For those of you not in tune with the world of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, there has been a lot going on. It goes well beyond a simple “time of transition” – the financial realities of our economy and decision-making of the institution have led to a major deficit in the operating budget. And the writing on the wall is now coming to bear – cuts need to be made. And they’re tough cuts, cuts that involve and affect the real lives of real people. Needless to say, it’s a frustrating, sad, and painful time for all at the Seminary.
Yesterday, I listened to two of my professors at Luther express their saddness and difficulty in leading through this. And, I was able to touch base briefly with our Interim Seminary President, Rick Foss. Lots of weary faces. From listening, it’s a difficult situation, and a very complex one. And, one that as hard as it is to say, is simply going to happen in the life of a long-standing institution like Luther Seminary. In fact, such “wake up” calls are common in any instutition – General Mills went through it, and even my Augsburg College wrestling program is going through it.
And it’s in light of this fact that I’m honestly confused and troubled by the responses of a small, but loud, group at Seminary. It’s made up of students. This voice, out of their empathy for those affected, and their frustration and anger (all valid feelings, by the way) have taken the voice of “the reformer,” the role of the prophet, and even gone as far as to publish “9.5 theses” in the spirit of our founder, Martin Luther.
One, I’m thankful that in their feelings, they’re asking to be listened to and are expressing their feelings and views. But in reading these “theses” and other general comments, again, I’m confused and troubled. I’m confused because I’m not sure what they’re trying to accomplish, and am not sure why they think they are entitled to make such demands (yes, if you’re honest, they’re demands) on the leaders of Luther Seminary. I’m troubled because in this time, right now, what faculty, staff, and decision-makers at Luther Seminary need from students is to be STUDENTS, not “reforming, prophetic voices.”
Let me change the address now to my fellow students: I get why you think and feel the way you do, I do. I’m just as sad and am shaking my head at the situation as well. But what our Seminary leaders, staff, and faculty need right now is for us to set those feelings and thoughts aside and focus on being students, on progressing towards graduation and preparing ourselves for service and work in the Church. What our Seminary community, and really, the Church needs from us right now is to be faithful in the role and task God has set before us, and not fall into a “victim” mentality over all that’s happening around us right now. The gospel we’ve committed our lives to calls us to live as people of hope and faith in the midst of suffering, conflict, and difficulty, not as people of fear and anger who try to eliminate such things through control and demands.
I’m not saying that the decisions made or those that made them shouldn’t be held accountable. But here’s the thing: I’d be willing to bet that those decisions and those that made them weren’t done in malice, recklessly, or without regard for others. And I’m willing to bet that the decisions being made forward and those making them are doing them with the best of intent, and caring for people the best they can – they are being as faithful as they can, while saying “God have mercy” with each decision. And so for me, because I don’t know and understand all the complexities and details of what Luther Seminary faces, and because it simply isn’t my role right now to enmesh myself in that, the best thing I can do right now is respond likewise in faith – faith that Luther Seminary will be ok in the end, and faith in decision-makers and leaders who are serving as faithfully as they can in the roles God has entrusted them to.
I heard one student remark that the reason most students don’t push back is out of fear; they’re afraid. I think for those of you who know me well, I’m definitely not someone who holds back what I say or do! My point is that pushing back as the “reforming, prophetic” voice demanding justice and accountability….it simply doesn’t line up with my commitments to the gospel and the faith. Like I said, such a response is both confusing and troubling for me.
Students, let us adopt our role as learners and future leaders by living into that fully – and thus giving our faculty, staff, and administration at Luther Seminary hope – hope that we students they serve are people of great courage and faith, not victims and people with a need to control. Let us focus and do well in our studying and preparation for public ministry and leadership in the Church, so that faculty, staff, and administration may know their work, their ministry, is not in vain….so that they may be inspired to continue to focus on the larger mission of God’s work in witnessing to the gospel as the larger community of the Church – the Body of Christ.