Friday, February 21, 2014

Some Further Notes in Light of the 40th Anniversary of Seminex

In January of 1973 the Board of Control of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, included several members who voted that month "to correct" most of the 48 faculty members (including Martin Scharlemann, Richard Klann, and Robert Preus, three individuals who would later form three-fifths of the faculty minority). Most faculty, including Scharlemann and Klann, received two votes "to correct." Some faculty members received three or four such votes. Four received five such votes.

The faculty majority were later condemned by synod resolution in the summer of that same year (1973), at the synod convention in New Orleans. Later, in August, John Tietjen, president of Concordia Seminary, was suspended from office by a new Board of Control, now populated with "Jacob Preus supporters" who had been elected at the '73 New Orleans convention. (Jacob Preus had been elected synod president in 1969--the same year that John Tietjen took office--and then Preus was re-elected in '71 and '73.) That decision to suspend Tietjen, however, was criticized by the synod's Commission on Constitutional Matters (the BOC acted too hastily), and so the BOC at its next meeting "vacated" its earlier decision and Tietjen was once again no longer under suspension.

The BOC was planning to suspend Tietjen at its Dec meeting (the BOC met every month in those years), but Dr. Piepkorn died just a few days before that meeting, and so the action to suspend Tietjen was postponed until the January meeting.

Prior to these actions on the part of the synod convention and the two Boards of Control (the one pre-'73 and the one in place after the '73 convention), the faculty majority had been publicly condemned by Jacob Preus in his "Report of the Synodical President" to the LCMS (Sep '72), in compliance with Resolution 2-28 of the 1971 Synod convention. The faculty majority had been regularly condemned by Herman Otten in "Lutheran News" (later called "Christian News"). And that faculty majority was condemned by Tom Baker in his April 1973 document, "Watershed at the Rivergate," which was dedicated to "the faithful faculty minority five" (Bohlmann, Klann, Robert Preus, Scharlemann, and Wunderlich) and sent out to who knows how many delegates and others.

Is it any wonder that a majority of the seminary students in the fall of 1973 would want to know (1) what the false doctrine was that they were being taught?; and (2) who was teaching it?

Most of those sem students in the fall of '73 were upset by the forced retirements of seven of their faculty, including A. C. Piepkorn. Paul Goetting's contract was not renewed that year. 450 of those students signed "With One Voice" to support the faculty majority and to call upon the synod to follow due process. Not all seminary students signed the document. A small percentage of students were aligned with "the faculty minority."

As planned by the BOC, Tietjen was suspended from his office at the January 1974 meeting of the BOC. Immediately thereafter, on January 20, a majority of students called for a moratorium in order to try to draw attention to their perception that Dr. Tietjen and the faculty majority were being unfairly treated and condemned without due process. This moratorium began on Jan 20, several hours after Tietjen was officially suspended. It needs to be underscored that the moratorium and decision to fan out across the country (to visit congregations and LCMS clergy) was entirely a student decision. They felt the need to explain to the rank and file among LCMS pastors and congregations why the students had declared a moratorium. 259 students were involved in that activity. None of the students was asked to do this by any faculty member. (Ed Schroeder has relayed to me that seminary students who were Valpo alumni played a significant role in the student organizing in those days and weeks. "From my perspective it was not only the students who did their own thing without our faculty involvement, but in more ways than one they were leading us!")

The BOC appointed minority faculty as replacements in the administration already in January 1974. So Scharlemann was named acting president of the seminary in place of the suspended Tietjen. Preus nevertheless ordered the faculty majority back into the classrooms after Jan 22. This, despite the fact that he and the synod in convention had declared them teachers "not to be tolerated in the church of God."

How could they return to the classroom with that charge hanging over their heads?

What came out in the press after this order from Preus was the fact that Preus had offered a "deal" to Tietjen: resign from the seminary presidency and accept a call to serve as pastor to a synod congregation in return for the dropping of charges. Tietjen did not accept this offer, but he also chose not to take the matter to civil court or to defend himself through the provisions in the bylaws. (Apparently Preus thought it was ok for Tietjen to teach "false doctrine" to a congregation, but not at the seminary.) From Tietjen's perspective: why participate in a process whose outcome was already determined back in 1971 (or even 1969)? Why participate when the principal accusers are those who are also judge and jury in the process?

In response to student concerns about classroom instruction, the faculty voted to resume teaching on Feb 19, 1974, the day after the BOC meeting IF the BOC would reinstate Tietjen and the dept chairs that had been replaced earlier in the month, issue a contract to Goetting, and reverse the decision to force retirement on several senior faculty. The faculty informed the BOC that teaching would resume even if the BOC refused to implement these simple requests, but in a different location and no longer under the auspices of the BOC.

Prior to that BOC meeting in Feb, the chair, E. J. Otto, gave an order that the faculty not be given their next pay checks. On Mon Feb 18, the faculty received a note from Scharlemann to respond to the BOC resolution to resume their responsibilities on Feb 19 or they would be held in breach of contract. In fact Schroeder reported to me that every one of the faculty majority received a note under his office door (hand delivered by Scharlemann?) stating that if they were not back in the classroom by noon the next day, then they would be fired.

After careful deliberation of the ultimatum from Scharlemann, the faculty majority voted "no." They would not accept his leadership. (He, after all, had been the one to ask Preus to conduct a theological investigation of the faculty a few years earlier.) The faculty would not return to their classrooms. As of noon that day, the 19th, they were fired. Every one of the faculty majority received a pink slip. They had only so many days to vacate their offices. Faculty homes had to be vacated in short order as well. That is how the exile began.

To use the language of "The Walkout" already implies a prejudiced perspective on the events of 1971-74, as summarized in the biased report of the Preus-engineered post-1973 Seminary Board of Control, "Exodus from Concordia: A Report on the 1974 Walkout." Yes, there was an exile, but only after Tietjen refused to buy into JAOP's "offer." The students led their moratorium on classroom instruction because they wanted to know the answers to the two questions above, and the faculty  majority refused to teach unless due and Christian process was followed (first with Tietjen himself, who had been unfairly suspended, in their view, and then with "the faculty majority," who stood condemned because of the convention action the previous summer, the actions of Preus since 1970, and the actions of Otten since the 1950s.) The faculty majority was willing to resume teaching, if the BOC would simply reinstate Tietjen and the department chairs who had been deposed, issue a contract to Goetting, and reinstate those senior faculty who had been forced into retirement. The BOC refused to do any of these. It did not help that the faculty majority considered Scharlemann to be a traitor. They were not going to resume teaching under his leadership.

The faculty majority understood themselves to be condemned and forced out by the actions of President Preus, the actions of the '73 convention, and the actions of the post-'73 Board of Control. And forced out especially by the actions of the acting president Scharlemann, whose leadership they could not accept.

Before its publication by Fortress, I read James Burkee's dissertation on the background to these events in 1974. You can read my review of that book online:

It is not an uplifting story.

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