It has taken me a while to decide if I should write this blog about what is happening at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. I have been concerned about the way that President Lose and the board has been treating people that work there for a least a year. I have tried to talk about this directly with some members of the board and President Lose. I have talked about it with Bishop Jim Hazlewood. These conversations have not helped the situation. So after taking the summer to think about it some more I have decided to do the next thing and include the public in my concerns.
Some people asked me not to write this because they said, “It will hurt your career.” I want to be clear that I don’t have a career. I have a calling to teach and preach the word of God and nothing can hurt that. I am not looking for career advancement. I just want to be a good parish pastor. I also don’t believe that Bishop Hazlewood is the kind of person that cannot handle the fact that within the Church we sometimes have disagreements. I could be wrong this is a chance I am willing to take.
My concerns about the seminary have nothing to do with the proposed merger with the Lutheran Theological seminary at Gettysburg. I think that is the best idea since the Reformation! It is probably 10 years too late. It has nothing to do with losing what the seminary was when I was a student there 13 years ago. I accept that the Church has changed and so we all must find new ways of being the Church in this new time. What I don’t like is that just because we are going through a difficult time doesn’t mean we get to throw out what it means to be the Church.
The Church is a system of relationships. It is about relationships between people who share similar views about faith and life. These relationships start in local parishes, but are bigger than that. They are statewide, regional, national, and worldwide. I don’t know our current presiding Bishop, but I know that we are connected through a mutual maze of relationships. Without these relationships the Church is just another institution with an agenda out to consume people’s time and energy. That is why we should care more deeply about the relationships than the institution. That is why the institutions that we create should serve to advance and deepen those relationships not the other way around.
What is happening at Philadelphia is that David Lose and the Board cares more about the institution than the relationships. The president of the Board has said, “Our goal all along has been to create a new venture in theological education that enabled us to better prepare leaders responsive to the challenges of the day in a way that is more affordable for students and more sustainable to the larger Church.” The stated goal is to keep alive the institution no matter who that hurts or what happens in the process. Why is that the goal? How about the goal being to create leaders who are able to build important relationships? How about building relationships that reflect what we as the Church are at our best?
The Church cannot stop being the Church just because times are tough and we are out of money and resources. I have heard from some faculty that they did not feel that this new venture was done in a way that was respectful of what they brought to the table. Instead of the president and board asking for them to participate in this new venture they have been treated as employees. The seminary has followed the law of any other corporate structure forgetting that it is part of the Church. The seminary has forgotten that what we are about is relationships. And so it has given the faculty what appears to be ultimatums about signing a severance package. The faculty has been silenced against speaking out in fear of losing what might be a job someday.
I saw firsthand how much David Lose and the Board disrespects the faculty at our synod assembly this year. There were no faulty members speaking about the merger on the panel. (Dr. John Hoffmeyer was at the assembly and could have been on the panel.) Dr. Lose several times disrespected what faculty does. Once saying, “Professors only teach what they were taught, and that is not what the Church needs.” Additionally, while talking about how tenure was not needed because we have to look out for student debt. The overall discussion was about how we don’t need pastors to know about academic things (like Greek and Hebrew) only practical things (like boilers and budgets). I disagree. I think professors do teach what is new and needed in the church today. I find it of great help what I was taught in seminary. One of the lay people who was with me at the synod assembly said to me, “I want my pastor to be a scholar”.
I am sensitive to this because of what happened to my friend Don Johnson. He was treated this way by President Lose. He was let go without David Lose ever talking to him about what he did. He was let go without a discussion about how his needs and the seminaries needs could both be met. At the time, people didn’t say anything because they just thought Don was being difficult. But I think now the seminary has shown its true colors. They don’t care about the relationships they care about survival.
All of this breaks my heart. I love LTSP. I loved being a student there. I loved the way this institution was often a safe place for LGBTQ people when other seminaries were not. I loved that it was in a city and valued diversity. It spoke of relationships and how important they are to what we do as leaders. I am a good pastor (on my best days anyway) today because of what I learned there. Because of that love I have for LTSP I encouraged people to give money to it; I have encouraged students to study there, now I cannot in good conscious do those things. I will have to grieve what has happened. I will have to find another way to support good seminary education, one that values relationships over institutional survival. I am not mad about it; I am just disappointed and sad.
I realize that this blog will not change things at LTSP. I realize that some will think I am merely causing trouble and should just get with the program. But I don’t think we learn that way. I don’t think we grow as a Church that way. And I have to speak my mind. I have to say what I see as wrong. I have to publically grieve what has been lost here, not an institution but relationships. What has been lost is not LTSP, but the idea that relationships are what make an institution have heart and soul. Something new will be built, but what will it matter if all that is there are some buildings and a bank account with money in it. “What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” (Luke 9:25)