Woke Dysphoria at Concordia

Rev Gregory P Schulz, DMin, PhD

Professor of Philosophy, Concordia University Wisconsin

Published in 2/14/2022 Issue

Dysphoria is another word for “restlessness.” It doesn’t mean being fidgety or ill at ease; it means being depressed, disquieted, overcome by Angst. Much like the term euphoria at the other end of the emotional spectrum, dysphoria connotes being under the influence. My Concordia university is experiencing dysphoria because it is coming under the influence of Woke-ism (that is, a potent cocktail of Progressivism, Neo-Pragmatism, and Marxism).

We are under the influence of the Woke-ness in our nation and our Western culture, of course, but Wokeness appears to be developing into a pathology at my “institution of Lutheran higher education” as it says in our mission statement. Our institutional dysphoria at Concordia University Wisconsin (CUW) has come to light – and has been exacerbated by the search for a new university president and the manner in which our Board of Regents and, in particular, its Executive Board and its Search Committee who have been pushing for a president who will be, in their own words, “disruptive” and “transformational.”

It turns out that they mean disruption and transformation in the sense of installing a president who would disrupt the expectation of a pastor-president as described in the written By-laws of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, and who would thus be radically different from spiritual and educational leadership as authoritatively described in the Scriptures. For example, as laid out for us in the pastoral epistles such as the apostle Paul’s letters to Timothy. They mean to transform the ways and means of being Concordia.

The Cause of Our Restlessness and Dysphoria

In their own words (posted now for a second calendar year on their microsite at https://www.cuw.edu/microsites/president-search/index.html#nomination), committees from our Board of Regents have been publicly announcing their determination to have a president who exhibits a “demonstrated belief in and commitment to equity and inclusion” and who promotes racialized “diversity in all its myriad forms.”

These are aggressive-progressive Woke mantras. Diversity refers to a racialized diversity with unsubstantiated assumptions of white privilege and systemic (national and institutional) racism that form the mythological basis of Harvard’s Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project. Inclusion is an aggressive, almost violent version of what used to be known as affirmative action, now construed as racial reparations – again, on the basis of the mythological thinking from Critical Race Theory. Equity is the enforcement of Diversity and Inclusion by any means necessary – excepting by means of thoughtful, reasonable, and honest writing and discussion.

The lynchpin issue is this: The Woke agenda (DIE, for Diversity, Inclusion, Equity) is utterly opposed to texts and to textual authority. In theory (such as it is) and in practice, the Woke agenda being championed by our BoR committees is literally an illiterate philosophy of education that has no place for authoritative texts. For example, Woke-ness has no place for authoritative texts such as the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. It also has no place for the authority of the biblical text. (On this issue please see my January 2022 presentation at our LCMS Making Disciples for Life Conference, Live Not by Lies: The Self-Evident Proposition Versus Marxist Ideology, and my three-part essay, The Self-Evident Proposition, published in Christian Culture by Luther Classical College.)

A generation ago in response to the Seminex explosion in our church body, which was something of a foreshock to this Woke earthquake in Mequon right now, Kurt Marquart wrote this about agendas and methodologies that put themselves between Scripture and students: “Science has neither use nor room for privileged authorities or sacrosanct texts. It recognizes only observations, experiments, logical inferences based on them, and, reluctantly, whatever axioms or assumptions are necessary to sustain these operations” (Anatomy of an Explosion, 120).

When expressed as a universal formula Marquart’s reply exposes the fundamental problem with Woke-ness. Think of his formula this way. “X has neither use nor room for privileged authorities or sacrosanct texts.” You can plug in for X every element of the Woke agenda: DIE, BIPOC, LGBTQ-ism, Transgenderism, Harvard’s Critical Race Theory, and so on. In each case, it comes to light that there is no room for privileged authorities or sacrosanct texts. (Please see my widely-disseminated desktop presentation, Trust, but Edify, posted on GETTR @profgschulz.)

Just look at the published wish-list for our next university president in terms of Marquart’s formula. There is no room for privileged authorities – not a hint that all teaching authority at the university has been given to Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). There is no room for sacrosanct texts – not a mention of what Christ says in His verbatim Word about education, not a clue that they are seeking a president capable of articulating a philosophy of education that is based on Christ Himself (Colossians 2:8-9). Not a scintilla of a hint that they would seek a president capable of leading us in the work of “destroying arguments and all arrogance raised against the knowledge of God, and taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

In other words, the Woke-ness or Progressivism that these committees are promulgating is educational heresy. Our Lord says clearly, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30). During the Holocaust, the Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that this passage is about those within the church who, in time of persecution and tribulation, simply will not articulate the authority of Christ in all areas of life. Those who are “not with Me” are those who neglect and refuse to confess Christ’s words and His authority, particularly in time of crisis and cultural abandonment of the Gospel, such as the church is experiencing right now – nowhere more obviously than in higher education.

This Wokeness – with its dismissal and replacement of sacrosanct texts – is also anti-Lutheran inasmuch as it defies what I have been teaching and publishing as “the first principle of Lutheran thought:” “But God cannot be treated with, God cannot be apprehended, nisi per Verbum, except through the Word” (Apology, Article 4, On Justification). Woke-ism is in point of fact a renunciation of the very means by which we “do ministry” and thus a renunciation of the means by which we “do Concordia.” (Please see my NISI PER VERBUM articles in LOGIA or speak with my undergrads, your sons and daughters, your grandchildren, at CUW as well as our pastors and missionaries who are my PhD students in Fort Wayne’s Missiology program.)

When our BoR committees announce their intentions to install a president who exhibits a “demonstrated belief in and commitment to equity and inclusion” and promotes racialized “diversity in all its myriad forms,” they are announcing their plan to disrupt the authority of the biblical text and in this way to transform our university from an institution of Lutheran higher education to … who knows what. They are announcing their intention to transform this LCMS institution into a DIE-ing institution. See, for instance, the language and content of the Office of Multicultural Engagement on the university’s website at cuw.edu.

Not incidentally, the BoR committees’ posted announcements are unsurprisingly Woke in their cavalier altering of texts. True to the Woke mindset of the Presidential Search postings, someone or some committee presumed to alter the pronouns in their posted version of our LCMS bylaws. As one of my faculty colleagues pointed out, in that posting the first two sentences of the LCMS Bylaw, addressing “Concordia University System Presidents,” read: “The president of the institution shall be the executive officer of the board of regents. He shall serve as the spiritual, academic, and administrative head of the institution.”  The first two sentences under “Role of the 9th President of Concordia University” in the Presidential Prospectus, however, read: “The president of Concordia University is the chief executive of the institution, reporting to the Board of Regents. The president serves both as academic head of the faculty and as spiritual leader of the institution.” 

Notice, my colleague explained, how closely the posted Presidential Prospectus follows the exact language of Bylaw in its first sentence “The president,” “executive,” “of the institution,” “the board of regents” – but then avoids using the masculine pronoun “He” at the beginning of its second sentence.  One might also ask why Presidential Prospectus places “spiritual” after “academic” instead of keeping “spiritual” first as the bylaw has it, and why Presidential Prospectus uses the term “leader” with “spiritual,” as “leader” is not found anywhere in Bylaw when describing a Concordia University president.

Whether the BoR committees alter their posted, online statements, or not – without a detailed and equally widely published retraction of their Woke desires and commitments, the Woke dysphoria at Concordia will continue. After all, this is not a PR issue but a matter of repentance and showing the fruit of faith.

The Only Rest for our Systemic Restlessness and Dysphoria

To conclude, let me return to the broader concern for Woke dysphoria among the students and parents, among the pastors and other dedicated supporters of my university. Unsurprisingly, our help comes from Christ and His authoritative words. I say “unsurprisingly” because we are officially a Lutheran institution of higher learning and I am actually one of a number of divinely called LCMS pastor-professors at CUW.

One of the most impactful sentences written in the history of Western and Christian thought after the Bible comes from Augustine of Hippo. “You have made us for Yourself, Lord, and we are restless (inquietus in his Latin) until we find our rest in You” (Confessions 1.1). This sentence is a master’s class on human nature distilled from Ecclesiastes (concerning the meaninglessness of life apart from the words of the one Lord our Shepherd), and our Lord’s words in Matthew 11:28 (His invitation to come to Him for the Sabbath rest for our souls) – packaged as a field kit for personal or cultural emergencies, or as a classroom thesis to save souls who are suffering from dysphoria / disquiet / Angst here in the trenches of Lutheran higher education.

At the same time, Augustine’s master class of a sentence is a decisive indictment of every philosophy of education that refuses to form its curriculum by means of the ultimate sacrosanct text, the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures – an indictment of every educational institutional culture that neglects to re-form itself according to God’s Word, that is, according to the incarnate, rest-giving Word of God Himself and according to His verbatim words to us. That is, according to the divinely instituted means of grace.

On this basis, I offer my professional diagnosis that the Woke-ism at CUW, exacerbated by the BoR committees’ handling of the presidential search, is burdening the consciences of my students and my religious colleagues on faculty. (Please see my 2013 book, Wednesday’s Child: From Heidegger to Affective Neuroscience, A Field Theory of Angst. In the first chapter I explain how conscience is founded on Angst in human consciousness. In the book’s concluding Afterthought, I explain that there will be either a religious or a non-religious response to Augustine’s sentence.)

What, then, shall we say in response to the Woke Dysphoria at Concordia? There are matters of accountability and responsibility to be attended to. While there is no systemic racism at Concordia because we are committed to Christ incarnate and His universal justification of all human beings without exception, there certainly is systemic Woke-ism.

As another of my faculty colleagues explains it, accrediting bodies are a major source of power driving the Woke-ness at our university. The university’s commitment to securing accreditation from Higher Learning Commission (HLC) has likely led to the disquieting DIE changes in staffing, in scholarships, in programs, and in curricula at CUW. HLC criteria for accreditation include “1.C. The institution provides opportunities for civic engagement in a diverse, multicultural society and globally connected world, as appropriate within its mission and for the constituencies it serves. …1.The institution encourages curricular or cocurricular activities that prepare students for informed citizenship and workplace success. 2.The institution’s processes and activities demonstrate inclusive and equitable treatment of diverse populations. 3.The institution fosters a climate of respect among all students, faculty, staff and administrators from a range of diverse backgrounds, ideas and perspectives.”

A fellow professor in the sciences also pointed out to me that the ACS approval (a chemistry curriculum approval that is very important for the BS in Chemistry) mandates that “The collective expertise of the faculty should reflect the breadth of the major areas of modern chemistry. Because faculty members serve as important professional role models, an ACS-approved program should have a faculty that is diverse in gender, race, and ethnic background.”

Accreditation in turn influences our university leadership and curriculum because of our financial entanglement with the government. The financial expediencies by which we are “doing Concordia” cry out for immediate, urgent reconsideration. The apostolic mandate comes to mind. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Three thoughts come to mind as well.

First, given that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10), is it possible that Concordia is under the influence of inept metrics and methodologies for the assessment of its work as a Lutheran institution of higher learning? In this regard, a text that we must make a place for in our conversations is “The Successful Man” in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics.

This will further suggest a detailed report from, and perhaps a forensic audit of the university’s Initiatives and the funding practices of Concordia University Wisconsin Foundation Board as listed on our cuw.edu website. Whence the funding for the Woke agenda at our university? Apart from the headline mentions of our Lord’s name, exactly how does DIE-ing fulfil the university’s churchly and Lutheran educational mission?

Secondly, it is the administration and senior administrators of CUW who bear day-to-day responsibility for the regularizing and normalizing of Woke-ness at the university. As we on the faculty bear day-to-day responsibility for what we teach or fail to teach our students. There seems to be an assumption that the DIE is cast and we are willy-nilly fully committed to Woke-ism. How the presidential search turns out will mark a watershed moment for Concordia – perhaps for all of our remaining Concordias – but I do not think we should miss this point: There has been no suitably academic study or proper professional discussion of this looming tectonic shift in educational philosophy and university policy from Lutheranism to Woke-ism. This is scandalous.

There are urgent academic and theological questions for our leadership in the administration and for our DIE-ing colleagues on faculty. Where are your own books, your published journal articles, your white papers, your writings and reasonings about this shift – this “disruptive” and “transformational” shift championed by our BoR committees? What exactly are you pro-fessing, dear colleagues? Come, let us reason together in the forum of God’s Word (Isaiah 1:18).

As I have been arguing, Woke-ism is afflicting the consciences of students, faculty, and supporters of Concordia. Therefore, programmatic, systemic Woke-ism merits reconsideration. It also merits personal and institutional repentance.

Finally, I offer this recommendation in direct opposition to the BoR committees’ postings.

  • The next president must believe in and have a demonstrated commitment to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.
  • He must be a pastor-professor with an exceptional, longstanding spiritual and intellectual / academic record of ministry and leadership in concord with his belief in and commitment to the Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.
  • He must be a pastor-professor of substantial moral authority on the basis of his commitment to bringing Christ, the Lord of Sabbath-rest to students, to faculty, to the Concordia community, and to all restless people of the world whom we can reach — this via the means that Christ has instituted and commended to us for the work of teaching in a world largely in rebellion against God’s authority and thus disquieted, dysphoric, and in need of a genuinely higher education: education in the Way, the Truth, and the Life incarnate.