August 2016 Urban Theological Institute (UTI)/Black students are denied chapel leadership roles when they request to lead one service each week as an expression of the Black Church diaspora. At this time in the seminary’s history, roughly half of the students attending Philadelphia are of African descent. The majority of these students are not from the Lutheran tradition but Black Lutherans would have certainly been part of this initiative.
In the 2016/2017 academic year the seminary community observed eight weekly chapel services: two at the noon hour, two prior to evening classes, and four compline services after the evening classes. It was not an unreasonable request that one of eight weekly services be set aside for an authentic expression of Black Church worship traditions led by Black students, still the Dean of Chapel Michael Krentz denied the students request stating that giving Black students leadership of one weekly chapel service might offend white students. The de facto rule at this time in the Philadelphia chapel is that no group (only individuals) may lead a chapel service. It seems as though this policy was never written down nor made part of the student handbook, yet it was utilized in this instance (and possibly at other times) to effectively limit Black student leadership.
One reason Black students seldom engage in the chapel space/experience as individuals is due to the fact that it is a profoundly germanocentric white space. This is expressed most succinctly in the euro-idealized painted glass windows which exclusively feature white versions of the apostles and a blond haired, blue eyed depiction of Jesus. The de facto liturgical expression utilized in the chapel is one of high germanocentric sensibility and while commonplace to some this sensibility is often foreign to many, especially many Black students who come from a markedly different expression of Christian faith in their corporate worship experiences. This is not to say that any one expression of Christian faith is more authentic or correct than another, but that a culturally diverse student body should at least have a more equal opportunity to express their diverse traditions in the public space designed for public assembly.
A monoculture of white American expressions of high germanocentric liturgical traditions is not congruent with the diversity present in the student body today. This request by Black students was intended to be a step in correcting this incongruence with a time set aside for a weekly expression that embodied the diverse traditions of the Black Church. It was intended to be a gift to the whole seminary community while also serving as a touch-stone for those who find comfort in the faithful expression of Black Church liturgical traditions. The denial of this gift on the part of the Dean of Chapel shows a deep lack of cultural competency and a problematic valuing of uniformity over unity in Christ.
It is important to note here that the claims filed by students concerning Dr. Krentz’s implicit bias which led to racist words and actions have been investigated by a human resources firm hired by the Board of Trustees. As of July 2018 these complaints have been substantiated and reported to the board. Dr. Krentz then resigned as a member of the faculty and ULS students were notified on August 2, 2018. No mention of the students substantiated claims is given which allows his actions to be labeled as individualistic and not rightly contextualized as both an individual’s acts which are also part of the ongoing systemic issue of racism at ULS. Many of the proposed policies in the ULS Policy Survey seek to address these ongoing systemic issues in the ULS community. This announcement is part of the timeline of racism at United Lutheran Seminary