“A word too about the German churches [in America]… The pastors generally are not well trained; to the extent they come from Concordia Seminary (which I saw in St. Louis), that is, from the Missouri Synod, their exclusive orthodoxy is unbearable…”Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Barcelona, Berlin, New York: 1928-1931 (DBWE 10), 315
Not much has changed since Bonhoeffer’s day. If a single word could sum up the attitude of some conservative Lutherans in the Missouri Synod, it would be “unbearable.” Bonhoeffer didn’t elaborate exactly on what made them unbearable in his own time, but the words “exclusive orthodoxy” certainly seem to point at his meaning. The total focus on insular orthodoxy, often at the cost of, say, orthopraxy, made them unbearable to a man whose theology, ethics, and life were so committed to Christ crucified.
Concordia University Wisconsin is a Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod university which is affiliated with Concordia University Ann Arbor, from which I graduated. It’s looking for a new president. That search has inspired no small amount of pushback, largely in the form of various screeds online. It’s not because the university has opted to search for a non-Lutheran, nor because they haven’t insisted upon impeccable LCMS credentials (such as being a member in good standing of an LCMS church).
No, conservative Lutherans have once again decided to toe the line for the culture war rather than, say, their own Lutheran tradition and confessions. Like the many times I’ve observed LCMS churches partnering with the anti-infant-baptism organization Answers in Genesis for things like Vacation Bible School because of a hot topic like the age of the earth (no really), we find people within this same organization who pay lip service to being exclusively Lutheran while they find their real battlefields and efforts based in the latest conservative talking points. As if reading from a teleprompter on Fox News, places like the misnamed “Christian News” are spouting off about the alleged “wokeness” of Concordia University Wisconsin’s search for a president.
Why? Well, to put in the words of Gregory P. Schulz, writing at Christian News: “Regents have been publicly announcing their determination to have a president who exhibits a ‘demonstrated belief in and commitment to equity and inclusion’ and who promotes racialized ‘diversity in all its myriad forms.'” Yes, that’s right, the problem with this search for the President of Concordia University Wisconsin is because it *checks notes* wants someone who is committed to equity and inclusion *blinks.* What, exactly, makes that problematic? Well, Schulz, apparently an ordained pastor in the LCMS and Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University Wisconsin (this is important), unleashes a lengthy string of meaningless invective of “woke-ness” and its alleged pervasiveness at Concordia University Wisconsin. Readers would be forgiven for thinking that rather than being written by an ordained pastor, this article was submitted, or perhaps edited by someone’s QAnon-guzzling aunt.
Any reader who reads Schulz’s article is treated to a firehose of terms thrown about without even the slightest care for definition. Schulz writes, “My Concordia university is experiencing dysphoria because it is coming under the influence of Woke-ism (that is, a potent cocktail of Progressivism, Neo-Pragmatism, and Marxism).” Schulz, being a professor of philosophy, has either cooked the books to make Woke-ness self-referentially incoherent or simply is staggeringly unaware of the strangeness of his own definition. Given that nowhere else does he actually address what he means by “Woke-ism,” the most likely reason for this is because Schulz is entirely aware of just how easy it is to throw out the term “woke” in order to trigger his fellow conservatives into fits of nearly rabid apoplexy simply from reading it. Of course, ask those same readers to define, say “Neo-Pragmatism,” and the closest many would come would be a Wikipedia article. Again, one can only assume that Schulz is aware of this, which suggests that his article is less intelligent commentary than it is mustering the troops to get behind whatever agenda he’s pushing.
Despite all of Schulz’s raving and incoherent definitions, he does eventually get to some points. For one, he apparently thinks that the “woke-ism” which is allegedly invading Concordia University Wisconsin because of a hope for “equity” is misguided. Why? Well, in his own words, “While there is no systemic racism at Concordia because we are committed to Christ incarnate and His universal justification of all human beings without exception, there certainly is systemic Woke-ism” (emphasis his). Ah yes, as we all know, it is impossible for people to be racist if they’re “committed to Christ incarnate.” Yes, tell that to the many enslavers of Antebellum America. Oh, I’m sorry, are literal facts of history now considered “Woke-ism”? (Spoiler: for Schulz, they are). But for those who actually have any interest in the truth, the myriad and clear examples of white enslavers who nevertheless were totally committed to Christ and, indeed, defended the institution (oops–is that a “systemic” [read: woke] issue?) of slavery through the use of the Bible can be easily accessed by a simple search online. The primary sources are absolutely filled to the gills with examples of this. But Schulz is convinced that this is impossible. But what is possible? Apparently, while the evil of racism can’t coexist with a Christ-centered institution, it is fully possible for the evil (in his mind) of Marxism to do so. Which is it, Schulz? Does commitment to Christ prevent it or not?
But again, Schulz, being a trained philosopher, absolutely has to be aware of this. While I’m hesitant to assign mental states to others because we can’t know their mental life, it seems impossible that someone could be a professor of philosophy and be unaware of such an obvious contradiction. The only other explanation is that, again, Schulz is far more committed to the talking points of whatever he heard on Joe Rogan’s latest podcast than he is to ethical or philosophical consistency. What’s especially disturbing here is that Schulz’s own diatribe reinforces the very thing he’s alleging doesn’t exist. By his insistence that racism is impossible and systemic issues are to be dismissed as woke Marxist communist propaganda, he makes it not only possible but also entirely likely that any such issues that actually do exist are ignored and even reinforced. That is, racism cannot exist somewhere like Concordia University Wisconsin, so any attempt to say it does exist is either blatantly false or “Woke-ism” coming to roost. It’s an awfully convenient way to deal with dissent. As I’ve seen others say online, “Sounds about white.” Er… right.
Schulz, in fact, mentions Bonhoeffer’s Ethics in his post. While I’m convinced that if one printed off Schulz’s post and wrapped a copy of Bonhoeffer’s work in it, one would find a hole burned through the side in the morning a la the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark, one wonders whether Schulz might be bothered to go back through Bonhoeffer’s works at length. One wonders if he’s aware of how he has now blatantly turned himself into a stooge for the anti-woke propagandists. One wonders if he’s aware of how he’s perpetuated the “unbearable” nature of the Missouri Synod for anyone even marginally interested in orthopraxy rather than the barest nod towards orthodoxy.
It’s telling Schulz doesn’t bother to quote Bonhoeffer in any length. Perhaps Bonhoeffer’s words about how the gospel was found in the black church in America, not in the white churches, and certainly not in the “unbearable” Missouri Synod are also written off by him as “woke-ism.” Maybe they strike too close to home, so they must be equally dismissed. Perhaps Bonhoeffer’s words about how Christ comes for the marginalized and suffers alongside them strike Schulz as Marxist.
So, is Concordia University Wisconsin pandering to woke-ism? It’s impossible to tell. Schulz’s rag doesn’t bother with such things as careful definitions, seeking to understand the other side, presenting one’s interlocutors in terms they themselves can recognize, or anything of the sort. What I can say though, is Schulz and people like him are why the Missouri Synod remains, as Bonhoeffer said, unbearable.