Sunday, July 28, 2013

Not Sufficiently Religious Or Lutheran....

It seems some employees of Pacific Lutheran University wanted to be represented by a union (I believe the adjunct faculty members).  They desired representation by the Service Employees International.  Now the Supremes (Court that is) deemed all religious institutions to be beyond the scope of the National Labor Relations Board.  So the story ends there, right?  Not quite.  It seems the person who adjudicates claims has decided that Pacific Lutheran University is not religious enough to claim religious exception and not Lutheran enough to possess real Lutheran identity.  Hmmmm.  What do you think of that?

Read it all here...   I have copied a couple of paragraphs to whet your appetite. 
In his Pacific Lutheran decision, Seattle-based Ronald K. Hooks, regional director for the labor board, said NLRB jurisdiction does not risk church-state entanglement because the university is “inspired by Lutheranism”  but emphasizes academic excellence and “acceptance of all faiths (and none) and  explicitly de-emphasizes any specific Lutheran dogma, criteria or symbolism in its public communications.”
Hooks continued: “It may be that providing a rigorous liberal arts education  fosters searching inquiry and comports well with Lutheran tradition, but doing so does not make the university a religious institution.” He based his ruling on several observations about the university’s funding, governance structure and values. First, even though Pacific Lutheran is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and own[ed] by its regional congregation, it receives only about $200,000 annually, or a “tiny percentage,” of its funding from the church. And even though just over half of Pacific Lutheran’s regents must be Lutheran, some of whom must be ministers, he said, “neither the church nor the congregations are involved in the day-to-day administration of the school.”
No members of the administration or faculty are required to be Lutheran, he noted, and although various university events and publications reflect its Lutheran history, its mission to educate “makes no mention of God, religion or Lutheranism.”
Like so many "Lutheran" institutions of higher education, they claim a Lutheran heritage but manifest little evidence of Lutheran identity.  They do not give any preference for Lutherans in students or faculty.  They do not require any particular classes because of their Lutheran identity.  They do not focus their life around Lutheran worship or chapel in any significant way.  They are, for all intents and purposes, entirely secular universities with small Lutheran quirks and a few vestiges of a once vibrant Lutheran past in order to keep the cash flow coming from aged Lutherans who went there when it was distinctively Lutheran.  It seems that the government is on to them... but... sadly, the Lutheran people and Lutheran churches are too sentimental to see the obvious.

While Missouri's schools are decidedly more Lutheran than ELCA schools, it is distinction by degree and not necessarily by fundamental difference.  Some are much more overtly Lutheran (in part due to the higher percentage of Lutheran church work students); others less so.  The whole state of Lutheran higher education is one we probably need to address among the various Lutheran jurisdictions but we will probably not -- except where crisis forces us (Ann Arbor).  It does not have to be this way.  But as long as we leave them on their own to follow the financial trail to a balanced budget we in the churches have less and less room to complain.  I think that the Missouri schools and their administrations are trying mightily to reconcile the divergent courses of Lutheran identity and mission and financial success.  I think that some ELCA schools have largely succeeded in positioning themselves as a privileged class of ivy league religious institutions (Gustavus, St. Olaf, etc...) and are in good position to remain while others have died or are dying (Wartburg, Dana, etc...).

So what are we to do?  Refocus our attention upon the larger goal and purpose of our Lutheran institutions of higher learning and step up to the plate both in terms of financial support and student recruitment might be a good place to start...


Anonymous said...

You wrote:

"It seems the person who adjudicates claims has decided that Pacific Lutheran University is not religious enough to claim religious exception and not Lutheran enough to possess real Lutheran identity."

In a bizarre way, this is good news. Pacific Lutheran University administrators will (or should) now strive hard to make the university very confessional in order to keep the unions away.

Dr.D said...

The decision of the judge was entirely correct. Most "Lutheran" schools are not Lutheran beyond having the word in their names. It is way past time for the Church to step in, take control of the institutions, and make them truly Christian. For some schools, this may mean a loss of students, but that's just tough. The Church ought to be seriously in the education business, or quit pretending.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest

Anonymous said...

Yeah this happened to the Catholics, too.

On May 26th, regional staff of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that St. Xavier University in Chicago is not particularly Catholic and therefore not entitled to First Amendment exemption from federal labor law. This follows a NLRB regional finding in New York that the Christian Brothers’ Manhattan College is also not substantially religious.

Although the NLRB has clearly overstepped its bounds by interfering with religious education, the agency’s conclusions about St. Xavier University and Manhattan College should greatly trouble Catholics. Manhattan has appealed for a reversal—and rightly deserves one—but it remains to be seen what, if anything, might be done within the Church to follow upon the NLRB’s embarrassing analysis of these institutions’ Catholic identity.

As I explain in my analysis “The NLRB’s Assault on Religious Liberty,” the NLRB has long infringed on the rights of Catholic educators. The 1979 Supreme Court ruling in NLRB v. The Catholic Bishop of Chicago, et al. stopped the NLRB from forcing Catholic parochial schools to comply with federal labor law, but the Board continued to assert authority over Catholic colleges and universities—even after the federal D.C. Circuit Court instructed the agency in 2002 and 2008 to leave religious higher education alone.

The legal problem is that NLRB jurisdiction over Catholic colleges and universities—even those that compromise the faith in significant ways—opens the door to potential government entanglement with religion. That’s a First Amendment concern, as is any federal investigation and judgment as to whether a college is religious “enough.”