Tuesday, October 17, 2006

LCMS apartheid?

I received a copy of the newspaper of one of the districts of the LCMS. It contained coverage of the Black Ministry Convocation in Selma, AL. The front page story summed up a series of six unanimously adopted resolutions by this body, one of which was:

"Encourage the Synod's Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology - an 'alternate route' for training immigrants for pastoral ministry - to accept African American students."

I'm dubious of any "alternate routes" to the ministry as it is, but I do understand the possible need for some special program for immigrants. It's hard enough to read Pieper's Dogmatics and follow intricate theological lectures in one's mother tongue, I can only imagine what it must be like for students who are barely literate in English. Obviously, immigrants have lingusitic challenges, and thus it does make sense that some immigrants may need another way to study for the holy ministry than to sit through classes in English at Fort Wayne or St. Louis. Fair enough.

But even in conceding this point, in my time at the seminary, we had immigrants and international students who did manage to study in English: students from Africa, former Soviet republics, the Baltic states, Scandinavia, Japan, Germany, Latin America, and Haiti took their places in classes with American students - and for the most part, held their own, if not excelled and put many of the native Anglophones to shame with their diligence and acumen. I think the seminary was a better place for having the international students.

For the sake of argument, I'll concede the need for an immigrant institute for theological studies.

But this resolution is asking to send people who are fluent in English, people who are not immigrants, people whose ancestors have likely been in this country for more generations than the average white Lutheran - to receive a special dispensation from traditional seminary training.

Look at the message this sends. It either promotes the stereotype that black students are not academically up to snuff, or the condescending attitude that black congregations can get by with pastors who have not been as rigorously trained.

Furthermore, if large numbers of black students were to adopt this alternative and not attend our seminaries, that means our seminaries would be whiter institutions. While I would imagine this is an unintended consequence of the Black Ministry Convocation, it would only serve to drive a wedge between black and white clergy in the long run, a sort-of pastoral apartheid, for it would rob black and white seminarians from contact with one another and deny the bonding that comes with going through seminary together.

I'm just not seeing the plus side to this, and to be honest, I think it reflects a very low self-image of the delegates at this meeting. It also shows a great lack of faith in the faculties of our seminaries, implying that they are not capable of teaching and training black men for the holy office.

I had the privilege to get to know many of the professors at CTSFW. I can honestly say I never witnessed, or even heard of, any animosity to anyone based on ethnic factors. Such a thing would have been simply inconceivable. In fact, several of the professors there have extensive experience in teaching at seminaries around the world, instructing Lutheran seminarians of every race, language, and culture. I see no reason why St. Louis would be any less facile in teaching men of different cultures or ethnic backgrounds than Fort Wayne.

What good could possibly come by removing black men from the brotherhood of students who endure the crucible of seminary training together, being forged into pastors by study and worship together?

I believe this convocation should have greater faith in their own men, and in the Lord to train these men whom He has called to follow Him. I also think the time has come to disband this, and other ethnic based separatist institutions in our synod. If we're not going to have separate drinking fountains and restrooms, why have special conventions and convocations based on race? And why should those separatist institutions be memorializing our synod for further racial splintering?

I believe it's time we come to grips with Gal 3:28, and end this synodical segregation.


Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

I don't know about the camaraderie of seminary, but I think you are on target with the unintended consequences and the "soft bigotry of low expectations".

Good post.

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

Let me rephrase the first clause. I can't comment on the camaraderie of seminary because I've never been there. :)

Steven G. said...

I think it is sad, very sad when under the banner of whatever we continue to segregate based on race.