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Episcopal priest resigns
in stir over anti-Semitism letter (updated 9/18/14)

The interim chaplain of the Episcopal Church at Yale has resigned, saying he was pushed out amid controversy over his statements about Israel and anti-Semitism.

The Reverend Bruce Shipman ignited protest on August 25, when the New York Times published a letter in which he attributed “growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond” to Israel’s policies rather than to hatred of Jews.

“The best antidote to anti-Semitism,” Shipman wrote, “would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.” Shipman’s signature identified him as “the Episcopal chaplain at Yale.”

While some commentators applauded Shipman’s letter, others decried it as blaming not just Israel but Jews worldwide for recent episodes that included the siege of a Paris synagogue and European crowds chanting “Jews, Jews, cowardly swine” and “Jews to the gas!”

Yale’s public response to the controversy was simply to inform a Washington Post blogger that “Rev. Shipman is called to serve the Episcopal campus community at Yale, but is not employed by Yale or the Yale Chaplain’s Office.”

But after the Episcopal Church at Yale (ECY) announced on September 4 that Shipman, “on his own initiative, has resigned as Priest-in-Charge,” Shipman told the Yale Alumni Magazine that he was pushed by his board and, indirectly, by University Chaplain Sharon Kugler.

“At a meeting of the Board of Governors of the Episcopal Church at Yale that took place on Tuesday, September 2, the Executive Committee asked me to resign,” Shipman said by e-mail.

“They alluded to pressure from a number of people on campus, including the university chaplain, Sharon Kugler. Without their support I could not imagine functioning effectively as chaplain, and the following morning I tendered my resignation.”

Kugler declines to address the question of whether she pressured or asked ECY leaders for Shipman’s resignation.

“Personal opinions expressed publicly by the former interim chaplain of the Episcopal Church at Yale have been a source of concern and pain for many, both within and outside of our campus community,” the university chaplain writes in a statement.

Yale Religious Ministries, the umbrella group of which Shipman was a member, “is committed to fostering respect and mutual understanding among people of different faiths and cultures,” Kugler continues. “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.”

Bishop Ian Douglas, who heads the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut and is ex officio president of ECY’s Board of Governors, says Shipman told him he was resigning “because of institutional dynamics” between the priest and “some members of the [board’s] executive committee. The relationship had become one of alienation and hurt and disassociation, such that Bruce felt that it was best for him to offer his resignation.”

“These challenging circumstances much predated” Shipman’s New York Times letter, Douglas continues in a phone interview. Shipman was appointed 14 months ago as priest-in-charge—an interim, two-year position, distinct from a permanent chaplaincy—“with a very specific mandate to build up the board” after the retirement of ECY’s chaplain emeritus, the bishop says. 

“Frankly, his letter and the fallout from the letter just exacerbated” the existing problems, Douglas says. “There were growing tensions as we were trying to move the board to a new place.”

In response to Shipman’s contention that the executive committee asked him to resign, Douglas says: “The executive committee does not have the authority to ask a chaplain to resign. They could draft a resolution for board discussion.”

Asked whether board members suggested to Shipman that he should step down, Douglas says that “neither the board nor the bishops resolved”—that is, adopted a formal resolution—“to ask for his resignation.”

As for informal discussion, Douglas says, he was not at the September 2 meeting. He refers questions to Bishop Laura Ahrens ’91MDiv, who has “primary oversight” of the Episcopal Church at Yale and other college and university chaplains in Connecticut. Ahrens, reached by e-mail, expressed a willingness to comment but said her schedule did not permit it this week.

Of the objections on campus to Shipman’s letter, some arise from the content of his views, while others focus on his invoking the Yale name—a criticism he says he received from the ECY board and the university chaplain.

Shipman defends his use of the Yale name. But in hindsight, he writes in his e-mail to the Yale Alumni Magazine, “I would phrase the letter differently.” He met with Professor Maurice Samuels, director of the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism, who “was helpful to me in showing how the letter could be read in ways that I did not intend.” (In Samuels’s words, the letter “seemed to imply that attacks against Jews are justified because Jews abroad don't criticize Israel,” a view that is “is offensive in that it blames the victim.”)

In a follow-up letter to the Yale Daily News, Shipman didn’t retract his previous statements, but added that “nothing done in Israel or Palestine justifies the disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in Europe or elsewhere. . . . There can be little doubt that many who engage in such behavior use the Israel/Palestine dispute as an excuse to mask a much deeper disorder known as anti-Semitism.”

In an e-mail, Samuels emphasizes that “Shipman was not criticized (or forced to resign) for his anti-Israel views. He was criticized for making ignorant and offensive remarks about antisemitism.”

He deems Shipman “a nice man [who] was honestly sorry that he had offended people. But I also think he shouldn't have intervened in such a public way in a debate about the causes of antisemitism without having a better understanding [of] the issues involved.”

Shipman wrote his original New York Times letter in response to an op-ed by Professor Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust scholar at Emory University, about the rise of anti-Semitic violence in Europe this summer, during the Israel-Hamas war. Samuels notes that
on September 17, Lipstadt will join Yale scholars for a panel discussion on “the actual causes of recent antisemitism.” 

UPDATE: The Shipman affair continues to percolate, with coverage in Time, the Hartford Courant, and elsewhere. The Courant (via the New London Day) quotes excerpts of an e-mail that Kugler, the university chaplain, wrote to Shipman the day his New York Times letter was published.

“I am not sure if you are aware of what has happened on campus as a result of your letter,” Kugler wrote just before midnight. “Confused students, angry alumni, staff and random people from across the country have been in touch with me and with President Salovey's office all day.” 

In the e-mail (which Shipman forwarded to the Yale Alumni Magazine), Kugler suggested that Shipman’s letter, and his invocation of the Yale name, roiled relations among campus religious groups:

To say that I am deeply troubled is an understatement. Your choice to not inform me that you were going to do such a thing using your role with ECY shows a total disregard for the spirit of what the Yale Chaplaincy and YRM has worked so long and hard to create with the many communities it serves. At the heart of so much of the work of the Yale Chaplaincy is a highly valued kind of collegiality and I am mystified as to why that was so grossly overlooked by your decision to write to the NYT on behalf of of ECY. 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. . . . It is one thing for you to write to the NYT as a private citizen, it is altogether another thing to claim to represent a group. This was a serious misstep on your part and shows a troubling lack of understand[ing] of what interreligious engagement actually involves.

Reached by e-mail today, Kugler says she has “nothing further to add.”

Meanwhile, the Episcopal Church at Yale has appointed Paul Carling as provisional interim chaplain, beginning September 14. Carling will also continue his position as associate rector at a church in Fairfield, Connecticut. At Yale, “his primary work will be to provide pastoral and spiritual care for the students and to deepen their commitment to participating in God’s mission,” ECY’s website says.


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Bruce Shipman, Episcopal Church at Yale


  • Craig Campbell
    Craig Campbell, 2:16pm September 11 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    As a YDS graduate; it sounds like they are fortunate to be rid of this one!

  • Frank Baker
    Frank Baker, 6:33pm September 11 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    One needs to read Shipman's original three-sentence letter to the NY Times before any knee-jerk reaction. His letter said nothing about Israeli citizens or Judiasm but implied that expanded settlements by the current Israeli leaders in Palestinian territory was extinguishing hopes for a final two state solution. Hardly an ignorant or antisemitic comment; many Israelis agree with him!

  • Joe Black
    Joe Black, 9:27am September 12 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    I read the original and his walked back version. I was offended by both and by this article which suggests the Israeli lobby and its patrons overreached. At his age and profession, he should have developed a finer sense of understanding of the issues involved. He is now free to move to Gaza where he can help rebuild the homes, schools and apartment buildings from which Hamas launched 3,000 bombs trying to kill Jewish men, women and children.

  • Jay Rahman
    Jay Rahman, 7:51am September 13 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    "Joe Black" - thank you for ensuring that the Israeli government view is articulated here, as it seems to be on every other electronic forum. Perhaps you see the irony in your blaming Palestinian victims. But that's OK, right?

  • Christian
    Christian, 8:34am September 13 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Jews are the apple of God's eye.
    Christians must honor the Jews position in God's heart.
    Christians read that who ever protects Israel is blessed
    and whoever attacks Israel is cursed.
    Slavery and genocide against Jews over their history is not from God.
    It is profound darkness.
    Protect Jews and God blessing flow to you from God.
    Attack Jews and be aware you've stepped out of God's will.
    The cursed people can recieve blessings again by protecting Israel.
    Christians know this from reading their bibles,
    The cursed nations are turning against Israel.
    USA must protect God's chosen people or reap a whirlwind of darkness.

  • S. Baker
    S. Baker, 5:59pm September 13 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Nothing offends like the truth. Hence Bruce Shipman being forced to resign for stating the obvious, that Israel's own policies -- its ceaseless expansion of settlements in the West Bank, its constant violations of international law, its refusal to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians -- seed anti-Semitism.

  • Pat Kittle
    Pat Kittle, 4:08am September 16 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Christian behavior can be mocked.

    Muslim behavior can be mocked.

    But Jewish behavior must never be so much as questioned.

    Learn that simple rule and you'll get along just fine.

  • Mazin Qumsiyeh
    Mazin Qumsiyeh, 6:54am September 16 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    I was an associate professor at Yale Medical School for 5 years. I came under intense pressure from Zionists (mostly outside of Yale) because of my human rights activism. The massive and systematic violations of basic human rights by the apartheid state of Israel continues to be the center of upheaval in Western Asia (aka "the Middle East"). Seven million Palestinians are refugees or displaced people. Israel is doing all of this claiming it in the name of world Jewry. So Israeli apologists do not want the truth out and anyone who speaks out is attacked viciously (it happened to me) but this only adds to our determination and the circle of human rights defenders is growing while Zionist circles are shrinking (though still lots of money and media power).

  • Chris Elliott
    Chris Elliott, 5:19pm September 18 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    There is a real danger of a chilling effect if the reaction to such questioning is an intellectual excommunication. Are the elite still issuing Spinozian cherems to the heretical? Apparently so.

  • Martin Snapp
    Martin Snapp, 6:00pm September 18 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Mr. Baker, I did read his letter. He wrote, "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."
    If that isn't blaming Jews worldwide for Israeli policies, I don't know what is. Classic blame-the-victim.
    I speak as someone who is very critical of many of Israel's actions. But that's different from conflating "Israel" with "the Jews," which is what Mr. Shipman did. This is 2014. He should have known better. What he did was an insult to every Jewish student on campus.

  • Jeremy Bates
    Jeremy Bates, 11:53am September 19 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    I'm puzzled as to what Chaplain Kugler seems to think is required of Yale affiliates who write letters to the editor or take similar public stances.

    Law professors, for example, often sign on to open letters, or even submit amicus briefs to courts. In so doing, the professors state their affiliations. Everyone understands that this does not mean that they speak for their institutions.

    I seriously doubt that before signing on, such professors must check with their deans. Am I wrong?

    Or perhaps Ms. Kugler is simply unaccustomed to how academics act in the public sphere, sometimes on controversial issues, and to how the public sometimes pushes back?

    If people call your office to complain, you simply say that most people affiliated with Yale are generally free to speak publicly on controversial issues, and to do so without clearing their comments first with administrators.

    And that just because the NYT identifies someone as a Yale affiliate, this does not mean that Yale itself is speaking.

  • Jeremy Bates
    Jeremy Bates, 2:25pm September 19 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Ms. Kugler's e-mail is particularly troubling in light of the following passages from Yale's Policy on Freedom of Expression--a policy to which President Salovey referred very publicly just last month.

    "Above all, every member of the university has an obligation to permit free expression in the university. No member has a right to prevent such expression. Every official of the university, moreover, has a special obligation to foster free expression and to ensure that it is not obstructed.

    . . . .

    "The conclusions we draw, then, are these: even when some members of the university community fail to meet their social and ethical responsibilities, the paramount obligation of the university is to protect their right to free expression. This obligation can and should be enforced by appropriate formal sanctions. If the university’s overriding commitment to free expression is to be sustained, secondary social and ethical responsibilities must be left to the informal processes of suasion, example, and argument."

  • Lux et Autobus
    Lux et Autobus, 10:41pm September 19 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    You can do better, Yale Magazine. I wouldn't expect you to quote a men's right's activist for an opinion on equal pay. Likewise, Mondoweiss—the "some" of those commentators providing Shipman blessed absolution—has as much credibility with Jewish Americans as Clarence Thomas does with the Urban League.

    Pat Kittle—surely you josh? Yale (and really, most) surely wouldn't dare mock Islam, much less publish gentle scrawlings of the prophet in a book whose very subject is...some gentle scrawlings of the prophet. That your silly poem is made on a Yale University-related forum is particularly rich. (If you're not picking up what I'm putting down, Google "The Cartoons That Shook the World.")

    I'm not so sure Shipman should have resigned. But saying Jews are responsible for anti-Semitism, as others have pointed out, is like saying that Muslim Americans must answer for ISIS, Latino Americans for MS-13, Black Americans for crime in Ferguson, MO, and Palestinians for Hamas. Surely you all of you don't think innocent Palestinians should be held collectively responsible for the actions of Hamas, right? Right?

  • Eric Persky
    Eric Persky, 12:18pm September 21 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Reverend Shipman did not create an uproar because he stated anti-Israeli comments using his Yale title. He created an uproar because he implied strongly that Jews were responsible for the antisemitism in the world. It is altogether appropriate that this discussion should occur at this time, the fiftieth anniversary of the lifting of the Jewish quota in Yale admissions.

  • Rob Boe
    Rob Boe, 9:50pm September 22 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    people that trust in Jesus merits alone for their salvation are the apple of Gods eye.. In old testament times they were mostly Jewish people that God led out of Egypt yet if one read more old testament. God included all believers
    that trusted in a savior to come that would save them from their sins -----Gen chapter 3 verse 15..IS where God gives his first promise of our savior.. the blessed ones every race nation and people are included
    as the apple of his eye. Jesus won salvation for all people on the cross Lutherans call this objective justification.. its interesting to note that when Jewish people said of Jesus Crucifixion let his blood be on us and our children ..that's EXACTLY WHAT OUR KIND and merciful God did do for us all..
    Believe it! and read about it in Isiah chapter 53
    God loves you.

  • William C. Green
    William C. Green, 7:50am March 14 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    University Chaplain Sharon Kugler should not write emails late at night and when angry. Her imperious response to Bruce Shipman belies her commitment to "collegiality" and mischaracterizes what Shipman wrote (he did not "claim to represent a group"). And the "interreligious engagement" she favors is banal and irrelevant when concern about being offensive trumps honest and open expression of different points of view.

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