Dictatorship of the Ecclesiatariat in Decorah


Posted: Thu, Mar 7, 2013 7:15 PM

Dr. Mark Hagerott, the finalist for the job of Luther College president, has issued this statement in the wake of his decision to withdraw his candidacy…see the rest the article here.


Luther College, Decorah, Iowa is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  A statement on their website declares they are dedicated to “liberal learning” which is not the same as liberal arts.   It was announced in the local newspapers that as of February 24th he was the single finalist to replace  President Richard Torgerson who had resigned after fourteen years in the position.

Dr. Hagerott is a Rhodes Scholar. He is  Professor of History of Science and Technology, Military/Naval History at the U. S. Naval Academy.  He has a Phd. in history.  He is a captain in the USN…see his vita here

Why did Dr. Hagerott withdraw his candicacy?  Was it some impropriety or scandal?  No.  He withdrew his candidacy because the accusation against him was quite simple.   Dr. Hagerott is a member of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and this disqualified him, not officially, but in the court of public opinion at Luther College and in the community.  This is the scandal.

From what I can reconstruct of a timeline, his candidacy for the position was first announced in January along with  another candidate, Dr. Ann Duin. It was announced on 23 February by the Luther College Board of Regents  that Dr. Hagerott was the choice. But by March 3rd, the local paper reported that the Board of Regents was requesting additional information for their now “preferred choice”.  They wanted some theological information because it was reported Dr. Hagerott is a member of the LCMS, from the article:

“For instance, LCMS is opposed to ordaining women, opposed to abortion in all cases, considers homosexuality sinful and believes in a literal translation of the Bible (http://www.lcms.org/belief-and-practice

Please note that “the literal translation (sic) of the Bible” should have come first because Scripture’s authority is the basis of their objections.  I maintain that they know the Scripture is the Word of God but the powers that be rage against the Word, foes who fear it, because it is true.

A student, in the Luther College newspaper, Chips, expressed his dismay at the prospect of a  Dr. Hagerott presidency at Luther, not only for  the reasons cited in the quote above but also for the LCMS’s teaching of closed communion.  From the student’s article:

It appears that Mark Hagerott, the recommended candidate for the presidency of our college, is a parishioner with the LCMS. I have no qualms with someone worshiping as a member of the LCMS. My aunt’s family is LCMS, and I have good friends with roots in the LCMS. But I do not believe that a member of the LCMS is a good fit for the presidency of this institution.

In the cursory inter-net researching on this, the student’s article was probably the tip of the iceberg.  Dr. Hagerott also failed for the presidency probably because he is white and male.   A candidate who is an African-American lesbian wins the trifecta of political correctness these days.

Why did Dr. Hagerott withdraw?  You can read his letter here. Crucial to his letter, and for this article is this:

“…as the presidential search matured, I realized a fundamental issue for Luther dating from 2009 had now emerged and became the only theme to be debated in the open press and one I did not anticipate:  a narrowing lens of theological affiliation. (And, for the record, I disclosed my denominational affiliations from the outset of the search. Moreover, I have for three decades been open and welcoming to other faiths, demonstrated over years of seagoing ship assignments and service with the Army in combat zones ashore, where I worshiped in interdenominational Protestant military services).

Despite my record, the debate as framed both in the college newspaper and in decorahnews.com became one sided, portraying a requirement for theological conformity.  Counterpoints were conspicuously absent.” (emphases my own)

I think Dr. Hagerott’s citation of 2009 refers to the August 21 decision of ELCA’s churchwide assembly to open “…ministry to partnered gay and lesbian Lutherans”.  Note that he puts the shoes of intolerance on the supposedly feet of the ‘tolerant’. It is a perfect fit.

It is way too easy at this juncture to start throwing brickbats at the personalities of the people involved and is inappropriate given the 8th Commandment.  Christian warfare is not against flesh and blood but against the powers and the principalities of this dark age, the work of the devil (Ephesians 6: 10-12).  So what is at work here? Yes, the devil but that begs the question: what is the devil’s work at play?

I find that Dr. Hagerott’s statement is quite educational, as per his vocation.  He uses phrases to describe what transpired that are ostensibly pejorative:  “narrowing”, “one sided”, “theological conformity” to describe a liberal, tolerant college   but aptly correct to what transpired for him and his family.  Yet, those phrases do not initially correspond to the adjectives “liberal” and “tolerant”.  Growing up the ’60s, if you had asked me, who is intolerant and repressive, I would have answered it is all those conservative “Archie Bunker” types, but with the unveiling of the zeitgeist within the churches and society  of a new liberalism, I realized that liberalism itself was fast becoming just as Dr. Hagerott described:  conformist, narrow and intolerant.

The events of the past two months at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, in the supposedly rock-ribbed Midwest, was the perfect storm involving three institutions:  church, media and academia. What interconnects the three?  Answer:  the zeitgeist, the powers and principalities. They can be described as dictatorial, and allow no other thought they deem to be “intolerant”, even though the people are rather vocal in claiming they are  loving, caring and inclusive Christians.  It reminds me of my brother-in-law’s insight:  Can you trust any wine that says how good it is on the label? As all who preach the Christian, this is the case.  What is that false spirit and powers?  I think the nature  of the  powers and principalities can be understood in three  interconnecting dictatorships:

The dictatorship of relativism/The dictatorship of tolerance/The dictatorship of  politics

  1. The dictatorship of relativism is not my  original phrase  with this article.  It is from a sermon Cardinal Ratzinger gave to the cardinals before he became Bishop of Rome.  It is quite apt:                                                                      “Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and “swept along by every wind of teaching”, looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires”.                                                                                               The article by the Luther College student  is essentially autobiographical.  Personal anecdote rules.  It is all about my feelings, not about the reasonable revelation of truth in Law and Promise. He and his family have been swept along.  Yet, in the liberalism of today we are stuck at John 18:3 8,Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”.  Pilate had none, except power. The Roman Empire was tolerant towards all religions and viewpoints, except those that went against the polis/polity of the Empire and those religions which had the temerity to state there is only one God, which meant Judaism and Christianity. Christians were not persecuted and martyred for good deeds, but the good Creed:  Jesus Christ. In these days, in a similar fashion there are no absolutes and anyone who claims such is labeled “patriarchal”, “oppressive”, a “fundy”  and the like. This is aimed at the Bible as is clear in the reportage surrounding Dr. Hagerott’s candidacy.  Except as one ethics professor asked his supposedly relativistic freshmen: “Is it ever all right to take the handicap parking space or rape a woman?” (from an article from First Things).  As C. S. Lewis wrote that the man who says there is no right or wrong is usually the first one to cry out, That’s not fair! Clearly, there is moral law, right and wrong.  How else can you teach a child?  This dictatorship espouses…
  2. The dictatorship of tolerance which becomes the only virtue and aspiration left (the seven virtues are unheard of) but must denounce anyone who says there is absolute truth, absolute Law and the Savior who absolves, as intolerant, a fundamentalist!  It is a vicious circle:  no Law, no Savior. In the orthodox confessional Lutheran Church I can be a sinner, forgiven in Jesus, but in this dictatorship I can only be politically incorrect and need to “get my mind right”. The heretical circle is broken by…
  3. The dictatorship of politics espousing the group that rules wins and sets the rules.  This is not to be confused with democracy at all. It is pure power politics as the ELCA from the get-go which was institutionalized in the quota system.  It was to insure voting blocks of the politically correct/tolerant/relativistic, after dethroning Scripture as a “paper pope”, could then rule the unenlightened.  It is only about power, not authority, ruling not serving. This is not about inquisitive minds but an inquisition. This is tyranny.

These intersecting dictates were all in play as they are in media, politics, and denominations (Romans and Orthodox are infected as well) in Decorah. I heard a caller on a radio talk show say that today politics is religion and religion is politics.  The former engenders the latter. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus wrote that when the Church  is pushed out of the public arena (even in a church college!) then the state will become the ‘church’ and the converse is also true:  the church becomes the  state, merely juridical, making the new rules and regs of the ‘enlightened spirituality’  of political action.  This is reminiscent of the Lord’s parable:  if we kill the owner of the vineyard’s son, then we can inherit the vineyard…then it will be ours, our vineyard, our kingdom, our church.  What a legal fiction! We are the “builders” (St. Luke 20: 17), the movers and shakers…But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
    “‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?
(St. Luke 20: 17)

Sadly, the Lord said  it will crush them (St. Luke 20: 18). Jesus does not want anyone to die but live. Repent or perish is His Word we are called to preach.

P.S.  My favorite ‘preacher’ on the radio is  the ‘Rev. Billy Ray Collins’, on the radio program “John Boy and Billy Show, the Big Show” out of Charlotte, NC.  He said the other day: “Our minds are made up and our doors are always open.”  Settled minds and open doors are not at all mutually exclusive in Jesus Christ.



About Pastor Mark Schroeder

I am currently the Pastor at Concordia Lutheran Mission, authorized by Good Shepherd Lutheran, Roanoke, Virginia. I have been an AELC then an ELCA pastor since my Ordination April 24, 1983 until leaving the ELCA and being accepted by Colloquy, June 1, 2010. My wife is Natalie and we have three children, Luke, Talitha and Abraham.


Dictatorship of the Ecclesiatariat in Decorah — 23 Comments

  1. So what we see actually happening here is the ELCA (at least the BoR and students of Decorah) developing a real “doctrine” by which they separate themselves from people who *don’t* believe their “doctrine”. I find it rather refreshing. They are refreshingly *wrong*, of course.

    Ironically, I’m a bit disturbed by Dr. Hagerott’s assertions regarding his own approach to doctrine. His comments sound more like I’d expect from a typical ELCA-ite. To be sure, he may simply be using irony himself to illustrate the silliness of the typical ELCA (liberal protestant) “orthodoxy.” (It does seem like that, to a degree. Not enough data to be more sure.)

    Don’t you just love irony? 🙂

  2. @Rev. David Mueller #3
    Don’t you just love irony?

    No, I am very sad, although the news from Luther has been so bad for so long that I am astonished that this man was ever considered at all, let alone seriously. LCMS and military at Luther!?

    [But he needn’t worry about their turning down contributions from gullible alumni who remember Luther as it was once. All money is green (or was) 🙁 and Luther is big on “green” along with any other non-religious “cause” these days.]

    The student speaks for himself and the tripe he’s been brought up on speaks for itself! 🙁

  3. In its 2012 Response to the XXXA’s “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” statement, the CTCR states: “The ELCA has now taken this step, embodying apostasy from the faith once delivered to the saints.” The Response also quotes Richard J. Niebanck (former XXXA retired pastor and author; colloquized in the LCMS, May 2010) concerning the XXXA embodiment of apostasy:

    “Of the blessed union of Christ and the church, the marriage of one man and one woman is the matchless icon. The willful departure from this norm is an offense for which ‘heresy’ is too mild a designation.”

    Even President Matthew Harrison, an advisory member of the CTCR, responded back in August, 2009, to Rev. Todd Wilken’s question of whether ‘apostasy’ was too strong a word to describe the XXXA, “No, it is apostasy. There’s no way around it. It gives me great pain to say that, but there’s no other word for it.”

    Christian Cyclopedia (CPH, 2000) defines apostasy as “A total lapsing from principles or faith” and “listening to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils”.

    In effect, President Harrison, the CTCR, and, if approved at the 2013 convention, the Missouri Synod, have declared the XXXA, along with its affiliated institutions (e.g., Luther College), the equivalent of a committed homosexual relationship with Satan.

    This raises the question of what Dr. Mark Hagerott, a member of a Missouri Synod congregation [Note: Dr. Hagerott is not a member of the LCMS], was hoping to accomplish as the President of such an apostate church-affiliated institution.

  4. Not surprising. A member of our congregation has said repeatedly that it was very difficult for him to attend Luther College and to remain a Lutheran.

  5. @Carl Vehse #5
    Unless we ask Dr. Hagerott, we do not know what he hoped to accomplish but Luther College, et. al. clearly did not want what a true Lutheran as president might do.

  6. @Pastor Mark Schroeder #8: “Luther College, et. al. clearly did not want what a true Lutheran as president might do.”

    It appears that what was described to Dr. Hagerott as “Secret Sauce,” was some apostate hallucinogen, which has been ingested at Luther College.

  7. @Carl Vehse #9
    It appears that what was described to Dr. Hagerott as “Secret Sauce,” was some apostate hallucinogen, which has been ingested at Luther College.

    It was brought to Luther by Robert Jenson, “brilliant” scholar, who came back to Luther to destroy the career of his conservative (no less scholarly, but traditional) religion and philosophy mentor. (Later he spent time at St Olaf, too.)

    Robert Jenson, from Wikipedia

    Early career

    Jenson’s doctoral dissertation (revised and published in 1963 as Alpha and Omega) was completed in Basel, with Barth’s approval, and so Jenson returned to Luther College, where he continued to study Barth while also developing an increasing interest in the philosophy of Hegel. The faculty of the religion department was uncomfortable with Jenson’s theological liberalism, and his openness to biblical criticism and evolutionary biology was strongly condemned. When the college failed to force Jenson’s retirement, several professors from the religion and biology departments resigned in protest.From 1960 to 1966, Jenson was thus left with the task of helping to rebuild an entire religion department, and he became especially involved in the development of a new philosophy department. [built in his own iconoclastic image] During these years, he also wrote A Religion against Itself (1967), which sharply critiqued the American religious culture of the 1960s.

    More in Wikipedia…

  8. @backinthefold #6
    A member of our congregation has said repeatedly that it was very difficult for him to attend Luther College and to remain a Lutheran.

    Coach Ed Schweizer, one of the “greats”, with LCMS roots, is dead now, and Weston Noble, loved and talented music director for more years than any other faculty member, is retired. Someone remarked that “Weston was probably the last Lutheran at Luther.”

    But, students have told me they wouldn’t recommend Concordia, Texas, for a Lutheran education,
    (and we’ve read here that C-Chicago is worse).

    ***A is apostate, but lcms hasn’t gotten off the “same train” yet!
    We’re just a few cars further back.

  9. @helen #10 : “When the college failed to force Jenson’s retirement, several professors from the religion and biology departments resigned in protest. From 1960 to 1966, Jenson was thus left with the task of helping to rebuild an entire religion department, and he became especially involved in the development of a new philosophy department.

    Swell… 🙁

    The “Secret Sauce” turns out to be Robert Jenson’s vomit.

    And no doubt President Johnson, with the help of other liberals, is producing his own “Special Sauce” for Concordia-Chicago.

  10. @Carl Vehse #12

    Just for clarity, I was quoting Wikipedia there, but I know the resignations part is true, because my major advisor (biology) spent the rest of his career at a university in Japan. As a college student, I took religious ed. classes from the classics/philosophy professor who left (and babysat in his household). There may well have been others….

  11. I clicked the link to read Dr. Hagerott’s letter, but only got the local newspaper article. I’d like to read his letter. Help!!!

  12. @Carl Vehse #15

    Thank you. That clears up the confusion.

    What a classy letter! Dr. Hagerott spells things out in clear, unequivocal terms, and, if there were a video of his last departure, his exit would have been punctuated by his stamping the dust of Luther’s campus from his shows.

    In his last sentence, student, Noah Lange says, that “The ELCA and the LCMS are both Lutheran… ” I beg to differ. There are other distortions in his letter, but this is the one that matters to me.

  13. They didn’t want him because he might tolerate biblical Christianity were anyone there to express it. They despise biblical Christianity and don’t want any of its adherents trespassing on their little institute of false doctrine.

    They checked his wool and found him a sheep. They were looking for another wolf for their pack.

  14. A candidate who is an African-American lesbian wins the trifecta of political correctness these days.

    Actually, a Buddhist lesbian was on the short list for the religion department at Luther during a previous change of presidents. The incoming one said, no way, not in the religion department.
    [I gathered that some other specialty might have gotten an OK.] And I really think he was more concerned about alumni support than the idiocy of it at a supposedly Lutheran school.

    I’m sure all the faithful Lutherans who served the first century (1861-1961) would be thankful if Luther changed its name!

  15. @Mark Huntemann #20

    John Voigt is the best part of this clip. Yeah, it’s too strong.

    I suggest the Swedish Church rather than this. Either way, a state church, however. Or, here’s another viewpoint: http://www.worldmag.com/2001/12/the_new_multi_faith_religion

    Student Noah Lange in essence called Dr. Hagerott (and the LCMS by extension) bigoted, at least intolerant. His is the intolerance and bigotry. But, in time, Dr. Hagerott would have left anyways, after intransigent and unrelenting opposition from the Tolerant Ones. He did the right thing.

  16. @Mark Huntemann #20

    @Joe Strieter #21 Mark, as many times I have watched Cabaret I have always thought this song was an original German song of the era but after a quick google research, it was written for the musical. It captures exactly the profound sadness coming but the lyrics look to the future optimistically: “Tomorrow belongs to me”. Even though the comparing liberalism to Nazism is strong, yet the lyric fits this post and discussion. The song captures the zeitgeist.
    The zeitgeist under question is generally progressivism. C.S. Lewis in a couple of places (sermon The Weight of Glory and The Screwtape Letters) that all temptation looks to the future. The devil’s stratagem is not to focus on the present (as in “Today is the day of salvation…”, etc in Scripture) but to the future. “Hence the encouragement we have given to all those schemes of thought such as Creative Evolution, Scientific Humanism, or Communism, which fix men’s affections on the Future, on the very core of temporality.” (Screwtape Letters). For instance the Clinton’s favorite song was “Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow”(Fleetwood Mack). Confessional Christianity is not progressive. All the voices in Decorah look to the future. Let’s face it: they are the cutting edge of tomorrow, forward looking. They know it. Too many, even the faithful, don’t want to look like cultural neanderthals, backwards, racist, intolerant, out of sync, not in step. The Church is none of those things but the devil has done a good job in painting the Church as such and we have given too much ammo in that regard. The Church is different,in doctrine and practice, in faith, hope and love in Jesus Christ. The Church is different, different as salt…but once we try to accommodate to the zeitgiest, the salt loses is saltiness.
    Then Screwtape, in the same ‘letter’: “…we want a man hagridden by the Future–haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth–ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the Present if by so doing we make him think that he can attain the one or avert the other–dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see.” I hear many political conservatives saying, we got to take our country back, our church, we may not live to see it, but our children will. After all, we, that is the Old Adam, loves to sing: “Tomorrow belongs to me.” “The morning will come, when the world is mine.” Like the tenants in the parable of the vineyard, we think it is mine. It is the Lord’s and He has made us His own for His Word in these dark days when people think the light they have is light but it is darkness (Matthew 6: 23).

  17. As a Luther alum who suffered and repelled the Religion Department’s historical-critical arrows, I am saddened and ashamed (though not surprised) that this school is as unwelcoming to accomplished academics as it was/is to impressionable students. I watched so many young students lose their faith through those classes (praise be to God for giving me an LCMS upbringing!) My wife and I will not be giving to Luther anytime soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.