Friday, February 5, 2016

Another one bites the dust. . .

Let me preface this news report (not all that new) with the concern that this is exactly what the LCMS is concerned about in our US based Concordia Universities.  It begs the question of assets, of whose assets they were/are, and how something that a church began can on its own disown its very existence and identity....  For those in Missouri who are looking at our own Concordias, the question in the back of our minds is whether or not something like this could happen to us:

From the Website of the Canadian Lutheran.

Concordia University of Edmonton (CUE) no longer identifies itself as a Christian institution. The university’s Board of Governors made the decision on November 27, 2015 when it decided to remove all references to Lutheranism and the Christian faith from its mission and vision statements.  Prior to the action, Concordia’s Mission statement identified the institution as a “community of learning grounded in scholarship, freedom, and the Christian faith.” Among its Values Statements, it identified itself as an “excellent smaller Christian university true to its mission and vision,” that “maintains its mission as a Christian university serving the public.” Guiding Directional Statements professed that “Concordia will honour its Lutheran heritage” and “will provide a foundation of faith and intellectual integrity that supports a scholarly community.”  All references to faith have now been deleted.

Previously, the introduction to Concordia’s previous Mission/Vision/Values Framework read: “Throughout its history, Concordia has remained grounded in the belief that the Christian faith gives purpose to life and that success depends upon spiritual maturity. The entire educational experience at Concordia is built on a foundation of the Christian faith and intellectual integrity characteristic of a Lutheran university, where people of various beliefs and backgrounds are in dialogue in a common pursuit of understanding and truth that ultimately leads to wisdom. That is what is meant by our motto: Initium Sapientiae Timor Domini – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Read Concordia’s original Mission/Vision/Values statement here.

LCC responds

Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) was given no advance notice that such action was being contemplated. As late as the end of August 2015, church officials had been assured in a letter from CUE’s Board of Governors that “all of the Board remains committed to Concordia’s Missions, Vision and Values.”

LCC President Robert Bugbee has communicated his dismay to CUE President Gerald S. Krispin over the recent action of CUE’s board, asking for clarity as to why the action was taken without consulting synod. He noted multiple assurances over the past years from Concordia’s leaders that such action was not being considered.

“Concordia was founded in 1921 as an educational ministry of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod,” President Bugbee reflected. “It is with incredible grief that we see Concordia now silence any reference to the Christian mission for which it was originally founded.”

Concordia’s recent decision has put LCC in a difficult situation: a number of professors (including the University president) are ordained ministers of LCC and hold calls from the church body to serve as ministers at the institution. As Concordia no longer claims to be a Christian institution in its mission statement, it is doubtful whether service at the institution can continue to be considered a call in the church’s understanding, thereby jeopardizing the place of these colleagues on the Synod’s roster.

The relationship between LCC and Concordia

CUE leadership held a town hall December 15, 2015 to answer serious concerns from faculty regarding the abrupt change in the college’s mission and values statements. LCC was not invited to or informed of the meeting. At the time, CUE President Krispin assured those present that the change in wording would not alter the deeper identity of Concordia, and that the college and synod could remain in cooperation despite these changes.  Concordia has taken a number of actions in recent years that have further separated it from the church. In 2010, Concordia notified LCC that it planned to alter its bylaws regarding the requirements for sitting on its Board of Governors. Previously all board members had been elected by Lutheran Church–Canada meeting in convention.

While synod raised concerns at the time, Concordia understood itself as able to make the decision with or without synod’s approval, arguing the 1978 Act of Incorporation that instituted Concordia as an independent organization failed to make provision for synod’s continuing legal authority over the college. The college, however, continued to operate under bylaws relying on LCC in convention to appoint its Board of Governors. But in 2010, as noted above, Concordia informed LCC it planned to change its bylaws regarding governance.  Even so, President Krispin assured LCC leaders that any decisions the college made would “not only maintain, but strengthen the shared ecclesiastical bond” with Lutheran Church–Canada. At the time, President Krispin further explained that Concordia’s Mission, Vision, and Values Framework would ensure the college’s identity as a Christian institution would be maintained. “It is this distinction that gives us our raison d’ ĂȘtre,” he wrote.

The actual change to a self-appointed (rather than LCC-appointed) board occurred in recent years. Consequently, LCC at its 2014 convention updated its own bylaws to recognize the alteration that had already occurred. Despite the changes, President Krispin assured the convention that “every member who signs onto the board has a charter to uphold the mission, vision, and values of this institution.” Concordia had also taken steps to ensure representation of at least three members of Lutheran Church–Canada: the President of the Alberta-British Columbia District, as well as two members from the general public.

In 2015, Concordia’s Board of Governors suspended the ABC District President’s ex officio position on the Board of Governors, citing uncertainty regarding the District’s corporate future and confusion over whom the appropriate representative should be (given the current division of labour between the ABC District President and LCC’s Interim Pastoral Leader). Despite this move, church leaders were assured by Concordia’s Board of Governors that “all of the Board remains committed to Concordia’s Mission, Vision and Values.”

President Bugbee is arranging consultation with Concordia’s leadership in determining what relationship the church body might have with the university going forward.

My Comments 

The school has undoubtedly been caught up in the financial morass of the Alberta British Columbia District and its Church Extension Fund.  That CEF made risky investments that now have forced the District to sell off much of its property and threatens to even close some of the congregations there.  Clearly this has had a wide impact and was at least part of the situation that caused the Concordia board to seek an independent status.  That said, there are too many questions to presume that this move simply insulates the school from the financial problems of the LCC District in question and it raises the issue of how long the school can continue offering chapel, religious courses, and pre-seminary training.  There is plenty of room to point fingers and to blame here but little that suggests a good future for either the school as it was once or the District and its problems.  If anything, this ought to provide good caution for churches and agencies who look to make investments.  Slow and steady is always preferable to risky schemes that depend upon too many factors to be successful and that promise rewards that might be appealing but not feasible.


Ted Badje said...

It was more likely the oil crisis that caused the investments to go bad. It wasn't something that could be predicted.

Our ancestors started schools and seminaries out of log cabins, but now we depend on big money infrastructure. It gives you food for thought.

Carl Vehse said...

In "An Open Letter to the Members of Lutheran Church-Canada from the President of Concordia University of Edmonton," Dr. Gerald Krispin stated, in part:

"I presented the Board Executive with options at the November 13 meeting and stated that our only hope of getting funding outside of government and tuition would be to present ourselves as non-religious institution. Businesses, corporations, and in most provincial governments do not support religious entities. A motion was drafted to take this to the full Board."

"I am the President of Concordia with a fiduciary duty to faculty, students and staff, and accordingly, I had to leave my pastoral side behind and do what’s best for Concordia. In a sense, to avoid a conflict of interest, I had to recuse the pastor in me and let only the President speak. As Pastor, I should have spoken to the church; but I didn’t, and I know this blind-sided the church."

"Consequently, and as I have been made aware that I have lost 'all credibility' within Lutheran Church-Canada, I have asked President Bugbee to remove my name from the Clergy Roster of Lutheran Church-Canada."