Rev. Bruce Shipman resigned from his post as priest-in-charge of the Episcopal Church at Yale on Thursday — two weeks after his remarks in a New York Times letter garnered national media attention for their alleged anti-Semitism.
In an Aug. 21 letter responding to Emory professor Deborah Lipstadt’s Aug. 20 New York Times essay titled “Why Jews Are Worried,” Shipman put forth his idea that Israel’s actions in Gaza contributed to growing anti-Semitism in Europe. He added that stalled peace negotiations and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank were also factors. As a result of the piece, Shipman faced a wave of criticism from those who accused him of making anti-Semitic statements. In an email to the News, Shipman said he resigned because he could not garner sufficient support from his board to survive the adverse publicity.
“Within hours of the publication of my letter … there was an avalanche of angry email that continued for several days,” Shipman wrote. “It was ugly and accompanied by harassing telephone calls to my home … The message to many will be that bullying tactics succeed.”
But Ian Douglas, bishop of Connecticut and president of the board of governors for the Episcopal Church at Yale, said Shipman’s resignation had little to do with the controversy surrounding his writing. Rather, Douglas said Shipman told him it was the result of preexisting challenges within the leadership dynamic of the church.
“It’s not as glamorous a story to hear that Priest-in-Charge Bruce Shipman resigned because of institutional dynamics within the Episcopal Church at Yale and not the debates related to Israel and Palestine — but it’s the truth,” Douglas said.
Douglas added that he is personally “dismayed” that some individuals and organizations have tried to politicize Shipman’s resignation instead of accepting it as a decision made because of challenging relationships between Shipman and certain members of the board.
Much of Shipman’s work this year involved institutional changes and revisions in the church’s goals and directions, Douglas said. He contributed positively to the Episcopal community at Yale, Douglas added — but some of Shipman’s strategic ideas conflicted with those of others.
Douglas said he did not feel that Shipman was forced out of his position as priest-in-charge. However, Douglas acknowledged that the events of the past two weeks indeed “sharpened the dynamics” of the interactions between Douglas and board members.
Still, Shipman disagreed, saying that the lack of support from the board surrounding the recent controversy directly led to his resignation.
The controversy surrounding Shipman’s remarks has generated disapproval from other religious figures on Yale’s campus. Last month, Leah Cohen, director of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life, said in a statement to the Washington Post that the Slifka Center is against anti-Semitism and hatred of any kind, adding that those who spread these ideas stands in the way of the Center’s mission.
University Chaplain Sharon Kugler said in an email that Shipman’s opinions have been “a source of concern and pain for many, both within and outside of our campus community.” She added that the recent controversy has distracted from Yale Religious Ministries’ work to foster respect and mutual understanding among people of different faiths and cultures.
“Our primary focus now is to move forward with renewed and reanimated resolve to nurture a truly welcoming and supportive community for faculty, staff and students of all faiths,” she said.
Regarding his initial statements in the Times, Shipman told the News in August that he simply believes there is a correlation between increased anti-Semitic violence and the events taking place in Israel, Palestine and Gaza.
He added that he should have mentioned these views in his original letter to the Times.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Yale sent a statement to the Washington Post last week that noted that Shipman was not employed by the University or the Chaplain’s office, effectively distancing itself from the situation.
Of 30 students interviewed on Monday, only nine knew of Shipman’s resignation. Eli Feldman ’16 said he thinks that David Bernstein, a professor at the George Mason University School of Law who first attacked Shipman’s statements in a blog post on the Washington Post, had overstated his case. Still, Feldman believes Shipman had to leave his post, either through firing or resignation.
Simon Brewer ’16 said he did not find Shipman’s statements in the New York Times to be anti-Semitic, while Cole Aronson ’18 said Shipman’s initial statements were “classic anti-Semitism.”
Scott Remer ’16 said he questions whether Shipman intended to be anti-Semitic. He added that the fact that Shipman resigned reflects negatively on the University’s policy towards free speech.
Students recognize that “the Yale name” brings with it some responsibility, said Zach Young ’17. Young said that while he believes in free speech, Shipman should not have used his position of power to endorse his own views.
Shipman holds degrees from Carleton College and Oxford and served 14 months of his appointment as temporary leader of the Episcopal Church at Yale.