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Concordia University of Edmonton no longer a Christian institution

February 1, 2016 20 Comments

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this story went live, CUE President Gerald S. Krispin has resigned from the clergy roster of Lutheran Church–Canada and issued an open letter to the church. READ MORE

Concordia-University-of-Edmonton-web

EDMONTON – Concordia University of Edmonton (CUE) no longer identifies itself as a Christian institution. The university’s Board of Governors made the decision on November 27, 2015 when it decided to remove all references to Lutheranism and the Christian faith from its mission and vision statements.

Prior to the action, Concordia’s Mission statement identified the institution as a “community of learning grounded in scholarship, freedom, and the Christian faith.” Among its Values Statements, it identified itself as an “excellent smaller Christian university true to its mission and vision,” that “maintains its mission as a Christian university serving the public.” Guiding Directional Statements professed that “Concordia will honour its Lutheran heritage” and “will provide a foundation of faith and intellectual integrity that supports a scholarly community.”

All references to faith have now been deleted.

Previously, the introduction to Concordia’s previous Mission/Vision/Values Framework read: “Throughout its history, Concordia has remained grounded in the belief that the Christian faith gives purpose to life and that success depends upon spiritual maturity. The entire educational experience at Concordia is built on a foundation of the Christian faith and intellectual integrity characteristic of a Lutheran university, where people of various beliefs and backgrounds are in dialogue in a common pursuit of understanding and truth that ultimately leads to wisdom. That is what is meant by our motto: Initium Sapientiae Timor Domini – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Read Concordia’s original Mission/Vision/Values statement here.

LCC responds

Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) was given no advance notice that such action was being contemplated. As late as the end of August 2015, church officials had been assured in a letter from CUE’s Board of Governors that “all of the Board remains committed to Concordia’s Missions, Vision and Values.”

LCC President Robert Bugbee has communicated his dismay to CUE President Gerald S. Krispin over the recent action of CUE’s board, asking for clarity as to why the action was taken without consulting synod. He noted multiple assurances over the past years from Concordia’s leaders that such action was not being considered.

“Concordia was founded in 1921 as an educational ministry of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod,” President Bugbee reflected. “It is with incredible grief that we see Concordia now silence any reference to the Christian mission for which it was originally founded.”

Concordia’s recent decision has put LCC in a difficult situation: a number of professors (including the University president) are ordained ministers of LCC and hold calls from the church body to serve as ministers at the institution. As Concordia no longer claims to be a Christian institution in its mission statement, it is doubtful whether service at the institution can continue to be considered a call in the church’s understanding, thereby jeopardizing the place of these colleagues on the Synod’s roster.

The relationship between LCC and Concordia

CUE leadership held a town hall December 15, 2015 to answer serious concerns from faculty regarding the abrupt change in the college’s mission and values statements. LCC was not invited to or informed of the meeting. At the time, CUE President Krispin assured those present that the change in wording would not alter the deeper identity of Concordia, and that the college and synod could remain in cooperation despite these changes.

Concordia has taken a number of actions in recent years that have further separated it from the church. In 2010, Concordia notified LCC that it planned to alter its bylaws regarding the requirements for sitting on its Board of Governors. Previously all board members had been elected by Lutheran Church–Canada meeting in convention.

While synod raised concerns at the time, Concordia understood itself as able to make the decision with or without synod’s approval, arguing the 1978 Act of Incorporation that instituted Concordia as an independent organization failed to make provision for synod’s continuing legal authority over the college. The college, however, continued to operate under bylaws relying on LCC in convention to appoint its Board of Governors. But in 2010, as noted above, Concordia informed LCC it planned to change its bylaws regarding governance.

Even so, President Krispin assured LCC leaders that any decisions the college made would “not only maintain, but strengthen the shared ecclesiastical bond” with Lutheran Church–Canada. At the time, President Krispin further explained that Concordia’s Mission, Vision, and Values Framework would ensure the college’s identity as a Christian institution would be maintained. “It is this distinction that gives us our raison d’ être,” he wrote.

The actual change to a self-appointed (rather than LCC-appointed) board occurred in recent years. Consequently, LCC at its 2014 convention updated its own bylaws to recognize the alteration that had already occurred. Despite the changes, President Krispin assured the convention that “every member who signs onto the board has a charter to uphold the mission, vision, and values of this institution.” Concordia had also taken steps to ensure representation of at least three members of Lutheran Church–Canada: the President of the Alberta-British Columbia District, as well as two members from the general public.

In 2015, Concordia’s Board of Governors suspended the ABC District President’s ex officio position on the Board of Governors, citing uncertainty regarding the District’s corporate future and confusion over whom the appropriate representative should be (given the current division of labour between the ABC District President and LCC’s Interim Pastoral Leader). Despite this move, church leaders were assured by Concordia’s Board of Governors that “all of the Board remains committed to Concordia’s Mission, Vision and Values.”

President Bugbee is arranging consultation with Concordia’s leadership in determining what relationship the church body might have with the university going forward.

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  • Jamie Hill

    Question: Where does this leave the LC-C seminary?

    • Jack

      Just as and where it is.

    • Andrew

      LCC Seminary is a completely separate entity and is unaffected by any changes at the university.

    • President James R. Gimbel, CLS

      Thank you for the question about the status of the LC-C Seminary (Seminaries).

      Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton, is a separate corporate entity from CUE. We have our own Board of Regents and governance model. We receive the same amount of financial support directly from Lutheran Church-Canada as did CUE. We raise the majority of our support from our wonderful, generous, and sacrificial donors.

      All of our voting Board of Regents members are elected at the Synod convention. All of our faculty – along with all full-time staff – are committed members of Lutheran Church-Canada.

      Because we are independent of Provincial financial support, we are able to remain true and faithful to our Biblical and confessional commitments, and continually strive to fulfill our mission to “form servants for Jesus’ sake.”

      Our sister seminary, Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, located in St. Catharines, ON, is also independently governed by her Board of Regents and equally committed to the founding intent of the seminary by the Church, with parallel representation.

      In a letter dated November 26, 2015, sent to the CUE Board of Governors through Pres. Krispin, Board Chair Michael Wade, and Pastor Ken Eifert, I appealed for the CUE board to reconsider its intention and retain Christianity and Lutheran commitments in the official documents. (

      We were deeply saddened to see the CUE move away from Lutheran and Christian identifiers in her official documents. In organizational theory, those official documented definitions and guiding principles which frame the mission and vision statements should be precise and specific, not laden with intentions, because in nearly all cases, over time, unstated intentions and commitments are lost.

      In our efforts to stand alongside Lutheran and Christian faculty and staff at CUE, and to provide an outreach to CUE students, we ensure that the seminary daily chapel service for our CLS students is a welcoming place for CUE students, faculty, and staff to attend. We hold chapel on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at CLS and actively invite CUE students to attend. On Tuesdays we join the CUE-led chapel, and on Thursdays we lead chapel on the CUE campus. The seminary also hosts a monthly Holden Evening Prayer service for CUE students, with soup and fellowship. This is part of our mission commitment to reflect the Light of Christ wherever we are.

      At our recent Board of Regents meetings for both CLS and CLTS, held here in Edmonton, both boards reaffirmed our commitment to remain seminaries of Lutheran Church – Canada, and encouraged renewed efforts to bear witness to Christ at CUE as well as other parts of Canada and the world.

      Thank you for your concern. May God lead us all in these days.

      Rev. James R. Gimbel, Ph.D., President, Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton.

  • Michael H. Hertwig-Jaksch

    Today, at Concordia University of Edmonton (CUE), religious studies courses will be taught by professors who are LCC clergy, students will be called to Chapel, a LCC Pastor is being employed as CUE Chaplain, a Masters Degree in Biblical and Christian Studies is being offered, the new Concordia Institute of Christian Studies and Society is planning future activities, and my students in Greek 102 – including a LCC Seminary student and several Pre-Seminary candidates – will begin to read the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke in the original Greek. Contrary to the tendentious and unfair reporting in this Canadian Lutheran story, all of these activities are made possible by the faithful and diligent work of the Board of Governors and the President of CUE who have put the institution on a sound financial footing, thereby ensuring its ability to survive, thrive, and to continue to provide important services to the Church at large and to LCC. What a contrast to the “For Sale” sign prominently affixed to the LCC Alberta – BC District Building located next door to CUE! My call to the Canadian Lutheran: Please report more objectively and truthfully in the future!

    • Andreas Schwabe

      Professor Hertwig, since you didn’t provide full disclosure, I’ll jump in and clarify that you’re a faculty member at Concordia ( http://concordia.ab.ca/find-a-person/?staffId=36620 ). Another member of your family is also on staff at Concorida.
      Declaring your opposition to the article without declaring your interest
      and involvement at Concordia is misleading; as much or more misleading as your charge against the Canadian Lutheran.

      The Canadian Lutheran’s reporting is accurate. Concordia has dropped “Christian Faith” and most (I believe all) References to Lutheran Church Canada in its governing documents. That’s not in question. Furthermore, chapel is no longer daily, the full-time chaplaincy was retired and is done part-time with a local pastor. Chapel attendance has dwindled to basically nothing (I’ve dropped by campus at chapel time – 4 people in chapel during the middle of the semester (no exams or special events) doesn’t exactly speak to a blossoming spiritual life.

      As practical as the change might have been, it ultimately reflects the future of the institution: it will be secular.

      This is further borne out by the fact that the board is no longer made up of LCC members, and that the next president will not need to be an ordained Lutheran.

      I understand the practical considerations. People’s livelihoods are at stake, governments must be appeased to maintain funding. You’re right to say it’s survival of Concordia, but certainly puts a nail in the coffin of the place. What exists as spiritual life now is a shrinking shadow of what it was. I was a student at Concordia in the mid to late 80’s…200 people in chapel daily. Today: a handful. That’s Concordia’s future. In a generation it’ll be just another small university unless it finds a specialty niche or federates or is absorbed by a larger university – which seems to be the most likely end game for Concordia.

      I think it’s another example of doing what is easier for the sake of expediency. And that expediency is borne out of financial and enrollment pressures because the church doesn’t support the institution as it once did.

      This isn’t an either/or pissing match. It’s a historical problem, the outcome of which both synod and school are responsible for.

      • Michael H. Hertwig-Jaksch

        Mr. Schwabe, unlike others, I signed my comment with my full name. It is a widely known fact that I have taught at Concordia most years since 1987. This is a matter of public record and can easily be found by all. My son also occasionally teaches as a Sessional Instructor. There is no conflict of interest in me stating my opinion on this article as I have no role whatsoever in making or voting upon policy or governance matters at CUE. Clearly, I have every right to express my opinion as a private citizen. Furthermore, I must correct you insofar as I am not a ‘Professor’, but a part-time sessional instructor.

        • Andreas Schwabe

          I stand corrected.

          There’s no question you have the right to express your opinion as a private citizen. You choose not to reveal that you’re a sessional instructor or are close friends with its president. It’s not that these things negate your arguments, but rather inform them. Meaningful and fruitful public discourse is critical, but it’s only possible if we fully understand each other. It fosters trust. For example, your relationship with the president gives you access others simply do not have. And it’s important to know that FOR the sake of your argument because it informs it, but it also informs the reader that you’re coming at the issue with a perspective or information that others may not have…one that disagrees with the Canadian Lutheran article.

          I apologize for the lecture, but the more we understand about each other, the better off we are. That’s especially true in these peculiar circumstances our synod is in.

          I have to disagree when you say Concordia is thriving. This is problematic in two ways.

          Firstly, it’s not. If Concordia were thriving, it wouldn’t need a name change to “University” from from “University-College” (and before that just college). Why go through the expense if there isn’t some net benefit. Otherwise, the name is just a vanity. If it was thriving it wouldn’t feel the need to become a public secular institution to garner more funding. I got my degree at Concordia. I worked there for five
          years. I can categorically tell you that “thriving” was a word that was never once used to describe how we were doing. I’m evidence of Concordia’s robust health: I was laid off with several others in order to make budget. It’s continued at a slower pace, but the truth is: thriving is a marketing word and nothing more.

          The second problem, which is more subtle, is the sunshine effect. Saying Concordia is thriving telegraphs that “everything is fine.” The church believed it for years until CEF collapsed. We believed it and now Concordia has made a public move to the secular. Somehow we, in the church, are intent on putting the best construction on things – regardless of the pitfalls of that kind of unintentional dishonesty. It’s a hallmark behavior of our institutions (as outlined in the Review Task Force report).

          It’s possible that dropping any mention of faith and church is the best of a bunch of bad alternatives, and may even (possibly) result in a brighter future and more positive outcome.

          In pretty much every case, it would have been better if A) everyone trusted each other and B) laid all their cards on the table, to work towards a C) positive outcome for everyone.

          In our synod and institutions, A + B ≠ C

          • Michael Hertwig-Jaksch

            Mr. Schwabe, Clearly, you are entitled to hold whatever assumptions and beliefs you may wish. However, to discuss them by these means far exceeds the main point of my initial comment, which was to inform readers that Lutheran Christian education has not stopped, but is ongoing at CUE.

          • Andreas Schwabe

            To assert that Lutheran Christian education is continuing at Concordia is correct, but it’s no longer its core purpose. I’m merely pointing out that removing faith from the core mission statement means it’s de-emphasized or excised as the core purpose of Concordia, and it was likely done from a position of weakness rather than strength.

        • Dan Abraham

          Since full disclosure has been asked for, here is my back ground. I am an alumni of CUE; took “Lutheran Confession” with Dr. Gerald Krispin; Greek with Michael H. Hertwig-Jaksch; attended several classes with Andreas Schwab, and have drank beer with both Mr. Schwab and Dr. Krispin. One of the current members of the religion faculty is also a past member of mine. Since I became a pastor in LC-C 23 years above, I have directed several students to attend CUE and currently have one member there. I loved CUE.

          I agree with Michael H. Hertwig-Jaksch. Namely, the Lutheran convictions of the current staff at CUE will not change overnight. I would expect to see their ongoing faithfulness and would never call into question their faith now or their future faithfulness.

          My concern is for the future, however. When the current contracts with Lutheran religious teachers end, will the new contracts for religious instructors go to Lutherans or to people of other Christian denominations, or even to other world faith groups like Islam, or JW, or Hindu, or Mormon? If there is no mandated commitment to be Christian (let alone Lutheran!), what assurance is there for the future?

          Simply stated, in the past I encouraged my youth to travel across Canada and go to CUE to get a Lutheran education. Since CUE in its own statements no longer claims to be a Christian institution let alone a Lutheran one, from now on I will be instructing my youth group to go where ever. CUE is now no different. This grieves me to the bone. – Pastor Dan Abraham

  • The Land of the Free??

    Sorry Michael, the facts speak for themselves. At every turn Gerald Krispin has spoken out of one side of his mouth – telling the LCC one thing, while plotting to do the exact opposite when he spoke out of the other side of his mouth. He took the helm of an institution where faculty and administration worked together toward a common goal and trampled over that goodwill to the point where the faculty felt they had no option but to form a union and embark on an “us against them” relationship. Then, after repeated assurances to Synod that none of the creeping changes he has bringing in would affect the relationship, here we are with all references to the Christian faith expunged from all documents. Does Gerald (and his followers) truly believe that our Christian faith hinders their ability to deliver quality education? I believe we have lost the one thing that made our institution stand out from all the others in Alberta. Now we’re just another small university with inflated tuition.

    • Michael H. Hertwig-Jaksch

      To quote from Sherlock Holmes: “It is so awkward doing business with an alias”.
      However, as a general comment, the kind of support this article is getting should be noted by all readers of this website as being indicative of the type of message this article conveys!

      • Michael H. Hertwig-Jaksch

        The identity of the person hiding behind the alias “The Land of the Free??” was investigated and is now known.

        • Snag

          And why is that a big deal? You said, “Clearly, I have every right to express my opinion as a private citizen”. So does this person. They also have the right to not use their real name if they so choose so their name doesn’t appear plastered all over Google.

          What mystifies me is that it seems so important to you as to who has a viewpoint differing from you…and reading the other posts, your buddy. Are you hell bent to go on a witch hunt? Are looking to hang Judas?

          As an alum of the 90s, I went out of my way on a few occassions when in town to show my wife where I went to school. And sharing the memories of the Tegler Center. Going to chapel and listening to Pastor Bob. Trying to identify the subtle and not so subtle changes that inevitably happen with time. Or the amusement of myself by trying to count all the Haberstocks.

          Sadly, like so many things in life I guess I have to say good bye to Concordia….for it is now dead. At least I have the year books to remind me what it REALLY was. Because this certainly isn’t it.

          • Michael H Hertwig-Jaksch

            Witch hunt? Hardly! But I may speak to the person in private, if the chance ever presents itself.
            It is a good thing that Dr. Martin Luther never spoke anonymously, otherwise we would now be called the Anonymous Church-Canada.

          • Snag

            Good thing Martin Luther didn’t have a price tag and sell out his values…unlike Concordia. Perhaps it is best Concordia doesn’t consider itself Lutheran anymore; based on those running the place now it appears to be unfitting of the designation.

  • Gerald S. Krispin

    Firstly, I am grateful for some of the responses, and note that while there are some “replies”, and I added to some right now on Facebook, the number is very limited on this and on a number of other locations of this post by the CDN Lutheran. I repeat here what I wrote in other locations. I could also give a more fulsome explanation than what I present here, but the facts (and the truth) speaks for itself. Furthermore, altruism like “just close the place down, let 1800 students go somewhere else and have 500+ people find work elsewhere” really is ideological; it is not Christian or even understanding the basics of Lutheran theology and Luther’s division of the Two Rules of God (often falsely referred to the “two kingdoms”). A reading of Luther’s tract “To the Councilmen of all the Cities in Germany That They Might Establish Schools” might be instructive. He writes to the Councilmen, admittedly of a Christian disposition, but nevertheless civic individuals. Churches were themselves supported by the “state” in Germany; they continue to be, to a large degree, SELK and others notwithstanding. In any event. here are some data embedded in the following text. I really don’t want to debate the issue, but I as President, and the Board in its entirety, has not only fiduciary accountability, but also a duty of care and a duty of loyalty. All these are legal terms. We are liable should we fail to uphold these; a liability that others are now beginning to discover. However, read on if this subject still interests you:

    For clarity, this decision to operate only flying the flag of “Academic Freedom” is not just about financial support, but partially because of the actual participation in Concordia by the Lutheran constituency overall. We now have 1800 students, yet only 83 are self-declared Lutheran (with only 52 LCC Lutherans). For the last 30 years Concordia received roughly $150,000 in support per year from Synod, Congregations, and church members combined (we keep such records). Dr. Gimble is therefore right when he states that we received similar synodical grants as the seminary in the past; but whereas this constitutes close to 20% of the seminary budget, it was less than .5% of Concordia’s nearly $30 million budget. However, last year, in light of the financial crisis of the ABC District, the entire support for Concordia from the church was under $30,000–that’s synod, congregations and individuals combined—. that’s $30,000 in a $30 million dollar annual operational budget! Meanwhile, the Government of Alberta supplies $12.5 million; the remainder comes from student tuition and fees, and some other services. That said, I want to remind everyone that the (Christian, and more specifically, Lutheran) lights have not been shut off. I repeat what Michael says: we have daily chapels that the university initiated to be held with the seminary over 5 years ago (this is not a recent innovation); we have a chaplain serving us from Bethlehem Lutheran church who conducts weekly Bible studies on campus; we continue to provide pre-seminary training (in languages and in our religious studies courses); we have an Institute of Christian Studies and Society, as well as a Canadian Centre for Scholarship and the Christian faith. Our choirs sing the songs of our Lutheran heritage (Bach included). The Holden Evening Prayer is led by a Concordia University Professor, and I could go on. This is our service to the church. But our financial support is (almost) entirely from the public….public support that allows us to continue to do all the above. Remarkably, no congregation would expect the government to pay the salary of its pastor and support its ministry. Rightly, the seminary does not expect this either, as it is exclusively an agent of the Synod. Yet somehow it is taken for granted in the case of Concordia that the Provincial government and our students should fit the bill for the services provided to the church by Concordia; and that Concordia should be first and foremost a church institution without any church support to speak of. There is a disconnect here.

    Ultimately, there is no easy solution, especially with the current CEF crisis. Anyway, suffice it to say that Concordia’s Board did what it had to to maintain our funding precisely to be able to do what we have always done. At least for now. And again, Dr. Gimble is right that what is a mere intention may not stand the test of time. But that’s all we can hope for. We continue to try to serve the church with whatever means we have at our disposal. But ultimately my obligation as President and that of the Board is exclusively to the 500+ employees and 1800 current students, as well as alumni: they want to have a school from which they graduated (think of how sad it is that the High School no longer exists as church support dwindled and government support proved insufficient). I don’t think we’re actually off track. It goes without saying that we continue to exist at the pleasure of the government. And this action was taken not because of some long-standing, preconceived and nefarious plan, but because of very recent expressions of displeasure by a new government that has little interest in supporting religious institutions (“The Land of the Free” makes this precise claim along with asserting that I have always been inherently deceptive and untrustworthy; not helpful and Luther’s explanation to the Eighth Commandment might be helpful instruction here). For greater clarity: I had personally written all iterations of our Mission/Vision/Values statements over the past 8 years. They were written with sincerity and conviction and articulated into an environment that was receptive to them. That environment changed suddenly last year. As President and as a Board, we manage risk and respond to threats to our existence. The rewording of our mission statement was such a response. In an unpublished document (which was available to the writer of the CDN Lutheran article) I stated that we saw it necessary to “hide” our confession in the broad category of “Academic Freedom”. We did this institutionally, not individually. Accordingly, all faculty can continue to confess, teach and uphold what is true. I know this is not gratifying to those who have nothing to loose and who can argue from a theoretical (or ideological) position, but to those who are immediately affected, it provides a foundation and means to carry on their work as Christians working at Concordia. Ultimately, the Board and I cannot make a confessional decision for our employees or students when we are a publicly funded institution; confession of the faith is theirs to do. Conversely, those of us who govern and administrate are by law obligated to uphold our fiduciary obligations.

    Now, I apologize for the defensiveness, and this is actually my very first post in defence of our Board’s decision. But I also want to highlight that not many people were concerned about Concordia in the past in relation to its financial dependence upon the government (I’ve relayed this financial information in every yearly report and it is found in every convention handbook); I contend that they are really not concerned about Concordia now. And if they are, it is only in Concordia as a theory, an idea, or even a memory. They have no “skin in the game.” I suspect that real engagement and actual support for Concordia would be hard to come by in light of our church’s travails. Nevertheless, and despite all the nay sayers, Concordia will continue to do what it has always done for as long as it can, in a community of learning from which students graduate as “independent thinkers, ethical leaders, reflective servants in their occupations, and citizens for the common good.” All First Article words, in the way of Luther, and in the way of a Lutheran university.

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  • daniellion

    Obviously, any lcc rostered members cannot have calls at a secular org, lets move on and agree cue has left the lcc fold, lcc should focus on what it can and cut its losses wrt cue