Letter to the editor finishes Groton Episcopal priest's chaplaincy at Yale
Groton — An Episcopal priest from Groton serving as chaplain of the Episcopal Church at Yale University stepped down this month after a furor over a letter he wrote to The New York Times.
The Rev. Bruce Shipman, interviewed Friday at his Groton City home, wrote a letter that appeared in the Times on Aug. 26, in response to an article expressing an opinion about a rise in anti-Semitism.
Within two hours of the publication of the letter, which included a line at the end identifying him as the Episcopal chaplain at Yale, Shipman said, "there was an avalanche of hate mail calling me every name imaginable, and an anti-Semite, (saying) I was a disgrace to my calling and I ought not to be in any public office."
He received an email from Yale University Chaplain Sharon M.D. Kugler, who also lives in Groton, saying she was certain he had no clue how her office and its work had been affected by what he'd done.
"Confused students, angry alumni, staff and random people from across the country have been in touch with me and with President (Peter) Salovey's office all day," she wrote in the Aug. 26 email. "Some calling for your termination and others calling for mine. Even our Hindu Life Advisor who shares your last name has had to field some very inflamed emails."
Shipman's three-sentence letter, which ran before the current cease-fire between Israel and Hamas took effect, is as follows:
"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."
Kugler could not be reached to comment Monday about her email. The chaplain's office on Friday directed press calls to the Yale media office, which directed them on Monday to the Episcopal Bishop of Connecticut.
Shipman said the executive committee of the Board of Governors of the Episcopal Church of Yale called a special meeting on Sept. 2 to discuss his letter.
"The executive committee made it clear that I should resign or be fired," Shipman said. Members said his actions damaged the church's relations with the university and generated bad publicity, he said.
In an interview, he questioned whether clergy are allowed to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict openly.
Karin Hamilton, spokeswoman for the diocese, said there had been trouble between Shipman and the board before the letter came out.
"It wasn't working," she said of the arrangement, adding, "The letter coming out just sort of exacerbated whatever was going on before."
The Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, Episcopal Bishop of Connecticut, could not be reached Friday and was out of the country for a meeting of the Bishops of the Episcopal Church on Monday.
But a statement posted Sept. 4 on the website of the Episcopal Church of Yale said Shipman resigned on his own accord and, "it is our belief that the dynamics between the Board of Governors and the Priest-In-Charge occasioned the resignation of the Rev. Shipman."
Douglas and the Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens, the bishop who oversees university and college chaplains in the Episcopal Church of Connecticut, "have accepted with sadness the resignation of the Rev. Bruce M. Shipman; and wish to thank him for his faithfulness, hard work, vision, and most especially his dedication to the students at Yale over the last 14 months as Episcopal chaplain," the statement said.
Shipman said he resigned because he realized he would have a "terrible chaplaincy" if he stayed.
"How could I go back?" he said.
In her email, Kugler wrote that his decision not to inform her of what he planned to do using his role with the Episcopal Church of Yale showed a "total disregard" for the spirit of collegiality.
"Was this something that everyone in your constituency agreed upon to the degree that they were willing for you to use the Yale name? I sincerely doubt it. Had you even considered these things?" she wrote.
The Episcopal Church of Yale is one of about two dozen churches or religious groups that function as members of Yale Religious Ministries. The university chaplain, appointed by the president of the university, heads the membership committee.
Each member must sign an agreement in which they agree to certain terms, including that they will "honor a spirit of collaboration and collegiality" among members and will "articulate information for the purpose of sharing knowledge about my faith community and will not undermine another faith community."
Jerry Fischer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut, said Shipman's choice of words was like saying Jews are to blame for anti-Semitism.
"I think that it was a very, very poor choice of words," Fischer said. "And I think it revealed a belief that he may hold that the Jews really do control everything."
The statement implied Jews somehow deserve to be hated, Fischer said.
"The idea is that the Jews are a class of people who all think the same, who all have power, and all they have to do is stop doing this and everyone will stop hating them," Fischer said. "It's ridiculous."
Shipman should not have used the Yale name, Fischer said.
"I think he should have resigned in part because he led people to think that he was part of Yale University and he was using their imprimatur to magnify his voice on a political issue, and he's clergy," Fischer said.
Shipman said he used the Yale name because it was his title, and if he hadn't, someone would have Googled his name and accused him of hiding it.
He said some misunderstood his message, but others were baffled by how it was received. Shipman said his view is that the increase in anti-Semitic violence and what's happening in Gaza are not completely unrelated.
"They have got to move together to share the land," he said. "They both have compelling claims to the land. You hear the stories and you weep. And the stories are real and true, the suffering is real, and there's got to be some hope. Otherwise, you're locked in this tragic struggle for the land that seems to be to the death."
He said he didn't think he had to discuss his views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the chaplain first before airing them.
"If it can't be discussed in good faith on a university campus, why not?" Shipman said. He said he's not anti-Semitic and he should be able to discuss the conflict without being labeled. "That is the last thing that I am, and I will not be silenced."
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