An Interview with Herbert Schmidt, Author of the WWU Presidential Search Letter
A fictional piece by John McLarty
A letter has been widely circulated criticizing the initial outcome of the presidential search at WWU. The letter purports to be from "a group of constituents, alumni, educators, pastors, church members, medical professionals, students and parents." Who are these people? The official version of the letter does not name any of these people. Actually, it turns out that I am pretty close to the perfect exemplar of the group whose views are reportedly represented by the contents of the letter: I am a constituent, father and husband of WWU alumni, parent of an educator, pastor, church member, married to a medical professional, a parent and a student (having taken one class on the campus of WWU). Since the letter is about views of people like me, I decided to track down the author and have a visit.
I found my quarry, Dr. Herbert Schmidt, at his office in Goodtown, Oregon, a small community near the Tri-cities.
McLarty: Dr. Schmidt, tell me a bit about yourself.
Dr. Schmidt: I'm an orthopedist. I graduated magna cum laude from Loma Linda, and have been practicing here in Goodtown for forty years. I'm a charter member of the Goodtown Seventh-day Adventist Church. I donated the land for our school and provided over half the money for its construction. I helped bring 3ABN to the local cable channel. I'm really proud of that. And I've gone on three Marantha mission trips.
McLarty: Tell me about your family.
Schmidt: I'm married. I have a son and two daughters.
McLarty: I've heard you're a bit of a curmudgeon, that sometimes you have caused conflict in the Goodtown Church.
Schmidt: Yes, some people say I'm a curmudgeon. The truth is I don't cause conflict. But I don't shy away from it either. For instance last year, our young pastor allowed kids to help serve communion. He had four young teenage boys—15, 16 years old, something like that—to distribute the bread after it had been consecrated. One of the kids was not baptized. He wasn't even an Adventist. Anyway, when I saw this non-Adventist kid handling the sacred bread, I got up and very politely thanked him for his service, then I took the tray and told him I would do it instead. He could go sit with his mother.
McLarty: So it's very important to you that everything be done "decently and in order"?
Schmidt: I couldn't have said it better myself.
McLarty: Tell me about your youngest daughter. I understand she has said some very unkind things about you.
Schmidt: I don't understand her. I gave her everything money could buy. We raised her right. Out here in the country. She had her own horse. We sent her on mission trips. Sent her to Adventist schools. Now she won't let her kids visit here. She won't come for holidays. The worst of it is that lately she's been influencing her brother and sister. Now, none of them will come for holidays. And they don't invite us to their homes. I don't understand what's gotten into them. The last couple of summers they wouldn't even let the grand kids come spend time on the farm in the summer.
McLarty: Why do you think that is?
Schmidt: My wife says its because I'm too hard on the grand kids. Which is simply not true. They don't get any discipline at home, so it's a little difficult for them to adjust to the notion of structure and rules and boundaries. But I think the grand kids actually appreciate the order and structure they experience here. I'm certainly no harder on the grand kids than I was on their parents. You know the Bible principle: spare the rod and spoil the child. Whatever else people may say, they don't say my kids were spoiled.
McLarty: So are your children in church?
Schmidt: I pray for them every day. Maybe I didn't pray enough for them when they were younger. My youngest daughter quit going to church practically the day she arrived at Walla Walla. I sent my kids to Walla Walla so they would have every advantage spiritually. Obviously, the college failed my youngest. The other two, as far as I know, did attend church while they were at Walla Walla. Both of them were involved in music, so I know they were in church when the choir or band performed. And sometimes they would mention something they heard in a sermon. But once they graduated, that was it. They were gone. I know when they were in our home they were in church every week. They ate like Adventists, they learned their memory verses, they were involved in Pathfinders. We did what we were supposed to at home. But somehow the college failed them. Obviously, it did not anchor them in the faith. Whatever religion they got at the college, it was too shallow.
McLarty: So, would it be fair to say that you were motivated to write the letter because of the failures of the college you witnessed in the lives of your own kids?
Schmidt: That and more. You know when they put that Bryan guy in as college pastor, that really hurt. I had talked with Elder Torkelson about my nephew. He's the only person from that generation in our family who still talks to me. He's doing a great job as a pastor. His members know that when they go to church they're going to hear about the sanctuary, the end of the time, the close of probation and the importance of learning to do without milk and cheese in readiness for the end. They're going to hear Adventist sermons. Elder Torkleson promised he'd include my nephew's names on the list of candidates for the Walla Walla pulpit. Then, I don't know what happened. The next thing I hear is that they are bringing in a preacher from Southern. I figured that would be a good thing, given Southern's reputation. Instead, what do we get? Some theologically confused rhetorician. Then I learn this same guy is being proposed as the president of the university! I called Elder Torkelson. He said that if I would write out my concerns he would share them with the board.
McLarty: So you wrote the letter?
Schmidt: Well, writing is not my talent. I talked to a friend of mine who teaches in the political science department at Whitman [College] and asked he if knew someone who could help me draft a letter, someone who could put my ideas into persuasive form. He recommended Bill Halbers. He's done stuff for Democratic candidates in both Washington and Oregon. Halbers agreed to help me out.
McLarty: Did you tell him what to say?
Schmidt: Well, I made sure we got in that part about spiritual formation. Can you believe it? An Adventist pastor who actually admits in public that he reads religious writers who aren't Adventist. After what Elder Wilson said at the General Conference? I understand this guy Bryan even reads written by Catholics. I made sure we got that in. With all the good counsel we have in the Spirit of Prophecy, I can't imagine any Adventist pastor would waste his time reading books by the beast.
McLarty: What about the part of the letter questioning Bryan's lack of academic experience?
Schmidt: Oh that. That was Halbers' idea. He said that we would never get the board's attention with just the spiritual formation stuff. Halbers said that probably some of the board members read non-Adventist authors as well, so going after that all by itself might not fly. Also, Halbers made me put the spiritual formation information later in the paper. He said we had to lead with Bryan's Sunday church debacle because that might be persuasive with liberal Adventists for whom the Sabbath is about the only thing that makes them Adventist. I think Halbers did a great job. I especially like the idea of including the picture. I've been reading about learning styles and that picture will connect with visual learners.
McLarty: Where did you come up with your list of people who were concerned about Bryan?
Schmidt: That was easy. It's me. I'm a constituent, alumnus, church member, medical professional, and parent. I have talked with faculty who wondered whether Bryan had enough experience in academia to handle the presidency. And my nephew, the pastor, was nearly apoplectic when he heard that Bryan was being considered for the position. And I threw in students, because, after all, it is a college.
McLarty: Any last word?
Schmidt: I'd like to nominate Dr. Veith or Dr. Pipim as president. They have the requisite academic experience and credentials. And they have the theology and spiritual experience conducive to making sure no more of our kids graduate from Walla Walla without a life-long commitment to the church.
John McLarty is a contributing editor for Adventist Today.