The “Example of Grove City College” Is Spreading
Some leaders of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) are opposing racial justice efforts in the pattern of GCC's Board of Trustees
When the Board of Trustees at Grove City College decided officially to “accept and adopt” an anti-CRT report, I knew that other similarly aligned Christian entities were watching and might follow their example.
That is exactly what happened.
On May 9, 2022, Matthew C. Harrison, the president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, wrote a letter to the Board of Regents at Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor (CUWAA). The letter was made public a few days later by a conservative blog site run by a group of Lutheran pastors.
A long chain of events help precipitate the composition of this letter, but I will focus mainly on the way it uses Grove City College’s Board of Trustees as an exemplar for how to deal with education related to race and racism.
The letter concerned the search for a new president of the university and in a section titled “mission drift” Harrison noted “concern over the introduction of secular diversity, equity, and inclusion language and initiatives into the mission of the university.”
This philosophy is laden with ideas antagonistic to the sacred Scriptures, including great lies about human sexuality and race. Much of this seems to have been promoted and pushed by administrators and faculty who are no longer at the school. This, along with the presidential search, pose a unique opportunity for the university to reassert its Lutheran identity and mission; identify, define, and embrace diversity that is intentionally biblical (all are created in the very image of God, and each worth the very blood of Christ); and give the theological faculty a greater role and responsibility in shaping the Lutheran ethos of the institution and catechizing new faculty in a Lutheran worldview.
Much of the letter concerns the violation of bylaws relating to the process for selecting a new president of the university. Such concern seems to arise out of a desire to select a sufficiently conservative new leader. Harrison’s letter also restates that such a role cannot be held by a woman, and “presidents of CUS schools must be qualified men.”
Allegations of “Mission Drift”
The portion relating directly to Critical Race Theory and the example of Grove City College comes under a section titled “Mission Drift.”
Harrison laments the introduction of supposedly harmful and un-Lutheran approaches to addressing racism. He then cites the approach taken by the Board of Trustees at Grove City College as an example worthy of imitation.
The Board at GCC formed a sub-committee to investigate the introduction of ideas labeled as “CRT”, and produce a formal report.
Harrison pointed to this work and wrote…
Consider the example of Grove City College in Grove City, Penn., formerly affiliated with the Presbyterian church, now a self-described conservative Christian college with a Christ-centered mission. When concerns about the infiltration of Critical Race Theory into the mission and instruction of the college became public last year, the college owned up to ways in which it had drifted from its mission, appointed a committee to investigate concerns, and developed a plan to move back to its institutional Christo-centricity. Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor has such an opportunity right now, in the midst of a presidential search, to acknowledge past mistakes and move intentionally back to its clear Lutheran mission.
Leaders of the LCMS apparently believe that the Board of Trustees at Grove City College conducted themselves admirably when they put together a committee—none of whom had any evident expertise in the history or study of racism—that publicly accused their own faculty and staff of undermining the school’s mission and committed themselves to dismantling the very structures and initiatives that could lead to greater racial understanding.
What Is Lutheran Identity?
Harrison’s letter represents an attempt to maintain a distinctly “Lutheran identity.” No doubt this identity includes a rich theological and ecclesiastical history.
But it must also be admitted that part of the LCMS’ identity has been that of an overwhelmingly white population in its denomination and affiliated institutions of higher education.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study, part of the LCMS identity is being an overwhelmingly white denomination.
Fully 95 percent of LCMS members identify as white. A mere two percent are Black, one percent Hispanic, and less than one percent are Asian.
According to the Concordia University’s 2021 school census, over 75 percent of the undergraduate student body is white. About nine percent of students are Black, six percent are Hispanic, and less than one percent of students are Asian.
Many historical and contemporary factors determine the demographic composition of Christian denominations and schools—location, ordination requirements, price of tuition, and more.
Whatever the causes, a denomination and its related institutes of higher education that are so predominantly white should be doing more to promote racial awareness and responsiveness, not less.
The letter from Harrison and his advice to follow the example of Grove City College’s Board of Trustees will no doubt be celebrated by some. They make grand statements about racial equality but often do not propose any substantive measures that would actually change the racial status quo.
Yet such opposition to racial justice initiatives is not the uniform stance of all LCMS personnel.
Some groups, such as Lutherans for Racial Justice, are committed to racial progress despite the voices who label virtually any such efforts as “CRT.”
You can learn more about Lutherans for Racial Justice in their document, “A Call to Action.”
This Is about More than One School
By looking to Grove City College’s Board of Trustees anti-CRT report as a model for to address allegations of “mission drift”, leaders of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod do more to hinder racial progress than promote it.
In a time when white supremacy and white Christian Nationalism are increasingly public and violent, LCMS leaders have the opportunity to choose a college president who can lead the way in creating a more racially inclusive and just future for the denomination.
While these anti-CRT crusades may seem distant and confined to a few “fringe” institutions, but each letter, each report, each attempt to limit conversation and action against racism creates a permission structure for these tactics to flourish in other Christian institutions.
A growing body of data indicates that leaders of Christian institutions, instead of moving forward in faith, seem to let the fear of appearing “woke” propel their actions.