Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What of the Christian (Lutheran) University?

We live in harrowing times in which the very fabric of our past is being torn asunder by change.  Consider how we Lutherans came here and established colleges to train up church workers (then pastors and teachers) to serve the parishes and schools of our church.  We bought into the idea that this mission was not big enough and turned church work programs into miniscule minorities within a vast and diverse student body and academic programs.  It worked for as long as their were enough children being born and eventually heading to college and for as long as we could do this affordably.  Then we faced the crunch of expanding cost, a shrinking demographic, and an even smaller core of church work students.  What shall we do?  The temptation has been to mirror and mimic the state schools and the well-heeled private ones.  That has proven more difficult than we thought.  In the end we struggle to make the chapel a real center and home for the school and not merely a symbolic one.  We struggle to find the funds to keep up with the rising costs and the infrastructure improvements required by aging campuses and more discerning students shopping for their best alternative.  We struggle to maintain our identity as Lutheran (perhaps even Christian) universities as church work students continue to diminish and the number of Lutherans on campus with them.

Note -- I am NOT indicting any one Lutheran university or suggesting that we simply fold our hand and get out of the college business.  I am NOT blaming any one person or suggesting that this is a lost cause.  I am raising honest questions.

Let us just say that for the sake of the church and the world, a Lutheran university should be obviously Lutheran, that a Christian university should be obviously Christian.  Let us just say that this is NOT primarily represented by the complexion of the students but of the faculty and of the manner in which that university offers its various programs of study.  Let us just say for the sake of the church and the world, this Lutheran university should be different from other universities and not a wannabe or follower of the lead of "successful" state and private schools without a Lutheran identity.  Let us just say for the sake of the church and the world that a Lutheran university ought to offer a real diversity to the student -- one reflected not simply or even primarily in the flavors found in the faculty or students or how current its degree and study programs are but one that offers a distinctly Christian and Lutheran perspective against the world, the move of culture, and the trend of academia.  Let us just say that for the sake of the church and the world, such a Lutheran university might not offer the breadth of other schools or even desire to offer such but rather be more narrow in perspective and more nuanced in their catalog of degrees and programs.  Let us just say that for the sake of the church and the world, such a Lutheran university ought to be more backward thinking in terms of the weight given to truth and value and value far less novelty, newness, and trend in education (thinking here of the classics and objective truth over the foment of change that makes one wonder if there is truth anymore).  Let us just say that for the sake of the church and the world, such a Lutheran university (if one might survive in the landscape of what passes for university education today -- and I think it would) ought to present a witness that is unequivocal and unchanging in the midst of an increasingly skeptical academic world.  Let us just say that for the sake of the church and the world, such a Lutheran university would insist that the school lead and not the loudest students on campus, valuing order highly and promoting respect for the institutions, thinkers, teachers, and wisdom of the past that has stood the test of time.  Let us just say that for the sake of the church and the world, Scripture will not simply be consigned to mottoes or legacy statements of a school's heritage or chapel times, but integrated into the curriculum so that the students grows in awe and wonder of God's great creation as well as appreciation for His saving acts in Christ.

Okay. . . shoot me down.


Carl Vehse said...

LCMS Lutheran colleges and seminaries were established for training men to be pastors and Lutheran parochial school teachers. They were not initially designed to compete with secular colleges and universities to train men (and eventually women) in secular professional vocations.

In the mid-to-late 20th century, the transformation of LCMS college into universities came, in significant part, when obtaining a masters degree became a continuing education requirement in school accreditation programs for parochial school teachers. Schools later expanded with MDA programs and online education programs. LCMS colleges and universities have been Johnny-come-lately to the arena of secular professional education.

Endowment programs, previously shunned, have also been another belated 20th-century addition to LCMS Lutheran colleges and universities.

Last year BJS has an article on LCMS colleges and universities, "Short-Term Trends in the Concordia University System," which showed a graph indicating that 7 of 10 LCMS schools had less than 10% LCMS student enrollemnt, and three others having 36%, 26% and 16%. Unchurched and undeclared FTE undergraduates at the ten LCMS schools ranged from approximately 13% to 56%, with an average of 38%.

Martin Schroeder, IIM said...

Dear Pastor Peters, no need for shooting you down. You have framed the state of the LCMS educational system quite well. I applaud the love and kindness in which you do so. A robust conversation to address these concerns is much needed, and on all levels.

You have nicely described the identity and leadership challenges facing the Lutheran colleges, and I would include the local church-school ministries. Serving as a parish pastor for the last 20 years, primarily as an intentional interim, I have been blessed to serve in many churches with schools. It appears gone are the days when the faculty are each called and/or LCMS trained. The point you make about preserving the Christian (Lutheran) identity through the faculty may be key. Often not only innovation and change, but also, identity and focus begin with the leadership. I know in the past many churches stipulated the school faculty had to consist of all, or a certain percentage, LCMS trained teachers. Is there such a governance policy in the Concordia University System?

Martin Schroeder

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I agree that Lutheran universities should retain the values and teachings of our Christian heritage and specifically Lutheran distinctives. However, the reality is that Lutheran schools existing in America today are under great pressure from the surrounding fallen culture.. The influences of progressive ideas and secular humanistic teachings inculcated into the students and academic staff are in collusion with the Christian way of thinking and acting. Worse yet, the government is increasingly being pulled to the left by an entrenched anti-Christian movement which started decades ago. Using coercion and threats of losing government subsidies, even Christian universities will be expected to abandon orthodoxy for tolerance and political correctness, specifically in the area of LBGT and transgender rights. I believe that once the established powers which are the antithesis of Christianity successfully remove President Trump and conservatives from positions of influence, they will resume assaults against Christian colleges judicially and legislatively. The problems we see today will pale in the face of real future threats coming our way as Christians in America.

Kirk Skeptic said...

John, Christian schools needn't abandon either orthodoxy or identity. Here's another approach: be excellent, refuse any federal funding, establish a good alumni network to be able to get scholarships for either poor or exceptional students, and establish alternative funding for prospective students. Hillsdale and Grove City Colleges have done this and have succeeded.

Carl Vehse said...

John Joseph Flanagan : "Lutheran schools existing in America today are under great pressure from the surrounding fallen culture"

Part of that pressure is from the government kakistocracy. Title IX of the United States Education Amendments of 1972 states (in part): "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." In 2014, a DoEd memo interpreted Title IX to include transgender discrimination in illegal sex discrimination.

However, Title IX does provide for a specific exemption for religious schools. The Title IX religious exemption states: "Title IX does not apply to an educational institution that is controlled by a religious organization to the extent that application of Title IX would be inconsistent with the religious tenets of the organization." A Title IX exemption is automatic for any school that requests it. Neither the traitorous Department of Education nor the traitorous Department of Justice have the authority to deny it.

According to the Department of Education's Religious Exemptions Index (Index updated as of December 2016), none of the Concordia University System colleges or universities have requested a religious exemption for Title IX.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Carl...an Executive Order by an anti-Christian US President can eliminate any protections to Title IX for religious organizations. A liberal Judge could affirm it, the Supreme Court could agree, and half of the American population would applaud it. This is how bad things are today and it appears even many professing Christians are happily on the LGBT train.

Carl Vehse said...

Title IX is part of Public Law No. 92‑318, 86 Stat. 235 (June 23, 1972), codified at 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681–1688. It cannot be eliminated simply by Executive Order. And even if, contrary to the First Amendment, corrupt judges in the judicial kakistocracy rule to overturn the exemption, that does not provide a reason for not making use of the exemption as it still applies today.

Of course requesting (and receiving) the Title IX exemption would be taking a public stand against the moral perverts and leftist traitors in this country.