Wednesday, April 8, 2015

An Open Letter to the President and Trustees of NNU...

This is the text of a letter I am sending today to the President and the Board of Trustees of my alma mater, Northwest Nazarene University.  I am additionally posting this as an 'open letter' because our stories need to be - yes, they must be - told; and these issues run much deeper than a single event that has come to pass during this last week.

Whether you are a Nazarene or not, a Jesus disciple or not, any injustice always affects all of us, and therefore we all have a responsibility in this.  As Martin Luther King so famously said, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  If you care about justice, or about the Kingdom of God, or about the Church of the Nazarene in particular, I encourage you to read this letter and think about the implications of not only what is taking place on a relatively small Nazarene university campus in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, but what has been taking place in far too many places for far too long.  In addition, I encourage you to join the Facebook group, "Support Tom Oord". 



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April 8th, 2015

To Dr. David Alexander, President of Northwest Nazarene University, and to the NNU Board Of Trustees:

My name is Phil Michaels.  I am an alumnus of NNU - in fact, a two time graduate of Northwest Nazarene University's School of Theology and Christian Ministry in the Graduate Theological Online Education program. 

I have been a part of the Church of the Nazarene since I was a child, and a member of and minister in the Church of the Nazarene for 21 years.  I am also a graduate of Nazarene Bible College and attended NNU on campus as part of my undergraduate work.  I have invested tens of thousands of dollars into my education through NNU.

I returned to NNU to begin my graduate level education in the spring of 2006.  At that time, my life was in total upheaval and I was full of despair, suffering from high levels of depression and wandering aimlessly in search of hope, yet all seemed hopeless.  Why?  Because of how my family and I had been treated by the Church of the Nazarene during four years of associate pastoral ministry from 2002-2005.

It was in this darkest hour of my life, grasping at straws, looking for something, anything, that could rescue me from despair, that I enrolled in the Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation program through GTOE at NNU.

It saved my life.

Or put much more accurately, the people saved my life!  My amazing cohort, the "MARSF Learning Community 08," and the incredible professors of NNU, working together with and through Holy Spirit, quite literally saved my life.

I'll never forget when I was communicating the details of my family's four year journey in a class with professor George Lyons, and he said to me the following:  "That is the worst story I have ever heard...and I've heard some really bad ones!"  Dr. Lyons prayed for me.  As did all of my professors at NNU.  But they did more than that.  They had compassion on me.  They empathized with me.  They validated me.  They showed me that I was valuable, that my thoughts and ideas mattered not only to them but to God and to the Church - that I had something to offer this world because of the creative spark of Holy Spirit within me.  And after all of that incredibly spiritually formative life giving love they poured out on me, they also gave me the absolutely finest theological education one could ever hope for on this side of the fullness of the Kingdom of God.  In short, they healed me - as great a miracle of healing as you will ever find.

I know it is true, what Dr. Lyons said, if for no other reason than he was a friend and professor of my dearest friend and mentor, Pete Mangum.  Pete was a NNC graduate, too, and called Nampa home for the final years of his life before he passed away on Father's Day this past June at too young an age.  Pete at times had a rough life.  He too was mistreated and abused by the church and the people he did nothing but love.  And it cost him dearly.  More dearly than what it has even cost me, and it has cost me a lot.

Pete Mangum would be horrified by what has taken place with the removal of Dr. Tom Oord from the faculty of NNU.  I am horrified by what has taken place.  Thousands are horrified by what has taken place.

Pete did, and Tom does, represent a spirit of compassion, direction, guidance, openness, freedom, and a safe place to explore the depths of one's soul and their relationship with the Creator God.  A safe place.  That is what matters, and this is what you are losing by taking these kinds of actions cloaked in 'budget' excuses, political expediency, and a complete lack of transparency, authenticity, and integrity - the very things for which we, as Jesus disciples, should be known. 

Let there be no doubt that every one of my professors at NNU has been incredible.  I have not agreed with every professor on every point, nor should I have.  But every single one fostered an environment that was a safe place for learning and growing in Christ, not by indoctrination, but by education.  Tom Oord was and is no exception to this during the classes I have taken with him as professor.  In fact, in one class I took with him, because my own views aligned with his so closely on a particular topic, he had to repeatedly tell me, "you don't have to agree with me!"  That's just who Tom is.  A guy who loves.

Just one month ago I completed my final class at Northwest Nazarene University as I completed my degree requirements for the M.A. in Missional Leadership.  My final class was "Theology of Leadership," taught by none other than Dr. Tom Oord.  You would have done well to have taken this class along with me and learned what I did during those incredible 8 final weeks.  Perhaps if you had I would not be writing this letter today.

Tom Oord embodies the spirit of all of the great professors of NNU, of our Nazarene Schools everywhere, of the great leaders and heroes of the Christian faith throughout the centuries, and most of all, and most importantly, of Jesus Christ.

We need more people like Tom Oord, and Pete Mangum, and so many others who have been mistreated because...they loved.  We need more like these teaching in our schools and pastoring in our churches and leading in every office at every level of our beloved denomination, not less.  I am very, to turn a word around, concerned, about what this situation along with recent problems at NPH and MNU, (to name only those egregious issues that have taken place in the last 12 months), taken together with what I have witnessed all of my life at every level of the church, represents.  It is long past time for a change.  Let it begin with us.  Because this is most definitely not about you, or me, or Tom.  It is about us.  It is about who we are as a Church - who we have been and who we intend to be in the future. 

I am furious.  And I can assure you that this is a righteous and holy anger, and I do not apologize for it. 

Let me conclude with one more story:

I came to the campus of NNU for my graduation for my M.Div. degree in May of 2011, the first time I had been on campus in 11 years.  It was a wonderful, incredible experience.  I met most of the faculty who had so skillfully taught me, including the delightful Tom Oord and incredible George Lyons ("toughest professor ever!").  My mentor, Pete, was there.  Everything was coming together in my life, graduation representing the storybook ending of a miracle of healing and grace.

As I walked across the stage, I reached out to shake your hand, Dr. Alexander, and you said four short words that will be burned into my memory forever:

"I'm proud of you."

I had never met you before.  I have never met you since.  Maybe those are the same words you say to every graduate - I have no idea.  But they meant something powerful to me.  No one - no one - had ever said those words to me before.  They were incredibly life giving, affirming, and powerful in my life.  I will never forget those words.  Thank you so much for those words.  They sustained me in the next phase of my life.

Now, I do not know what pressures, from where and from whom, you may be under, or what made you feel this decision had to be made, so I will refrain from casting blame on you, personally, at this time. 

However, I want you to know that today, although it greatly pains me to say this, I feel that I must:

I am decidedly not proud of my university and the actions you have taken.

I want to be proud of you and of my university the same way you were proud of me.

Step up to the plate. 

And do whatever it takes to fix this.

Speaking the Truth in Love,

Pastor Phil Michaels
Associate Pastor, Durand Church of the Nazarene, Durand, MI
NNU Alumnus
M.Div., Spiritual Formation & Pastoral Leadership (2011)
M.A., Missional Leadership (2015)
#NNU #Oord #SupportTomOord


  1. wow Phil that is powerful, thanks

  2. Well-written and passionate letter....

  3. Beautiful, Phil- and powerful. Very well written. Blessings upon you and your family.

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