Concordia University, River Forest Faculty Members Sign Petition Defending William Ayers and the Value of Challenging Orthodoxy, Dogma and Authority, by Pr. Tim Rossow

This is a post about the church, not about politics. The two sometimes intersect, even in a denomination like the LCMS which has a quietist bent when it comes to politics. The two have intersected in a public petition that defends William Ayers, who has admitted to participating in violent anti-American terrorist acts and as recently as 2002 has said that he does not regret these past actions. At least three faculty members of Concordia University Chicago, an institution of the LCMS have signed the petition (see signature #’s 588, 1474 and 1589).

It is not our intent to speak to the political issues involved in this matter although your comments on the political side of this are welcome. The issue that involves the church here is the matter of the nature of our schools. I assert that the signing of this petition by Concordia University faculty members, is a clear sign that our colleges and universities are morphing into secular institutions.

If you read the petition you will see that it espouses a secular humanist theory of education and not a theistic approach. For sure, we need to challenge people to think and to reflect on various viewpoints, even in a conservative, Bible-believing, confessing university. But we do not need to espouse a theory of education that is anti-authoritarian, espouses freedom at all costs (even if it supports terror bombings) and is opposed to the concepts of dogma and orthodoxy.

My guess is that these faculty members are adjunct, probably “extremely adjunct” and so we may not need to fear that the heart and core “traditional” faculty of the university espouse this anti-authoritarian viewpoint. But that brings us to the point of this post. Our LCMS universities are no longer parochial. A former principal who served the day school at my congregation earned his Masters in Education from Concordia University a few years ago and in the entire course of his studies had only one professor who was a member of the LCMS!

The current new measures being applied in our church today supported by President Kieschnick and others have led us to a point in our university system where we have gone beyond a parochial structure in our colleges that can be properly and tightly controlled for Christian orthodoxy by the administration. For sure, President Kieschnick and our university presidents cannot control the decisions of the past in our LCMS that have taken away their subsidies and “forced” them to grow non-parochial programs in order to fund the university. That happened before President Kieschnick and other current leaders were elected. My point however, is that the current way of approaching matters in the church espoused by President Kieschnick and others, that focuses more on secular matters such as leadership, sociological principles of church growth, worship that is more in tune with the culture, and so forth, leads us to be more tolerant, prone to embrace a wide variety of ideologies, and is less parochial than a conservative, Bible-believing, confessing university ought to be.

If we need to expand secular programs in our universities beyond our ability to insure that our faculty can be properly led by the administration, then maybe we have a model of higher education that just flat out will not work. Anybody for smaller colleges that are truly parochial and focused on the work of the church – to train up church workers?

Pastor Rossow

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Concordia University, River Forest Faculty Members Sign Petition Defending William Ayers and the Value of Challenging Orthodoxy, Dogma and Authority, by Pr. Tim Rossow — 26 Comments

  1. Here are a few more professors who signed (including the ones you mention):

  2. It’s too bad that the LCMS colleges are going this way. I just finished my PhD in history and am on the job market. I would love to teach at a Concordia (although I fear that I may be a little too Lutheran). But since none are hiring in my position right now, the odds of me getting in now or in the next couple years of the job hunt are basically nil I suppose. I fully understand that you have to hire when people retire or position become available, but at the same time, there can’t possibly be a constant stream of confessional Lutheran professors on the job market. If the Concordias were really serious about maintaining a core confessional faculty they would have to start hiring as people became available. Of course there would be serious practical problems to this approach. Anyhow, I’m not just saying that the Concordias should hire more confessional Lutheran professors because I need a job and would like to work at one (honestly, I think that in practice I might not fit anyway and would do better elsewhere) but because that is the only way to maintain an institutional religious ID.

  3. I don’t see any problem with our LCMS teachers signing a political petition. They should not, however, imply that their institution, thus the LCMS, agrees with their opinion. I am almost certain that all Concordia Universities have a contractual agreement with their faculty that states this. If we are concerned, then we should contact the faculty members and the administration.

    Their signing is not a clear sign that our Concordias are morphing into secular institutions, rather, they are a sign that the Concordias are hiring people who hold worldly opinions. It would be wonderful if all LCMS schools’ faculty were all LCMS members. That would require, however, that LCMS members were willing to be teachers, principals, and administrators.

  4. David,

    Very good point. I was being a little too generous when I said that they were probably “extremely adjunct.” Upon further checking, as you have done, it turns out that most of these are “assistant professors.” This is no small issue.

    I called the president’s office at Concordia early this morning and it is being looked into. President Johnson is out of the office for a few days but it is my impression that he has been contacted. I cannot be sure what will come of that, but at least they have been alerted to the problem. I left a message with the president asking him to speak to these professors and have them remove thier names from this petition that espouses a secular view of education.

    I encourage all concerned readers to contact Concordia and express your concern and disgust.

    Pastor Rossow

  5. Anonimus,

    The issue is not that Concordia faculty signed a political petition. The issue is that they signed a political petition that espouses a secular view of education. Do you think that it is OK for an LCMS institution of higher learning, a teacher’s college, to have an education faculty that espouses a secular theory of education whose emphasis is on tearing down trust in authority, dogma and orthodoxy and this in defense of a man who still believes that it is acceptable to fire bomb people’s homes in this country (with them inside) in the cause of tearing down authority, dogma and orthodoxy?

    Pastor Rossow

  6. Pastor Rossow,

    I hadn’t read the petition when I first posted. I take it that you take issue with the following parts of the petition:

    “All citizens, but particularly teachers and scholars, are called upon to challenge orthodoxy, dogma, and mindless complacency, to be skeptical of authoritative claims, to interrogate and trouble the given and the taken-for-granted. Without critical dialogue and dissent we would likely be burning witches and enslaving our fellow human beings to this day. The growth of knowledge, insight, and understanding— the possibility of change— depends on that kind of effort, and the inevitable clash of ideas that follows should be celebrated and nourished rather than crushed. Teachers have a heavy responsibility, a moral obligation, to organize classrooms as sites of open discussion, free of coercion or intimidation. By all accounts Professor Ayers meets this standard. His classes are fully enrolled, and students welcome the exchange of views that he encourages.”

    and also

    “We, the undersigned, stand on the side of education as an enterprise devoted to human inquiry, enlightenment, and liberation. We oppose the demonization of Professor William Ayers.”

    Pastor Rossow, is educational theory ONLY to be found in the Righthand Kingdom or the Lefthand Kingdom?

    Also, do you personally know as fact that, at this very moment, Bill Ayers is unrepentant for his actions? Certainly his statements on Sept 11, 2001 suggest that he isn’t, but I cannot personally say that I know for a fact that he still isn’t, though I do not support the man or his theories.

    Furthermore, the issue IS the fact that the faculty signed AND implicated their institutions. If they had not done so, then the majority of us reading this now would not know Concordia faculty had signed it. It would have then been left up to those who know them personally to show them their sin.

  7. There used to be a favorite saying in politics that applies here as well – “Throw the rascals out!” Would that the administration at Concordia Chicago and in convention in 2010 did – but don’t hold your breath.

  8. I just have to say that the suggestion of fire-bombing people in their homes is not exactly “passive resistance” or “The growth of knowledge, insight, and understanding” or “open discussion, free of coercion or intimidation”.
    It sounds very intimidating to me!

    Even the Kingdom of the Left should prosecute such open rebellion.
    Kingdom of the left authority, be it good or evil, is still under God’s control, and should be obeyed.

    There are even examples in Scripture of slaves being urged not to run away from their masters. But this might have to be a subject for another day, another post…..

  9. If CRF president Johnson is the same one who wrote the pathetically confused article, “Can War Be Just?”, in the 2003 Lutheran Witless, I don’t expect anything being done by him to reign in these leftist petition signers.

  10. In his 2008 book, “Save the World on Your Own Time,” Stanley Fish argues against the kinds of responsiblities the educators in the petition claim for themselves. He writes, “…isn’t the university primarily a place for the unfettered expression of ideas? The answer is no. The university is primarily a place for teaching and research. The unfettered expression of ideas is a cornerstone of liberal democracy; it is a prime political value. It is not, however, an academic value…” (page 20)

    Fish also writes, “So what is it that institutions of higher learning are supposed to do? My answer is simple. College and university teachers can (legitimately) do two things: (1) introduce students to bodies of knowledge and traditions of inquiry that had not previously been part of their experience; and (2) equip those same students with the analytical skills — of argument, statistical modeling, laboratory procedure — that will enable them to move confidently within those traditions and to engage in independent research after a course is over.” (pages 12-13)

    I think the suggestion here is that if teachers (as in the petition) feel called upon to “challenge orthodoxy, dogma, and mindless complacency, to be skeptical of authoritative claims,” they can do that on their own time, but not in their classrooms.

  11. Anonimus (Comment # 7),

    I believe your comment about the two kingdoms is intended to suggest that I have attacked a left-hand kingdom matter with right hand kingdom tools. This is a good question that will help the Brothers of John the Steadfast and other readers understand this Ayers petition better.

    The doctrine of the two kingdoms is not intended to build a wall between the two kingdoms as if they are inseparable. The two kingdoms doctrine is more about two manners of authority that God has established than it is about two different kingdoms that we straddle and in which we are allowed to hold contradictory opinions. The two kingdoms doctrine is intended to help us understand that the ultimate power in the church (right hand kingdom) is the Gospel and its new-life giving message of forgiveness and the ultimate power in the world (left hand kingdom) is the law and its threats of punishment.

    This doctrine is not intended to excuse ungodly theories of education. One cannot contradict the truth of God or the truth of reason and hide behind the doctrine of the two kingdoms and say: “I am holding these other teachings as true only in the left hand kingdom.” Again, the distinction between the two kingdoms is not a distinction that says that the two kingdoms contradict each other. It is a distinction that says there are two types of government in the world.

    Besides, the educational theory espoused in the petition actually does exactly what you accuse me of doing, only in the reverse. When the liberals who drafted the petition assert that freedom should trump all other powers in the universe (which is why they decry any dogma, orthodoxy, etc.), they are actually trying to make the “gospel” (their own perverted version of it known as absolute freedom) rule in the left hand kingdom of education. Bill Ayers espouses a freedom that is so radical (freedom from God, dogma, or any other authority) that in its name he is justified in fire bombing peoples homes even while they are inside.

    There is no absolute wall between the two kingdoms that allows Ayers this freedom or the Concordia professors the authority to support him and his false theories of education. There is no absolute wall between the two kingdoms as if I can move from one kingdom to another and is if there are two sets of truths, one for each kingdom. There is only one set of truths. Some truths are to be used in the left hand kingdom (e.g. you must pay a penalty for your wrong-doing) and some are to be used in the right hand kingdom (you are forgiven for your sin if you confess it and believe in Christ). Now, if a truth claim of the left hand kingdom contradicts a truth of the right hand kingdom it is to be rejected as untrue. In this case the education philosophy of William Ayers espoused in the petition, which is a philosophy of absolute freedom (no dogma, no orthodoxy, etc.) must be rejected and must not be taught in our Lutheran schools and ought not to be supported by our professors by signing this petition. We know that there is dogma and orthodoxy even in the left hand kingdom. Here is a list of dogmas that are true for the left hand kingdom and the right hand kingdom (I speak as if there are two kingdoms but there are not – there are two modes of governing) and must be upheld in our Lutheran schools: 1) there is a God, 2) the true God is triune in nature and Jesus Christ is His Son, 3) homosexuality is a sin and is harmful for the human race, 3) man is conceived and born with an eternal soul, etc. Now, we do not let a helpful distinction such as the two kingdoms trump these truths. Not only do we not let the distinction trump these dogmas, we must hold these truths and teach them dogmatically to our children and youth.

    Concerning your question as to whether or not William Ayers has repented I have two comments. First, it is irrelevant. I have been careful to point out that this is not a political issue nor an issue about William Ayers. It just so happens that William Ayers’ despicable behavior is helpful in this case to illustrate what happens when your education theory of freedom at all costs (no dogma, no orthodoxy, etc.) is taken to its logical conclusion – people’s houses are fire-bombed by you because you are must uphold your principle of freedom. Secondly, are you deaf? Do you not watch any fair and balanced coverage of the news? Do you just listen to news reports put out by leftist supporters of people like William Ayers? It has been extensively reported that William Ayers has recently stated that he is not ashamed of his past activities as a terrorist. As recently as 2006 he has even put this in print (see particularly the last section).

    I ask you to respond by demonstrating where I am wrong in what I have said here, or please admit that you are wrong. Do not do as you usually do on this site when you are proved wrong, i.e. change the subject and throw out more irrational foolishness to distract the readers.

    Thanks again participating in the discussion and for raising questions that will allow the Brothers of John the Steadfast and our other readers to better understand why it is so wrong that professors at our LCMS college would sign this ungodly petition in support of an ungodly man. They certainly cannot hide behind a faulty view of the two kingdoms doctrine.

    Pastor Rossow

  12. Carol #11,

    I have not read Stanley Fish’s book but what you quote of it is right on.

    Concerning your last comment however, I have this to say. If our Concordia professors are espousing a philosophy of education that is opposed to any dogma, orthodoxy, etc., even if it is just in their spare time, then I would say they do not understand the faith nor the universe well enough to be teaching in our universities. Yes?

    Pastor Rossow

  13. Heartbroken (#9),

    You are absolutely correct. There are so many issues in the petition that I do not have time or space to address. One of them you have rightly pointed out is that the petition uses “post-modern,” double-speak, gobbledy-gook equivocation in the way they describe Ayers terrorist activities.

    Pastor Rossow

  14. Pastor Rossow (#12),

    “I believe your comment about the two kingdoms is intended to suggest that I have attacked a left-hand kingdom matter with right hand kingdom tools.”

    Then you have misunderstood me. Here is what I believed from your words: When you used the phrase “a secular humanist theory of education and not a theistic approach,” I took it to mean you were suggesting that the only proper view of education was a view espoused only by the truths applicable in the righthand kingdom. In other words, I felt that you might be building a wall, so I asked a question for clarification. I also wanted clarification concerning whether or not you believed secular educators, when forming educational theory, can implement truth claims which are applicable in the lefthand kingdom. I meant no slight.

    Furthermore, I was attempting to understand your viewpoint concerning what exactly you found evil about the view espoused on the petition. I know what I find to be incredibly stupid about the petition’s view on academics, but I wanted to know your opinion, specifically on what deserves condemnation in the petition. Again, this is not because I am blind and “deaf,” though I admit I am quite ignorant, but because I wanted to understand your view.

    You have now explained your view, but you have now alienated me in the process. I say this only because you have accused me of attacking you, and, in explaining your view, you have pigeon-holed me into the polar opposite (stupid and wrong) stance.

    In actuality, I often agree with you. This is one reason why I wanted to understand you better.

    I will avoid commenting on Ayers because I brought him into the discussion based on a phrase from post 6 which you have now clarified, and also because it has been deemed irrelevant.

    “I ask you to respond by demonstrating where I am wrong in what I have said here, or please admit that you are wrong.”

    I will admit that I did not fully and clearly understand your position. If I may, respectfully, I still believe that some of your assertions in the original article are too strong while being too general without taking into consideration many aspects, such as the strengths of our Concordias and their church-worker programs. At the same time, I acknowledge you were trying to promote discussion, and strong, generalized assertions often promote lively discussion. A discussion which I hope to continue to observe.

    I was wrong because I quickly typed responses without taking into full consideration how you and others would interpret and apply them. I am guilty.

    Please forgive me.

  15. Anonimus,

    I need to ask you for forgiveness. I mistook you for someone else. I hope you can forgive me.

    Also, apparently I read into your question more than was there. That is my fault also. Hoepfully my explanation was clear enough to demonstrate why I reacted the way I did. People often try to hide behind the distinction between the two kingdoms to excuse unacceptable positions in the left hand kingdom.

    Again, I apologize and thank you for remaining in the discussion. I will have a few more things to say about this in the next few days.

    Pastor Rossow

  16. I have also alerted the bishop of the Northern Illinois District, who sits on the board of directors of Concordia-Chicago. He listened intently to the concern and he has assured me that this will be looked into. More to come…

    Pastor Rossow

  17. Pastor Rossow,

    I forgive you.

    I believe that I should have approached this discussion more carefully, and that my flippant approach was wide open to having more read into it than what I intended to say.

    I apologize.

  18. Anonimus,

    Thank you for your forgiveness. I do not think you were flippant but I forgive you as well.

    OK, enough of the love fest, let’s get on with a deeper understanding of what the signatures of six of our LCMS university faculty members on a petition that epsouses a godless, pagan view of education means for the Brothers of John the Steadfast and our desire to preserve Confessional Lutheranism in the LCMS.

    More to come…

    Pastor Rossow

  19. Quite simply, the chickens of the cultural revolution of the ’60s (in the LCMess as in society at large…”Academic freedom” was one of the battle cries of the faculty majority at the St. Louis sem.) have come home to roost. Remember “don’t trust anyone over 30”? This is nothing new, really. We’ve see it in academia for at least a generation.
    These profs are William Ayers’ peers, or were educatd by them.
    Yes, they should be brought to task. Yes, they should be forcefully reminded that it is a Missouri Synod (not ELCA) institution to which they owe their livelihood and should owe their allegiance. Yes, they should be disciplined.
    Will it happen? Not bloody likely. There’s this neat thingy called tenure.

  20. There is not a bishop of NID. There is a District President. The word you use is not part of your grandfather’s synod.

  21. Anonymous #21,

    Why do you have a problem with the word “bishop?” My grandfather got it from the Lutheran Confessions (it is used countless times there) and the confessors got it from scripture. It simply means to “oversee.” The most important work a “district president” (a secular term not found in the Confessions or the Bible) does is to supervise the Gospel in his district. Yes, my district president is my bishop. I submit to his supervision of me by God’s word.

    Let’s cut a deal – I will keep using the title “district president” (which I regularly do – I have no problem with it but it is not as Biblical or confessional as “bishop”) interchangeably with the title “bishop” and you add the title “bishop” to your vocabularly and use it interchangeable with the title “district president.” OK?

    The reason to not loose the term “bishop” (besides the fact that it is Biblical and confessional) is that it will help us as a church realize that supervising doctrine is more important than runnning programs. The title “president” connotes someone sitting at the top of an institution and presiding over affairs. The term “bishop” denotes from scripture, a shepherd concerned about keeping the wolves of false teachers away from the flock and protecting the Word of God from falsity.

    BTW – the Bible teaches that every pastor is a bishop. It is the pastor’s job to not only preach the word but to supervise it so that it remains pure (I Peter 5:1-3 , in the ESV the word for “exercising oversight” is “episcopos,” i.e. “bishop” in English). The district president therefore is the bishop’s bishop, the overseer of the overeseer. This does not give him any power over anybody other than the power of the Word of God but since he is the overseer of the overseers, he needs to be the cream of the crop at knowing and teaching the Word of God amongst his peers. This is not the case as often as it ought to be in our synod.

    Hope this helps. I am very interested in you correcting anything that I have wrong here. It is my desire to be Biblical and confessional.

    Pastor Rossow

  22. Bethany (#2),

    Don’t give up on synod institutions. There is a contingent within the CU system that is actively seeking to reform the system, both confessionally and academically. They need your voice. Obviously you can’t do anything about a lack of positions, but if a position comes up, gird yourself for battle and join the cause.


  23. Pastor,

    It is indeed disturbing that professors at a college in our beloved Concordia system would sign such a petition. But regarding your comment that these schools are “becoming secular institutions,” even the seminaries are accredited by secular organizations. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. In order to train and teach our children, our youth, and our pastors, we must have scholars. Scholarship is not an empty ideal. It has to take a specific form in order to be effective. That specific form is often called an “agenda” by those who disagree with the views espoused by the teacher but called “training” by those who agree with it. Just like St. Louis in the ’70s, we have too many professors who have earned doctorates from places other than synodically-approved institutions. Again, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But this is what happens when our own distinctiveness is frittered and rationalized away for the sake of an “unbiased” and accredited education. We find that bias is impossible to avoid and that some people don’t share our biases and convictions.

    I’m all for smaller schools. They’re called families, and right now they’re being undercut by individual greed and an increasingly “all-sufficient” government. We blame “secularization” and a “confusion of the two kingdoms” when this kind of thing happens, but the truth is that these two things only really happens when we forget where all authority really comes from. That’s what happened in St. Louis in the early ’70s, and that’s what’s happening now in other system schools.

    In short, is this situation sad? Yeah, downright tragic, if you ask me. But is it surprising? Not in the least.

    Pax Christi,


  24. @Bethany #2

    I worked as an adjunct philosophy instructor at Concordia, Mequon, WI–just before I completed my PhD at Marquette U. I was not Lutheran, but was frankly more theologically orthodox than a segment of the faculty there. When I was hired, I was told it was because my M.A. in Theology was from Fuller Seminary. That made my resume “go to the top of the stack.” I was shocked. I’m far more conservative than Fuller Seminary: I hold to the inerrancy of the Bible, men only as pastors, and all the standards of the early ecumenical creeds. Fuller is notiorious for undermining biblical orthodoxy. I’m glad I was hired, but astonished as well. The Concordia faculty was split between those who were faithful to the Lutheran confessions, and those who were working quietly to change the LCMS view of Scripture, ministry, and certain elements of theology and doctrine. One adjunct was a Presbyterian woman, who held some very unsettling beliefs. I worried about the students, and wondered why I, as the outsider, was more concerned than the LCMS people themselves.

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