have access to the full array of gifts and experiences resident in our denomination.”