The plot is thickening.
Before I explain, I want to reiterate that my intention here is to share my Simpson story in an interesting, educational, motivating way that drives people to pray for revival.
Right now, in my assessment, the underlying root of Simpson’s legal argument inadvertently suggests that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution not only gives religious organizations the religious freedom to select their own ministers, but also gives them a license to deliberately deceive those ministers (in violation of the Ninth Commandment), and lie to the public about those ministers, and invade the privacy of those ministers, and break the written employment contracts issued to those ministers.
Simpson University is also arguing to the Court that religious corporations can do all of these things — in the name of religious freedom — without having any religious reason for doing so.
Consider the situation afresh: In 2009 I was hired by Simpson University to serve as its dean of A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary. In June 2011 my employment contract was breached by none other than the university president.
What was the Simpson board to do?
- Fire the president and go through all the work of hiring a new leader for the school?
- Require the president to confess that he fired the dean right after the team she led broke three all-time-high records in 34 years (for highest enrollment and best ever financial success)?
- Admit that the board itself was inexcusably remiss for not holding the president accountable for a number of significant failings?
- Resign from the board en toto as the Willow Creek board recently did?
I know firsthand that Simpson’s board chair at the time had no hope. Slouched in his chair with his hand on his forehead, former Chairman Dyk said with exasperation, “I’m hopeless.”
Hopelessness led the Simpson board yet further into sin.
The Simpson board could have told the president that he had 3 days in which to implement a win-win solution. Likewise, the board could have called me in, along with the faculty president, and other goodwill leaders, including competent consultants, and had all of us together craft a win-win plan. Sadly, the board did neither.
Thus Simpson’s problems festered. Next thing you know, both Simpson board chairs (there was a board chair transition in October 2011) were intricately involved in a shameful cover-up.
Granted, part of what happened next — at the faculty level — was good. It was good, for instance, that the full Simpson faculty rallied in defense of my Simpson employment contract and formally decided to conduct an independent investigation. Indeed, it was remarkable that faculty members used their own personal money to hire a lawyer outside of Simpson and its lawyer to get legal counsel that the Simpson faculty felt it could reliably trust. It was also helpful that the Faculty Report officially says that Simpson’s president’s actions willfully taken against me “constitute abuse of office.”
Despite all these good things, Simpson’s problems nonetheless festered. How could Simpson’s board members — whether unrepentant or uninformed — face the board’s real problems? What is a board to do when its past and present board chairs, along with its current president, fail to tell the truth?
In this extraordinary case, the Faculty Report prompted the Simpson board to reinstate me in good standing. Simpson’s need to refinance its large debt load also seemed to lead to the Simpson board’s decision to overturn the president’s unilateral decision to have fired me — because the re-fi couldn’t happen if there was any chance of a pending lawsuit.
One might think that things got better once I got resaddled, but instead, they got way worse.
In early 2012, lies told at the board level were Providentially leaked to me and to my boss (Stanley Clark, the provost) by a Simpson board member who refused to say in public was she admitted in private. When I pressed the new board chair (i.e., the person who leaked the truth) to make the truth known, she refused. So I blew the whistle, so to speak. Next thing you know, I was illegally fired again, this time via email by Associate Provost Dr. Dummer, who was not my boss, soon after he got a phone call from the board chair. A number of Simpson faculty members then urged me to file a lawsuit against Simpson.
Before suing, however, I tried in vain for months to have Matthew 18 conversations with Simpson authority figures. My then-lawyer even asked the County judge to compel the University to use its own religious grievance policy. But Simpson would not budge.
All of this history plays into the lawsuit: Simpson refused to honor my Simpson employment contracts (thus my contract claims), and Simpson authority figures deliberately told lies for the purpose, it sure seems, of covering up their own misdeeds (thus my tort claims).
Simpson’s legal tactic in the lawsuit is to ask the court to excuse them on the basis of their appeal to Religious Defenses. In June 2014, Simpson won. The judge in Shasta County let Simpson off-the-hook. But in September 2018, the appellate court in Sacramento said, in concept, that Simpson’s appeal to Religious Defenses does not excuse Simpson for having breached my Simpson contracts.
I am thankful that at least for now, religious organizations can’t write a contract and promise a bunch of stuff, then later say, “Hey, we changed our minds. We’re religious, so we don’t have to fulfill our end of the deal.” The appellate court said that Simpson–as a religious institution–nonetheless has to fulfill its end of the deal.
The part that grieves me is that the appellate court also said, in concept, that as far as the courts are concerned, religious institutions are religiously free to pretty much act autonomously (apart from committing crimes) against their employees who work in ministry. Clarification: the appellate court did not say that it is right for a religious organization to harm its employees; it said, rather, that that the state’s judicial system cannot hold Simpson accountable for its torts (harmful wrongdoings) that in secular settings are counted as illegal.
Bottom line: At the appellate level, Simpson won on the tort claims — and I won on the contract claims.
About ten days after the official appellate decision , Simpson filed a brief (a position paper submitted to a court) asking the California Supreme Court to review the appellate court’s decision on my contract claims. In response, I asked the Court, while they’re at it, to review my tort claims as well.
From what I know, ninety-eight percent (98%) of the time, the Supreme Court of California declines to hear the case, and the appellate Opinion stands.
But I expect this case to be reheard.