My Response to NNU Announcements

June 26th, 2015 / 34 Comments

Uncontrolling Love of God presentation for SoCal ConferencesWith the recent Northwest Nazarene University announcements from the Board of Trustees and the report from the team assigned to review recent layoffs, I thought it would be wise to make a statement in response.

I made a video response. Click the black rectangle “Statement from Thomas Jay Oord” to access it.

The text in this blog essay was my initial draft for the video, but I chose to speak more extemporaneously in the video. Consequently, there are significant differences between the text below and what I say on the video. (By the way, I didn’t do many “takes” for the video, so I apologize that I stumble occasionally with my words.)

Up to now, I have chosen not to talk publicly about my situation. Now that I am posting this video and text, I have several things I want to say. In light of this, I ask you to forgive the length of my response (nearly 20 minutes on the video).

Difficult Days

These past few years have been very difficult for me, for my family, for my colleagues, for former students, for scholar fiends around the world, and for my various friends.

My wife and I have endured plenty of sleepless nights, unintended weight loss, tears, and stress. Our hearts have been broken many times. And they still break today. Our kids and extended family have also wrestled with all that has happened.

Although we knew they were coming, the release of the NNU announcements on June 26 was especially hard for us all.

These have been difficult days for the NNU community more generally and for my teaching colleagues in particular. The hardship has been intense and extensive

Why Did This Happen?

I could point to various reasons for why I these days have been difficult. The situation is complex and the factors vary. The NNU ordeal has many dimensions.

I believe the most fundamental reason for the NNU crisis, at least as it concerns me, has to do with questions of change in our contemporary world. The fundamental issue at stake is the way we ask and seek to answer the biggest and most important questions of our time.

In the past 15 or so years that I have been a professor at Church of the Nazarene education institutions, I have not been afraid to tackle the challenging questions of life. And I have not been afraid to do so in public or in the academy. In fact, I saw my calling to speak both to scholars and to laity in the church, a dual calling somewhat rare among academically trained theologians.

I have not only wrestled with the big questions, I have also proposed solutions I find plausible. I have not been dogmatic about my proposals. Nor have I insisted that everyone accept my proposed solutions. In fact, I have encouraged others to think for themselves. But I did not shy away from what I believe is part of my specific calling as a Christian theologian in the contemporary world.

Of course, even asking difficult questions can make some people nervous. Proposing new answers unfamiliar to conservatively-inclined people especially alarms them. As I see it, most of my detractors and critics fear answering challenging questions in any way other than the ways they have been taught or heard in the past, answers so many today find unsatisfactory.

As I see it, the ultimate source of conflict in my situation is this clash of perspectives on how we live well and seek answers in a world of drastic change and uncertainty.

The fundamental reason for the NNU crisis has to do with questions of change in our world. Click To Tweet

Gratitude

I want to express as strongly as possible how incredibly grateful I am to so many who have supported my family and me. The responses of love and encouragement have been overwhelming. I am not exaggerating when I say that naming each person who has supported me would mean creating a list of many thousands of names!

In these difficult months (and even years), my family and I have been sustained by the encouragement and words of affirmation.  I am especially grateful to literally hundreds of former students and colleagues who sent notes explaining how my life has made a positive difference.  Some have even talked about how my teachings and influence have helped them regain belief in God, return to the church, or overcome debilitating dilemmas.

I have also been overwhelmed by the solidarity so many scholars have shown toward me. These scholars come from various traditions, disciplines, and faith perspectives. They have expressed support through many forms, letters, social media, interviews with community and national press, blogs essays. I am immensely humbled. And I am so grateful. Thank YOU all!

The power of social media has been particularly evident through this ordeal. Facebook discussion groups, the “Support Tom Oord and NNU” page, blogsites (e.g., Ric Shewell and Kevin Lambert’s sites), twitter comments, and so much more have empowered many to join the conversation for justice and change. I thank all who engaged in social media as their way of engaging this important conversation.

I especially want to thank my colleagues at Northwest Nazarene University. The “no confidence” vote they gave the previous president indicates how much they care about making changes necessary to make NNU a better place.  Many of my colleagues have also worked long and hard hours toward a better future for the university and a more satisfactory relationship with leadership.

Several of my colleagues have gone to bat for me personally, some even putting their own jobs on the line for me and for the good of the university. I am immensely grateful to them! One of the many reasons I have been fighting to stay at NNU is that my colleagues and the NNU community are so wonderful!

I am also grateful for my three daughters and my son-in-law.  I am happy to know that they retain their faith despite the struggles our family has endured these past years. They have been avid supporters, and I appreciate them!

I owe my greatest debt of gratitude to my wife.  She and I have shed plenty of tears these past years. She never insisted that we leave NNU or that I cut and run from the difficult, difficult process.  I am so grateful she said yes to my proposal that we share the adventure of life together. In some of the recent days, we’ve been living the “for worse” part of that marriage line “for better of for worse!” I’m so thankful for her love and generosity.

Recent Announcement

I write this note in light of the recent Board of Trustees announcement and the report from the team assigned to review the recent layoffs.

Throughout the last months, I was hopeful for a full reinstatement to my position. I expected the review committee to recommend such a reinstatement. I expected them to say I was wrongly selected for a layoff.

When I discovered the results of the review committee’s work, I was surprised. “Shocked” might be a better word. It was totally unexpected. I was confident that after reading my testimony and the many other documents, the report would be different than it turned out to be.

The announcement from the Board of Trustees rightly says that I am being temporarily reinstated. I will be teaching graduate students part time in the coming years as I look for a teaching ministry elsewhere. I have three years to find an appropriate position, but I am beginning the job hunt immediately.

I accept this temporary reinstatement, although I had hoped for full reinstatement. The agreement I have reached with the Board of Trustees, given all of the factors involved and especially given the review report, is satisfactory to me. I especially thank Randy Craker for his work in all of this.

Future

There is much yet to be done.

I am pleased that Joel Pearsall has accepted the invitation by the Trustees to be the interim president. I expect that he will fulfill the task well and become a permanent president before long.

As far as I can tell, Joel has integrity. I expect him to collaborate, share power, and not micromanage the faculty and university. Joel seems to be a person worthy of the confidence so many have placed in him.

My colleagues must now work with Joel and NNU leadership to construct more robust avenues for shared governance. They must work to restore trust where trust has been lost. Truth telling and healing are in order.

Academic Freedom

Christian universities have always wrestled with questions of academic freedom. I hope my situation will be used as a tool to teach Christians that the Church must support its brightest scholars.

A well-known guide to thinking about academic freedom is an ancient phrase that says, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, freedom; in all things, love.” In my case, I have affirmed the essentials of the Christian faith and my denomination. I strongly suspect that my exploration of nonessential beliefs and proposal of sometimes nontraditional answers have been a major reason why I am writing this note now. I have freely explored important questions, but I have tried to this in the spirit of love.

My colleagues at NNU and the leadership must work now to shore up the university’s commitment to academic freedom.

Integrity and transparency in leadership

One outcome of this ordeal has been a sustained conversation about what Christian leadership requires. At times, concerns for legalities or other issues have thwarted transparency, integrity, and honesty in various Christian institutions.

I am happy that a number of conversations are now taking place to raise awareness of the need for transparent, honest, and collaborative leadership. A large number of people have lost faith in leaders, especially those charged with leading Christian organizations. Much must be done to restore that faith.

Symbol of change

I have become a symbol for many things in recent weeks, months, and years. Being a symbol for so many issues is a difficult load to bear.

One of the things I have come symbolize is the divide between mostly younger people who want to engage difficult questions and pursue nontraditional answers. These people want to see change, and I symbolize for them the hope of a better future. They are right to insist that a great deal more “elbow room” for exploration and debate be allowed in the Church.

On the other side of this divide are people who seem afraid of the hard questions and the answers we might give. These people, from my perspective, are uncomfortable with the changes they see coming. I symbolize for them an abandonment of security and tradition, even though what many of them think is “traditional” is rather recent and doesn’t represent well the heart of the Christian tradition.

I want to do my part to bridge this divide. In fact, I have been doing my best in recent years. Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic wand or silver bullet to overcome this divide instantaneously.

I am committed to engaging this divide for the good of the Church and the world. Although I will soon find employment somewhere else, I intend to remain a part of the larger conversation about the need for change.

My future

My temporary reinstatement means I eventually will leave NNU. But I do not intend to leave The Church of the Nazarene

I will likely be employed in a university of some other denomination or entity. But I will contribute both in that context and in the Church of the Nazarene to the conversations I think are necessary.

I expect the next stage of my scholarly career to look different from what it has in the past. I don’t know exactly what that means. But I choose to move into the future with optimism and hope as I pursue my ministry as a scholar and Christian leader.

Conclusion

I want to conclude with what is at my core: love.

Although the phrase has become a kind of slogan, I really do plan to live a life of love. That’s who I have tried to be through this ordeal, and it is who I will try to be in the future. As I see it, that’s an essential part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

But to live in love does not mean to be passive. It does not mean to settle for injustice.

To live in love also does not mean seeking revenge. It does not harbor bitterness.

Love forgives. But it continues to act for what is good and just, because love seeks overall well-being. Love does not repay evil with evil but repays evil with good.

In the past years, months, and weeks, I’ve been trying to love by keeping the good of the whole in mind. And I encourage others to do the same as we move into the future. The work of love must go on – on campus, in the church, in culture, and in my life.

I encourage you to join me in prayer and join me in action as we seek to live lives of love.

I plan to live a life of love. Click To Tweet
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Comments

Bruce Barnard

Thank you… #LoveWins


Randy Newcomb

Thank you, Tom. Prayers with you and your family. Love does win.


Andy Yue

It’s good to have a new beginning, and a new beginning is good. It is not bad for one to embrace the past, and I personally think it is necessary for most people most the time; however, when the time comes, we must close an old chapter of our lives and move on to a new one.
I am personally a supporter of Dr. Oord, not because his theology/philosophy “fits my taste”, but because I truly respect him as a person. And I seem to be certain that Dr. Oord will keep going strong and the next chapter of his life will be better.


Mark Ballard

I have read and listened. You are using diverse, intelligent means of connecting.

You have a beautiful sailboat. I look forward to hearing of your adaptations.


Jim Hampton

Tom, it was with deep sadness that I read the BoT announcement today. Like you, I had truly hoped that there would be a different resolution once all the facts were known.

I want to thank you for your strong love for Christ and His Church. It is so evident in your relationships with others, your writings, your teaching, and in how you live your life that what drives you is not fame but simply being called a “good and faithful servant.”

Personally, I have been thankful for your desire to ask (and seek to answer) those tough questions. As one who has worked with adolescents and young adults for over 25 years, they are asking those questions. If they don’t receive answers, they are leaving the church. You’ve shown an entire generation of pastors not only not to be afraid of the questions, but also how to provide answers. That is the future of the church, and you have made a significant contribution to that future.

Know you and your family are in my prayers as you prayerfully determine the next part of your journey.


Jeff Jaekley

Tom,
You model grace, courage, love and faithfulness for the rest of us. Blessings on the continuation of your journey.
Hope and Peace,
Jeff


Janae

I just want to say thank you. Thank you for all that you have done for NNU and for the CotN. You have handled this whole situation with more love and grace than I think anyone would have expected. You are an inspiration. You give me hope for the future of the CotN. I had a huge sigh of relief when I heard you say that you plan to stay in the CotN. I plan to join you in prayer and action as we seek to lives of love! Thank you Dr. Oord!


Dean

Tom, thanks so much for sharing your heart in all of this. As usual you present yourself with great humility, honesty, and love. My hope is that leaders will learn from this sad situation and grow from it. Our church faces a crossroads in the days ahead and for the sake of His Kingdom, I pray we can come out on the other side better not bitter, engaged not secluded, embracing not rejecting. I am so glad to hear you intend to remain an elder in our tradition for you have much to add to these sometimes difficult conversations as “we come to reason together” Your friend Dean Cowles


Carrie Hays

Thank you so much for this. So much of what you shared resonates with me. I am thrilled that you will continue with the COTN. We need more leaders like you. Will be praying for you and your family!


Ank Verhoeven

I am so sad to hear about the price you had to pay in order to accomplish just what you said out to do…. I became a member of the CotN because I felt the hard questions are allowed, hard answers are accepted. This is the case in my church in the Netherlands, and when I met you I felt it was so in the US as well. Since then I learned this is definitely not the case everywhere, but I never imagined this outcome. Not for you personally nor professionally. I am so sorry….
I admire you greatly to stand tall in the love of Christ through this all, to remain in the Church you love (although that might be just as hard sometimes), and I pray you’ll find a job soon, where you can be all of you, and have the opportunity to inspire many many others as you do me.
Blessings for you and your family Tom!


JP Tammen

Thanks for standing up for truth and love. Can be very hard to do. You know. All support for making a better world.


Chris Bean

Praying that God guides and provides for you and your family as you navigate transitions. Thanks for choosing a path less traveled by and giving many of us encouragement and hope for how to stay in the CotN as we try to create welcoming environments for the big questions to be addressed. Shalom.


Bob Luhn

Tom, Thank you for a gracious and truthful response. I too had hoped that the Trustees would find a way to fully reinstate you. The young people I work with and love so much need safe places to wrestle with challenging issues. If not NNU where? If not under the teaching of a deeply caring Christian professor then who? If not now when? We are losing younger folks at an alarming rate because they fear we have no room in the church to even ask the questions let alone debate the answers. The questions will not go away they simply will be asked in an environment less conducive to faith. I stand with you Tom as I always have. May your next assignment allow more room to engage the most crucial concerns of our age.


April McNeiece

Tom,
Thanks for taking time to share this message. I am so disappointed with the outcome, but hopeful for the future. I am thankful to have been your student and proud to call you colleague. Thanks too for the example of what a life of love looks like. May God continue to richly bless you and your family. April


Terry Mattson

Tom, as always you find good ground.. That has been the context of your mission at NNU and the Church of the Nazarene. As I have watched, felt, listened, wept with you and the church, I have always been pleased with the love centered response of your life, heart. Silence when respectful, communication when helpful, trust in all. With many others I am saddened by the Board’s ultimate decision for you, your family, NNU and the church. However, God will land you in a spacious and good place. God will land us all inside the dreams of God’s kingdom. Love wins, indeed. Blessings! Terry 🙂


RUDOLPH PRESCOD

Thanks for your very candid response. Pray that you and your family continue to experience God’s peace. Love must be “a flag flown high from the castle of our hearts.” Grace and peace!


Doug Early

Tom- we are praying for you always. The world needs more people like the way you are. In this crazy world we live in we as a nation have become to passive. We need leaders.


Dominic Halsmer

Don’t know much about the situation you endured. But I know God has many wonderful things in store for you and your family. Let’s throw a disc or play some volleyball in Grand Rapids next week. Godspeed Tom Oord.


Todd Holden

Tom
You have always been a great help to me in my growth as a Christian. I know all too well the stress of moving on families. I pray that no matter where your path leads you and your family that you find that our great God embraces you with love everlasting and comfort that runs deep. I love you and want you to know how much I appreciate you and your courage and integrity!!


Erik Groeneveld

Brother, hold on in this situation and stay close to God, your family and your passion … Love! I appreciate who you are: God-loving, encouraging, supportive, and optimistic. All these values will keep you going!


Pastor Richard

What theological point of view in particular do you think brought on this problem there at NNU? Is it possible to state it plainly and briefly, instead of supposing that vague references to “proposing new answers unfamiliar to conservatively-inclined people” should be satisfactory to gain the support of your position made in such a public response as this to us pastors? There surely must be something quite “radical” in what you taught that was sufficient to create this firestorm. When I (as a pastor) propose something “radical” to my congregation (be it some “new view” of some verse of Scripture or some “new” method of ministry) I must be prepared (not “shocked”) to suffer consequences of such a “radical” proposal to myself and my “employment”, even if I think my “new answer” is “plausible.”


Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond

Amor vincit omnia!


John Oord

First Bro, I want to say how proud I am of you. The integrity with which you travel the path you have chosen is a model for us all.
Second, from the time of Adam, we have had to chose if we will eat from the Tree of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong; in other words the law. Your refusal to eat from anything other than the Tree of Life, Love, and Relationships inspire many. May others follow that example. Again I am proud to be your brother.


Jay Sorenson

Despite claims to the contrary NNU is just like any mid sized corporation. Politics, back stabbing, spout the party line or suffer the consequences and managers and board members of questionable ability and ethics.


Katie Waltemyer

Thanks for sharing your response publicly Tom. I am very sad about this outcome, but I appreciate your thoughtfulness in this response. You have always been a wonderful role model to me and this post just affirms it. Despite this terrible injustice, I know that you and you’re family will find a great opportunity ahead of you. Thank you for all you’ve done for me and Seth and all of our peers in the classroom. I hope that we can keep working together to find that elbow room.


Dave Niswander

Tom,

My heart bleeds for you and your family. Thank you for being an example that I much needed in my life. My prayers go out to you and yours. May grace and peace remain with you.


Crystal Nielsen

Tom,
I understand that you are disappointed with the decision, to say the least. But please do not assume that those of us “conservatively inclined” Christians who do not agree with you do so because we are afraid to ask tough questions or to entertain beliefs that are different from what we were taught. Neither fear nor a lack of study has prompted me or other detractors. Rather, study of Scripture in comparison to the tenets of Open Theism has led many of us to conclude that your conclusions to the tough questions are off-base. And, in my view, open theism denies major points about the nature of God – chiefly His omniscience – so as to constitute a great departure from the “essentials” not only of Nazarene doctrine, but also of mainstream theology.

I pray that someday, you will see how much greater God truly is than the God about whom you have taught so far.


Rev. Megan Pardue

Thank you for your witness and faithfulness. I hate that bridging the divide you reference has cost you and your family so much. Your sacrifices do not go unnoticed. I appreciate all of your devotion to theological education and the COTN.


Ruth Ann

I just finished watching your video. Everything you said resonated with me. You describe the life and the thinking that I desire to have. I am a Nazarene preacher’s kid – loving and authentic parents, and a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College. I have, ever since reading Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, preferred to think in terms of Kingdom living and serving than to be limited to thinking within the confines of one denomination. I am still a Nazarene and am grateful for all that has meant to my spiritual formation as well as other “joys” in my life. However, I have often found myself processing situations and questions with a different perspective than some of my fellow Nazarene brothers and sisters. I finally understood that my thinking (as well as many others) was not necessarily beyond what a Nazarene “should” think. I was a Nazarene and that’s how I thought. There is room in the Kingdom of God and the Church of the Nazarene for broader and more challenging Big Question discussions, and certainly our colleges and universities should provide that opportunity to our young people.
We are often, though we do not need to be, owned by our fear. Christians have the greatest message of redemption and transformation than any other religion.. And the transformation comes by facing the doubts and questions and choosing to expand our understanding of what we do not know. Thank you so much for your willingness to not just step in to this “punishing ” arena you find yourself in but also your decision to stay in it for the sake of the Kingdom and it’s dwellers – us. By the way I am 71 years old, and I want to be a part of this conversation you are having. I’ m there!

PS: Blessings to your wife and daughters. You are creating an amazing legacy for them.


Chris Buczinsky

I’ll always be grateful to the men and women who began my education at Northwest Nazarene College back in the 70’s, true educators and seekers like Kevin Dennis, Sherill Munn, Gaymon Bennett, and Ed Crawford. They taught me the rudiments of reading, set me on an educational path that ended with a Ph.D. at Northwestern, and opened me up to an ever greater and growing awareness of the divine. But this episode doesn’t surprise me in the least. I left the evangelical community precisely because its loyalty to dogma trumped its intellectual integrity. Sounds like Mr. Oord’s theological growth outstripped the community’s mental straightjacket too. Isn’t this the trajectory of every honest man, every real thinker? God is much bigger than this little community pretends. It’s their loss, not yours. I wish you well on your journey into Infinite Him!


Todd Holden

Tom

Just an added note to you that our God has kept you and your family on my heart every day. I lift you all up in prayer and am hoping that the same love of God that you have so effectively communicated in your own life shines out in this situation. I love you brother!


Dr. Dan Kirby

Tom, Blessings on you and your family. I know firsthand of your struggles and sadness. I can assure you there is happiness and meaning beyond NNC and the Nazarene Church.


lige jeter

Employment from a nonprofessional’s perspective. Having both pastored and worked for a major telecommunications corporation for twenty four years as a layman, I found there are similarities between the church and the corporate world, case in point; both are organizations, they are identifiable by what they do, both offer some tangle able benefits and in most circumstances importantly offer career employment.

As a first line supervisor, we received evaluations twice a year based upon our individual contribution/performance gaged by the corporate objectives. Our salary/bonus package was tied to how well we met those objectives. There was no room for lone rangers or someone not pulling their weight.

If a person was dissatisfied, or could not get along with their boss, this happened sometimes, they had few options open to them. One, they could ask for a transfer to another department. Two, they could look for a corporation that shared their opinions, when found, simply turn in their notice/resignation. Three, they could simply terminate their employment. The hardest and most difficult was when someone terminated for poor performance or breaking company policy. As one of our Vice Presidents once said in a meeting, I never fired anyone; they fired themselves after refusing to listen to sufficient warnings of their employment in jeopardy. When this occurred, there was little recourse and fellow employee’s opinions/support mattered little. I only wish Tom the best.


Jacob Overduin

Dear Tom,
The decision to not reinstate you has saddened me enormously. I am disappointed in our church when I sense that she is terrorised by fear of what we think maybe truth. What is the future of our Church going to be like if we remove our Theologians who attempt to answer the questions all thinking members have? I pray that what happened to you will not repeat itself. We need to always be questioning. Questions have kept me (a 76 yr. old retired pastor, district superintendent and teacher in the Netherlands) alive and close to Jesus. Your forced leaving the theological community of our Church is a great loss.


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