Yale’s Episcopal chaplain resigns amid anti-Semitic controversy
Chaplain Bruce Shipman’s head on chopping block — losses his ministry to Yale students
By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
In recent years when an Episcopalian made worldwide news over their remarks and actions, it was usually either Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori — remember Mitregate? –or Vicky Gene Robinson, the retired homosexual bishop from New Hampshire who, after trumping the beauty and bliss of “gay marriage” and ramming it down the throat of The Episcopal Church, announced he was privately divorcing his “beloved Andrew” … and it was nobody’s business.
This time the world’s media spotlight has swung to Yale University and landed on the Rev. Bruce Shipman, an Episcopal priest who, for 14 months, has been the priest-in-charge at Yale University. He most recently retired as the vicar at Holy Advent Episcopal Church in Clinton, CT, following years of being a Episcopal Church at Yale board member.
THE OP/ED PIECE
On Aug. 20, Deborah Lipstadt wrote in a New York Times opinion piece on why Jews are worried about the rising anti-Semitism in Europe as others wonder if another Holocaust, on the scale of the one brought about by Hitler and the Nazi’s, was possible.
“‘Is this just like 1939?’ [they ask]. ‘Are we on the cusp of another Holocaust?'”, she writes. “Until now, my answer has been an unequivocal ‘no.’
“The differences between then and now are legion,” writes Lipstadt, who is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at the Tam Institute of Jewish Studies and the Department of Religion at Emory University in Atlanta. “When there is an outbreak of anti-Semitism today, officials condemn it. This is light-years away from the 1930s and 1940s, when governments were not only silent but complicit.”
She then outlined recent demonstrations in Dortmund and Frankfurt and the assault of an elderly Israeli in Berlin; a Bastille Day Eve pro-Palestinian riot in Paris and a firebombing of a Jewish community center in Toulouse, France; Jewish businesses being boycotted in Rome, Jewish men in Denmark told not to wear their Yarmulkes in public, the vandalization of the kosher aisles of grocery stores in London, the anti-Semitic shooting at a Jewish museum in Brussels, and the growing trend of travelling Jews to blend in with the locals and not wanting to be openly identifiable as Jewish.
“It would be simple to link all this outrage to events in Gaza,” she writes. “But this trend has been evident for a while. I am unpersuaded by those who try to dismiss what is happening as ‘just rhetoric.’ It is language, after all, that’s at the heart of the ubiquitous slippage from anger at Israeli military action to hatred of Jews.”
“It’s true that this is not the anti-Semitism of the 1930s, which came from the right and was rooted in longstanding Christian views that demonized the Jews,” the Emory professor continues. “Traditionally, Islam did not treat Jews this way. But in the past century a distinct strain of Muslim anti-Semitism has emerged. Built on a foundation of antipathy toward non-Muslims, it mixes Christian anti-Semitism — imported to the Middle East by European missionaries — and a more leftist, secular form of anti-Semitism.”
SHIPMAN’S LETTER TO THE EDITOR
In an letter written on August 21, but published in the Aug. 26 Letter to the Editor section, Shipman replied, “Deborah E. Lipstadt makes far too little of the relationship between Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza and growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond.
“The trend to which she alludes parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank.
“As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.”
Those three lines were his undoing and the flint to a firestorm, especially within Jewish world and academia, with the media eagerly following every word.
Shipman claims to have spent much of his youth in Turkey and Egypt where a life-long love of the Middle East was developed. He studied philosophy at Carleton College and Theology at the University of Oxford and then on to General Theological Seminary in New York City. He was ordained in 1968 by Bishop Horace Donagan (XI New York).
In Connecticut, it is reported that Shipman served Episcopal parishes in Westport and Roxbury before moving to Groton and taking elongated time to “reflect on the state of the world, the church and his own soul in this time of war and profound change in the Episcopal Church.” He also served at Diocese of Connecticut parishes in Ivoryton and Clinton before becoming the chaplain at Yale.
That same day (Aug. 26) the headline in the Washington Post read, “Episcopal chaplain at Yale: Jews are to blame for anti-Semitism for not making peace with genocidal enemy.”
“Next on Rev. Shipman’s bucket list: blaming women who dress provocatively for rape, blaming blacks for racism because of high crime rates, and blaming gays for homophobia for being ‘flamboyant,'” blasts the Post’s David Bernstein in The Volokh Conspiracy blog at the Post.
“If Rev. Shipman had made analogous comments about any other ‘ism,’ he’d be out of a job,” noted Bernstein who is the George Mason University Foundation Professor at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Virginia. “And if it were any group but Jews, their student organization would be occupying his office and demanding it.”
The Chabad of Yale (a Jewish student center) was quick to respond to Shipman’s New York Times letter. “Reverend Bruce Shipman’s justification of anti-Semitism by blaming it on Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza is frankly quite disturbing. His argument attempts to justify racism and hate of innocent people, in Israel and around the world. One can and should study the Israeli policies regarding human rights, and the honest student will realize the painstaking efforts undertaken by Israel to protect innocent civilians. Hamas, ISIS and other radical groups make it their mission to torture, rape and kill as many civilians as possible. Yet, no moral person however, would attempt to justify blatant global anti-Moslem hatred in light of these atrocities,” writes Rabbi Shua Rosenstein at the Chabad at Yale University. “I call upon Bruce Shipman to retract and apologize for his unfortunate and misguided assertion. Instead of excusing bias and hatred against others, he should use his position to promote dialogue, understanding, and tolerance.”
“We are committed to the pursuit of Jewish life at Yale and the personal identities of our students, including close and serious engagement with Israel and world Jewry,” noted the university’s Senior Rabbi Leah Cohen, the executive director of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale. “We are adamantly against any justifications of anti-Semitism and hatred of any kind. Individuals who perpetuate these ideas stand in the way of the thoughtful and open engagement that is emblematic of Slifka Center, the University Chaplain’s Office and Yale in general. Any individual or group who stands for or justifies hatred stands dramatically opposed to the mission of Slifka Center.”
Yale was also swift in getting into the fray and distancing itself from the growing furor swirling around its Episcopal chaplain. “Rev. Shipman is called to serve the Episcopal campus community at Yale, but is not employed by Yale or the Yale Chaplain’s Office,” Yale officially explained to The Washington Post.
The Episcopal Church at Yale, which boosts “Seeking God Together Through Scripture, Tradition, and Reason” as its motto, has had a ministerial presence at Yale since 1869, making it one of the oldest Christian ministries on campus serving the students, staff and faculty of the 313-year-old institution. The famed school, Congregationalist in founding and established during Colonial times, has produced five presidents, 19 Supreme Court justices, as well as a host of Noble Prize winners and Rhodes scholars. The famed university boosts schools of medicine, law, divinity, music, fine arts, drama, forestry, science, public health, nursing and management.
The famed university’s total student population (undergraduate and graduate) is more than 12,000 which is more than the baptized membership of more than a third of the domestic Episcopal Church dioceses including: Vermont (6,706); Rochester (8,100); Western New York (11,091); Easton (8,240); Northwestern Pennsylvania (3,619) TEC Pittsburgh (9,085); Southwestern Virginia (10,460); West Virginia (8,146); Kentucky (9,243); Lexington (7,002); West Tennessee (8,309); TEC South Caronia (5,791); Eastern Michigan (6,578); Eau Claire (1,948); Indianapolis (9,761); Milwaukee (9,788); Northern Michigan (1,595); Northern Indiana (4,729); (Springfield (5,014) Western Michigan (9,958); Iowa (8,532); Montana (4,649); Nebraska (7,678); North Dakota (2,397); South Dakota (9,450); Wyoming (7,146); TEC Fort Worth (6,126); Northwest Texas (6,880); the Rio Grande (11,108); West Missouri (10,555); Western Kansas (1,618); Western Louisiana (9,399); Alaska (7,309); Eastern Oregon (2,343); Hawaii (9,616); Navajoland (643); Nevada (5,244); TEC San Joaquin (2,130) Spokane (6,010) Utah (5,411); and all of the foreign dioceses except Haiti and Honduras.
When this writer called the Yale Chaplain’s Office to inquire about Shipman’s chaplaincy at the university, VOL was told to contact the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut for any further information concerning “the Reverend Shipman.”
Shipman also tried to distance himself from the growing firestorm he created, yet not apologizing, rather telling the Yale Daily News that his “statements were misconstrued.”
“Shipman said his letter was not trying to rationalize anti-Semitism, but rather noting what he believes to be a serious omission in Lipstadt’s piece — the failure to connect the rise in anti-Semitic crimes in Europe to troubles in the Israel and Palestine,” the Daily News posted late in the evening on Aug. 26.
“The turn to the right of the Israeli government and the magnitude of the civilian casualties in Gaza, the loss of hope among so many Palestinians and the continuation of annexation policies in the West Bank have some relation to the deplorable anti-Semitic crimes that we deplore,” the Daily News reports that Shipman said in an e-mail to the campus publication. “At the Episcopal Church at Yale our prayer is for the flourishing of both communities on the land to which each has a compelling claim.”
The Washington Post’s Bernstein was not about to let Shipman walk away unscathed.
“Rev. Shipman has some very questionable political views,” writes Bernstein. “…including a devotion to the Palestinian cause so great that it leads him to say ridiculous things, such as interpreting the murderous ways of Hamas, a blatantly anti-Semitic, genocidal offshoot of the internationalist Muslim Brotherhood in this way: ‘Hamas’ continuation of the armed resistance is a way of telling Israel and the world that their spirit is not broken after 56 years of living as refugees without a country in a small area that is that one of the most densely populated places on earth…'”
The Washington columnist also notes: “… that while Yale disclaims responsibility for Rev. Shipman because he’s not on staff, in excusing anti-Semitism he seems to have violated several clauses of the Yale Religious Ministries Agreement, violation of which ‘may result in exclusion from YRM and loss of standing as a member of YRM.’
There is a 15-point pledge that Yale chaplains have to sign to be afforded the opportunity to minister to students, faculty and staff at the third oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.
The Mission of the Yale Religious Ministries (YRM) is: “dedicated to the spiritual, ethical, intellectual, social and physical welfare of students, faculty and staff. It is committed to strengthening the University in its task of educating students and expanding the boundaries of human knowledge. It is committed to fostering respect and mutual understanding among people of different faiths and cultures as well as actively promoting dialogue within the University towards that end.” Membership in the Yale Religious Ministries comes with an understanding that the chaplain and their staff will “abide by the provisions of this agreement.”
In part the provisions of the signed Agreement include: being accountable to the sponsoring religious organization (in this case the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut) and to the Yale; respecting and supporting other recognized religious ministries on campus and when acting in the name of YRM (Shipman signed his letter to the New York Times as “(Rev.) BRUCE M. SHIPMAN, Groton, Conn., Aug. 21, 2014” but he was identified by the newspaper with the tagline “The writer is the Episcopal chaplain at Yale”); pledging not to undermine another faith community; and recognizing that failure to adhere to the Agreement may result in exclusion from YRM and loss of standing as a member of YRM, and a voiding of the Agreement.
Bernstein called for Shipman’s head on a platter: “It would behoove someone at Yale to file a complaint with the Chaplain’s office at Yale, and the university itself, about Rev. Shipman,” he wrote on Aug. 27. “Or the Episcopalians themselves could toss him out.”
By Sept. 4 the media firestorm was all too much for Shipman to weather. He resigned.
“The Rev. Bruce M. Shipman, on his own initiative, has resigned as Priest-in-Charge of the Episcopal Church at Yale, effective immediately,” a Sept. 4 statement posted on The Episcopal Church at Yale’s website stated.
The posting goes on to state that the bishops of Connecticut — Ian Douglas (XV Connecticut) and Laura Ahrens (Connecticut Suffragan) — accept ” with sadness” Shipman’s resignation and “wish to thank him for his faithfulness, hard work, vision, and most especially his dedication to the students at Yale over the last fourteen months as Episcopal chaplain.”
Bishop Douglas is the president of the 19-member Episcopal Church at Yale Board of Governors, which is charged with supporting the work of the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Yale University, and to assure the continuity of the Episcopal Church at Yale whether there is a chaplain is in residence or not. It also secures the funding for the chaplaincy and calls Episcopal chaplains to the Yale ministry. While it is Bishop Ahrens who oversees university and college chaplains within the Diocese of Connecticut and with Yale located at New Haven, the school falls within diocesan boundaries and her spiritual episcopal authority.
The Episcopal Church at Yale statement further explains: “It is our belief that the dynamics between the Board of Governors and the Priest-in-Charge occasioned the resignation of the Rev. Shipman. Bishops Douglas and Ahrens are dedicated to working with the Board on matters of governance and process so that the Episcopal Church at Yale can continue faithfully to serve students and God’s mission at Yale University.
“In addition, The Episcopal Church at Yale, its Board of Governors, the Bishops of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, and the Rev. Bruce Shipman are all committed to a civil dialogue on difficult issues that divide peoples of this world and pledge ourselves to the prayerful and humble work of reconciliation and peace in our hurting and divided world,” the posting concludes.
In reporting Shipman’s resignation, the Yale Daily News quotes him as saying: “My patriotism runs deep, as does my love for Israel and Palestine and for the two peoples locked in a tragic fight over the land. If I seemed to suggest in my letter that only Jews who actively oppose present Israeli policies have a right to feel safe, that was not my intention nor is it my belief … Nothing done in Israel or Palestine justifies the disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in Europe or elsewhere.”
The Episcopal ministry is only one of several Christian and non-Christian religious ministries at Yale. The university was first founded in 1701, one year before the first Anglican (Church of England) service was celebrated in what would become the present day Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.
Chaplain Bruce Shipman was not the only “Chaplain Shipman” on Yale’s campus. The other “Chaplain Shipman” is Asha Shipman, Yale’s Hindu advisor.
Yale has a variety of denominational Christian ministries on campus including, but not limited to: the Assembly of God, the Baptists, the Christian Scientists, the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, the Quakers, and, of course, the Episcopalians. Other nondenominational Christian groups include: the Black Church, the International Church, the International Christian Fellowship, InterVarsity Fellowship, Athletes in Action, Yale Graduate Fellowship, and Rivendell Institute.
Other religious student campus ministries include the Mormons, the Jews, the Muslims, the Sikhs, and the Hindus.
Shipman’s faux pas occurred just as Yale’s dorms were opening for students coming in for the 2014 Fall semester. On Aug. 24 the first Episcopal service of Yale’s new academic year, a Service of Word and Sacrament, and the accompanying Welcome Back BBQ took place as scheduled at the Old Campus commons. The first classes then commenced on Aug. 27, just as the anti-Semitism firestorm was heating up and pulling Shipman into its vortex.
However the backlash has been swift and the scheduled Sept. 1 “Stand with Gaza: a Vigil and Benefit Concert for Ahli Hospital in Gaza” jointly sponsored by the Episcopal Church at Yale and the Tree of Life Educational Fund — which was to be held at Yale’s Dwight Chapel, where the Episcopalians hold their weekly Sunday service — was hastily moved to an off-campus site, Bethsaida Lutheran, an ELCA Lutheran church not far from Yale venue. The ELCA congregation has close ties to the Episcopal Church at Yale through joint Luther House activities including weekly candlelight Taize worship services and a Bible study with the Lutherans.
“The decision to not hold the concert on campus was made by the Board of the Episcopal Church at Yale and me,” Shipman told the Jewish blogger Philip Weiss at Mondowiess. “In the current political climate resulting from backlash to my letter; we agreed on this decision. The University has nothing to do with this decision …”
The proceeds raised from the musical event, one in a series of Gaza relief concerts featuring the violin of Michael Dabroski, are to go to the Al Ahil Arab Hospital in Gaza City through the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.
However by Sept. 5, it was announced that Friday night’s Welcome Dinner at Mory’s had been postponed. There are no other scheduled weekly Friday night dinners on the Internet calendar, however other regularly scheduled Episcopal Church at Yale events are expected to happen as planned including the weekly Sunday afternoon service at Dwight Hall.
“Please note that regular worship in Dwight Hall at 5pm on Sundays WILL continue as scheduled,” the Episcopal Church at Yale’s website notes on its welcome page.
By Sept. 8, Shipman’s name was scrubbed from The Episcopal Church’s main website and the Rev. Dr. Nihal C. de Lanerolle was listed as the Episcopal Church at Yale’s director. He is listed as the Chaplain-Emeritus-in-Residence on the Episcopal Church at Yale’s website and he is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Neurobiology at Yale Medical School as well.
By the afternoon of Sept. 8, the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut had also taken down its webpage showing the list of college and university chaplains within the Diocese. That link is dead.
However on Monday evening (Sept. 8), Shipman was still listed as the Chaplain-in-charge on the Episcopal Church at Yale website.
Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline