Our semester opened with a renowned interfaith speaker—“Acts of Faith” author Eboo Patel—and has closed with another one: Chris Stedman, author of “Faitheist.”
My first column this semester, following Patel’s opening convocation talk, opined that there was still much work to be done in order to meet the praise that Mr. Patel attributed to this college. I said, despite the written intentions of President Craft (in his strategic plan for the college), we have no clear path forward in fostering prolonged interfaith dialogue and cooperation.
Today, I continue that belief, with even more reservations than before.
Since then, the campus learned, through the religious climate survey distributed last spring, that a surprising number of students (18 percent of survey respondents) consider themselves—as the Fargo Forum referred to it last week—among the “nones,” or those who identify as non-religious. For a college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, many find this troubling.
A Lutheran college should be filled with Lutherans, or, at the very least, Christians. That was, and is to many conservative members of this community, a view held for a long while. Today, as we try to attract an increasingly diverse student body and stay competitive with other colleges, this is not only impossible but a bad idea.
We’ve made giant steps, at least in our institutional history, in trying to create an environment in which “all are welcome.” Comparatively, however, our progress is minimal.
Our Office of Ministry, for example, while publicly supporting interfaith initiatives, has proven to be a major roadblock privately. Additionally, a group of students who formed a secular club earlier this year have yet to hear about their recognition status. These two examples illuminate an administrative culture wary of change, even if this kind of change is widely accepted by other colleges and the wider church body.
Readers of this piece with positions granting decision-making power over these contentious issues may disagree, citing the issue is more complicated than what is written here. I couldn’t disagree more.
All too often campus administrators use this as an excuse to demotivate students and halt progress that is not only widely accepted by the student body, but beneficial for our campus culture. The same religious climate survey I cited earlier showed 82 percent of respondents believe religion and spirituality related discussions should be an active part of our day-to-day lives as students.
If our college president, campus pastors and all other members of the Concordia community are serious about this, we must engage in meaningful discussions about the direction we want to head as a college. We must welcome opinions that are different from our own. And we must not cling to ideas or solutions simply because it is the way we’ve always done something.