Seminary President Ousted for Performing Daughter’s Gay Wedding

Seminary ousts president for performing daughter’s gay wedding (Newsday-AP)

The New Brunswick Theological Seminary has ousted its president and reprimanded him for officiating at his gay daughter’s wedding. The school’s board of trustees said the Rev. Norman Kansfield, 64, performed the ceremony in Massachusetts. “We decided that the president had put the seminary in an awkward position by performing that ceremony without giving us the benefit of offering sufficient counsel,” the Rev. Larry Williams Sr., a member speaking on the board’s behalf, told The Star-Ledger of Newark for Friday’s newspapers. “It could have hurt the school if it divided people in our student body, if it divided our faculty, if it divided other people who support us.” In a letter sent shortly before the June 19 wedding of his daughter, Anne, Kansfield informed the board of his decision to officiate, and said he wasn’t seeking its permission. The board voted Jan. 28 not to renew Kansfield’s contract.

Kansfield said he had not done anything to hurt his denomination, the Reformed Church of America. “People presume I have been on a crusade,” he said. “In point of fact, I’m a conservative theologian. I would not do anything that goes against the church.”

The Reformed Church’s roots date to Dutch settlers who arrived in America 400 years ago. It is one of the more conservative denominations in the National Council of Churches. Unlike its fellow mainline Protestant churches — such as Episcopalians and Methodists –the church has not had high-profile controversies over gay rights. But the denomination’s national office in Grand Rapids, Mich., said formal complaints have been filed against Kansfield, who expects to be brought up on charges in June at the church’s General Synod in Schenectady, N.Y.

A New Jersey gay rights group blasted the action as “sickening and completely out of step” with the attitudes of many New Jerseyans.

Andrew Sullivan (who has apparently abandoned his book project, as he’s blogging as much as ever) is somehow shocked by this. (Glenn Reynolds, though, is amused by Sully’s formulation of the headline.)

The Reformed Church may well be “completely out of step” with the population at large. Of course, a theological seminary doesn’t operate based on majority rule. A church, let alone its training institutes, is not in the business of popularity but of promulgating a set of values. Kansfield claims, “I would not do anything that goes against the church.” That’s obviously untrue. To the extent that his love for his daughter overrides the values that he was supposed to be teaching, I can hardly fault him. But nor can I fault the seminary from firing him.

If Richard Myers converted this morning to the Quaker faith and decided that he could no longer countenance war, I would wish him well. I would, however, expect him to be forthwith ousted as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs were he not to resign.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    Yes, to say the reformed church is one of the “more conservative” churches is putting it lightly. However, it does boast Calvin College in Grand Rapids, which has had some outstanding academics throughout the years.

  2. Michael says:

    Never miss the opportunity to take a jab at Sullivan, eh James? Aside from the State of the Union, which he said he was going to blog anyway, Sullivan has written exactly 24 posts since February 1st. And given that he did say this:

    So I’m going to turn this into a far more occasional operation for a while. I’ll keep posting when the feeling grabs me

    …then I don’t see your jab as anything more than an opportunity. Just sayin’.

  3. Zed says:

    I know how Sully feels. My agent is expecting a completed manuscript by next month. I am sad loser who has let blogging rule over business. But really that is just an excuse for not being professional.

  4. Just Me says:

    A religious body has the right to set the standards by which it wants its pastors and seminary instructors to operate, and if they go outside those boundaries, the church is well within its right to censure them.

  5. Just Me says:

    Also, Sullivan misrepresents the reason he was removed, it wasn’t because he had a gay daughter, but because he performed a wedding ceremony, contrary to the teachings of the church he is working for.

  6. Kappiy says:

    James, what about the “academic freedom” argument here?

    New Brunswick Theological Seminary is a degree-granting educational institution and Kansfield is a faculty member–holder of the esteemed title of John Henry Livingstone Professor of Theology.

    He is essentially being fired for a perfectly legal and ethical act that the Board of Trustees happens not to agree with.

    Most serious universities that are associated with a faith tradition and have seminary training and theology programs (e.g. University of Chicago, Notre Dame) abide by general understandings of academic freedom.

    Ones that don’t tend to show up on the American Association of University Professors’ Censure List and tend to be pretty crummy schools.

    New Brunswick Theological Seminary may already fall into this latter category, so perhaps the threat of censure is not a big deal for them. But any institution of higher learning that sacks employees for views it doesn’t agree with is antithetical to the principles of debate and deliberation that are integral to a quality education.

  7. Just Me says:

    “James, what about the “academic freedom” argument here?”

    Well to begin with, most seminaries/religious affiliated colleges, have their proffessors sign an agreement that they believe/support church doctrine.

    Also, not sure how/if tenure issues apply to a president. Plenty of college presidents get fired from their positions, so I figure going into administration is probably akin to the union guy who loses his union representation and protection, when he heads into management.