Synod officials forced out Concordia Portland president, prevented hiring of replacement
Documents filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court show senior officials in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod asked Concordia University Portland’s long-time president to resign in 2018 and prevented the university’s board of regents from hiring a permanent replacement until it withdrew its “apparent endorsement and support” of the Queer Straight Alliance club and Gender and Sexuality Resource Center on campus.
“By publicly endorsing teaching and behavior that endangers human souls…you have contradicted the public confession of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, and openly challenged the doctrine and practice of the Christian Church for two thousand years,” wrote Synod president Matthew Harrison and Concordia University System president Dean Wenthe to Charles Schlimpert on February 2, 2018. “We ask that you honor your commitments to your institution and to the Synod by stepping down to allow another to shepherd your institution properly as one of the Church.”
Two weeks earlier, on January 18, Schlimpert had written to Wenthe and Harrison explaining his decision to approve the Queer Straight Alliance club. “On Friday, I made the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in 35 years to avoid catastrophe,” he wrote. The delays in Concordia’s approval of the club’s charter had made local news, and the public reaction posed “irreparable financial harm to the institution, even perhaps to the point of having to close the University,” Schlimpert said.
Specifically, “a day or two into the eruption we were informed that Portland Public Schools would cease taking our student teachers (550 annually), that CU might have to leave the Faubion building, etc. These were not hypothetical problems. It was clear the University’s survival was in real danger.”
President Schlimpert retired several months later in the summer of 2018 and was replaced by interim president Johnnie Driessner. Over the next year and a half, Concordia Portland’s board of regents conducted a search for a permanent replacement but encountered opposition from the same individuals who forced out Schlimpert.
In a deposition taken in April of 2021 in Hotchalk’s $302 million lawsuit against Concordia Portland, board of regents member Terry Wilson said senior Synod officials held up the hiring of a new permanent president because of “concern of LCMS vis-à-vis the LGBTQ situation we were dealing with in Portland, as they perceived it from St. Louis.”
Kathleen Hone, another Concordia Portland board member deposed in August of 2021, corroborated Wilson’s account in an exchange with Hotchalk attorney Jim McDermott.
“And you understood [Synod president] Harrison to want the LGBTQ issues to be resolved to his satisfaction before he would green-light the hiring of a permanent president, right?”
“Yes,” Hone said.
Presidents Harrison and Wenthe publicly boasted about their power, codified in LCMS bylaws, to stall the presidential replacement process at Concordia Portland.
In 2019, Harrison told a crowd at the LCMS National Convention, “I assure you the issues of gender and sexuality, particularly at Concordia Portland, are being addressed. In fact, I have informed the regents and leadership that I will not proceed with prior approval for any candidates for president until I’m assured that matters have been finally and adequately addressed.”
CUS president Wenthe emphasized Harrison’s authority in this regard at a Lutheran Concerns Association conference in January of 2020, three weeks before Concordia Portland’s closure announcement. “I think it’s only fair to tell you things are being done to deal with the one case in Portland and it’s really the leadership of our president [Harrison]…That board of regents knows that they’re non-compliant with the Lutheran Identity Statement; they know that they’ll not receive a new president until that’s corrected; they’ve admitted now that they are in violation of our church’s teaching and practice, and it falls under President Harrison’s leadership — he could exert that force because he’s in charge of all the doctrine and practice of our church body.”
At a hearing in Hotchalk’s lawsuit on December 10, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Eric Dahlin withheld ruling on motions for protective orders over roughly 2,000 emails and other records which Synod attorneys consider confidential and protected from discovery under the First Amendment. Judge Dahlin said he would issue a decision on their discoverability sometime next month after reviewing a random sample of 25 documents.