"Finlandia has roots. These roots are ethnic and religious, Finnish and Lutheran. I am Lutheran. I am
not Finnish." So went the first lines of my first "President's Letter" in the fall 2007 issue of the Bridge. In
that letter I talked about Finlandia's ethnic heritage and the challenges we face to "maximize the
contemporary relevance of our ethnic heritage." I'd like to reflect on the other half of our heritage in this,
my second letter: Finlandia's Lutheran heritage.
Recently I hosted two guests of the university in my office at Hoover Center. As we chatted the guests
inquired about Finlandia's religious identity. We talked about the history of Suomi College and her
theological seminary and what was then the Suomi Synod. They asked about Finlandia's contemporary
relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the other 27 ELCA-affiliated colleges.
More discussion followed and questions were answered about the meaning of the phrase "spiritual
growth" in our mission statement. We talked about the spiritual and religious interests of Finlandia's
students, and their denominational and religious diversity.We discussed Finlandia's campus ministry and
our religion/philosophy curriculum. Eventually the discussion came around to my role, the role of
Finlandia's president. I spoke of my own Lutheran heritage and ordination.
Historically, Lutheranism and education have walked hand-in-hand. Martin Luther was an academic.
The 16th-century Reformation, prompted by the writings and witness of Luther, was essentially born on
a university campus. When European Lutherans came to North America it did not take them long to
build schools: Danes, Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, and of course, the Finns. When you find a group
of Lutherans, you are sure to find a school: Sunday schools and primary schools, colleges, universities,
Finlandia is an independent institution of higher learning. It is also a church-related institution of higher
learning. We affirm that, as George Marsden writes, "religiously defined points of view can be
intellectually as responsible as nonreligious ones." In other words, a Lutheran-shaped paradigm embraces
the idea that matters and questions of faith just as surely belong to the life of the mind, as they belong
to individual and communal spiritual practices. Intellectual and emotional, public and private, curricular
and co-curricular: any and all of these faith-related activities are part of and promoted among the
To be sure, as an institution of higher learning Finlandia fiercely defends, in service to the common good,
the place of free inquiry, intellectual exploration, broad education, and the testing of all ideas. This is
why Finlandia welcomes all expressions of religious, non-religious, and non-Christian traditions and
viewpoints. In fact, these values not only are reflected in Finlandia's institutional commitments, they are
among the core expectations included in the ELCA's recently adopted statement on education, Our
Calling in Education.
Pluralism within tradition. The Finnish American Heritage Center and the Chapel of St. Matthew stand
on our campus as reminders of the opportunities and challenges generated by our attempts to "maximize
the contemporary relevance of both our ethnic and religious heritage." I believe today's religiously and
ethnically diverse society is cause not just for toleration, but for celebration, everywhere on Finlandia's
campus and in the wider world.
Philip Johnson, Ph.D.