Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

A ‘Woke’ Dispute At Concordia University

Professor suspended after writing article blasting lakeside college’s embrace of diversity. WILL’s lawyers jump on the case.

By - Mar 1st, 2022 04:26 pm
Steps at Concordia University of Wisconsin, in Mequon, leading down to Lake Michigan. Photo by Aaron Volkening. <span class="cc-license-identifier">(<a href="">CC BY 2.0</a>)</span>

Steps at Concordia University of Wisconsin, in Mequon, leading down to Lake Michigan. Photo by Aaron Volkening. (CC BY 2.0)

Gregory P. Schulz is philosophy professor at Concordia University in Mequon whose biography describes him as “a husband, father, grandfather and a confessional Lutheran pastor… with nearly 40 years in the ministry, both in the parish and in higher education.” One day Rev. Schulz decided to write an article attacking the university’s authorities, with all the angry passion of Martin Luther nailing his 95 revolutionary theses to the door of a Catholic church in Wittenberg.

The piece was published in the Christian News, which calls itself an “independent publication” with a “strong and polarizing reputation” that provides “a doctrinal and orthodox viewpoint on current events…  critiquing churches, leaders, seminaries, and their teaching, from the standpoint of God’s Word.”

Which is exactly what Schulz’s blistering commentary did, accusing Concordia of the disease of “dysphoria” — depressed restlessness and angst, as he explained it — that led the university to embrace “the influence of Woke-ism (that is, a potent cocktail of Progressivism, Neo-Pragmatism, and Marxism).”

The proof of this is that Concordia’s executive board and search committee seek to hire a new president who is “disruptive” and “transformational,” with a “demonstrated belief in and commitment to equity and inclusion” and “diversity in all its myriad forms.”

“These are aggressive-progressive Woke mantras,” Schulz charges, based on “unsubstantiated assumptions of white privilege and systemic (national and institutional) racism… Inclusion is an aggressive, almost violent version of what used to be known as affirmative action.”

“The Woke agenda being championed,” he goes on, “is literally an illiterate philosophy of education that has no place for authoritative texts… such as the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence.”

Yet the critics of America’s “original sin” of slavery, as it’s been called even by some conservatives, has contrasted the Declaration of Independence’s clarion call that “all men are created equal” with a Constitution barring Congress from outlawing the Atlantic slave trade for 20 years, requiring the return of runaway slaves to their owners and counting slaves as three-fifths of a vote to give slave-holding states more electoral power.

“Wokeness,” Schulz goes on to say, is “anti-Lutheran,” and the search committee’s commitment to diversity amounts to a “plan to disrupt the authority of the biblical text.” It’s all part of a radical transformation of Concordia, he charges, with “no suitably academic study or proper professional discussion of this looming tectonic shift in educational philosophy and university policy from Lutheranism to Woke-ism. This is scandalous.”

The university responded to this slapdown by suspending Schulz “pending an investigation into violations of university policy, notably for conduct unbecoming of a Christian and for not acting as a responsible colleague,” as noted by the Academic Freedom Alliance, “a coalition of faculty members from across the country and across the ideological spectrum.” The group sent a letter to Concordia University demanding it “live up to its free speech commitments… To punish Professor Schulz for engaging in a public discussion of matters of church principles and university governance would have a profound chilling effect on open discourse by professors on this campus and through the Concordia University system.” (The Mequon institution is one of nine Concordia colleges and universities in the nation.)

And the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty is now representing Schulz, and loves to launch lawsuits on such matters.

Whatever one might think of Schulz’s views, his consternation at how Concordia is changing is understandable, given its history and philosophy. Since its founding in 1881, it had been located on the West Side of Milwaukee, along State Street, from 31st to 33rd streets, in a neighborhood that had become increasingly poor and ethnically diverse. But in 1983 the college moved far away to a 125-acre campus in Mequon on the shoreline of Lake Michigan and changed its name to Concordia University.

The university is part of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), which is considered slightly less conservative than the Wisconsin Synod. Both do not ordain women but the Missouri Synod allows them to hold some leadership positions. Still, it is far more conservative than the liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest of the three groups.

And the Missouri Synod is very white. In a 2015 survey by the Pew Research Center’s of 30 different religious groups, the LCMS ranked 28th in terms of racial and ethnic diversity, with a membership that was 95% white.

The LCMS has been wrestling with the question of how “an overwhelmingly white, Anglo church body” can “become more multicultural,” as a 2012 symposium put it. How can the historically German group “help African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans “feel welcome and ‘at home’ in its congregation?”

At another national symposium in 2010 addressing such issues, attendees were urged by one participant to embrace diversity, saying “Everything we do ought to be multi-ethnic.” Rev. Yia Vang, pastor of Hmong Hope Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, said he was “excited that the Synod is talking about… reaching out to all the ethnic groups.”

This movement was happening before “Me Too” or “Black Lives Matters” and may have been as much about strategies for growth in a country that’s expected to be majority minority by 2045. As a 2016 study for the Conference of Catholic Bishops found, “culturally diverse parishes are the fastest growing type of parish in the United States.” A recent, 20-year study by Baylor University found “that racially diverse United Methodist churches are more likely to have higher worship attendance over time than their white counterparts.”

Schulz’s article points to “a love of money,” darkly suggesting some kind of grants might be pushing a “Woke agenda.” But just as the university moved in the 1980’s from a declining neighborhood where its enrollment was declining, the current embrace of equity might be as much a growth strategy as a philosophical decision. Slightly more than 30% of its student body is now non-white, including more than 8% who are African American. Businesses, nonprofits and organizations of all kinds are looking to become more diverse, partly in response to a rhetoric that may at times seem excessive, but also as part of a transformation of America that is now affecting even a one-time pillar of Lutheran conservatism.

5 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: A ‘Woke’ Dispute At Concordia University”

  1. Wardt01 says:

    “more than 30% of its student body is now non-white, including more than 8% who are African American”

    would you be able to provide the complete demographic? or include a link to the source showing it along with the trend. I’m curious how Concordia compares w other private schools in Milwaukee.

  2. Carolannbrill says:

    Great article!

  3. Bruce Murphy says:

    “The enrolled student population at Concordia University-Wisconsin is 69.3% White, 8.17% Black or African American, 2.34% Two or More Races, 2.16% Asian, 0.796% American Indian or Alaska Native, 0.485% Hispanic or Latino, and 0.104% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific.” Islanders.

  4. Mingus says:

    If this is a private religious institution, staff serve at will based on the bylaws of the university. As the article mentions, why does is WILL involved. The only “human rights” issues that WILL gets involved in is those with right wing political implications. They are the litigation “ambulance chasers” of the conservative movement with lucrative financing from right wing billionaires.

  5. frank a schneiger says:

    The power of Christianity comes from Jesus’ revolutionary (even after these 2,000 years) message. That message can be summed up in four words: Peace, Love Justice and Inclusion. Until reading this article, I had never thought of Jesus as being “woke,” but, there you have it.

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