My Response to NNU Announcements
With 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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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