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June 02, 2021

By The Rev. Kathryn A. Kleinhans, Ph.D., Dean of Trinity Lutheran Seminary

What’s in a Name?

“No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.” (Genesis 17:5)

This week voting began in the process of choosing Capital’s new nickname and mascot. The decision was made a year ago to retire the Crusader name. This spring, over 800 individuals submitted over 1500 suggestions for a new nickname and mascot. Current students, employees, and alumni, including seminary alumni, are invited to cast a vote for one of the four finalists between now and June 11.

Frankly, I’ve been frustrated by the voices that criticize this endeavor as a matter of “political correctness” or “cancel culture.” “Once a Crusader always a Crusader” is the protest of some. But Capital students and student athletes haven’t always been Crusaders. Before the Crusader nickname was adopted, Capital teams were known as the Fighting Lutherans. I suspect the change to Crusader came as the Capital student body became more ecumenically sensitive. While the “Fighting Lutherans” doubtless had non-Lutherans among them, the name signaled that their presence and their identity was less valued. A university, of all places, should not signal exclusion or second-class status.

The decision to retire the Crusader name came as we have become more sensitive to interfaith relationships and partnerships. The Crusades are associated with extreme violence perpetrated by Christians against non-Christians – and even against other Christians. As Capital welcomes Jewish and Muslim students into our midst, what message do we communicate when we ask them to identify themselves with those who once waged a supposedly holy war on their communities?

In the Scriptures, we find several stories of people who received new names following a significant experience or insight. These name changes are perceived as growth rather than as loss. For those of us who are Christian, the call to serve and respond to our neighbors’ needs is an important dimension of this conversation and this change. We have recognized, more than once in our institutional history, that a name that may be familiar and dear to many of us is a name that signals exclusion and even harm to others, and this insight leads to a new name. Regardless of which new nickname and mascot are selected, I am grateful that as an institution we are choosing to value inclusivity and welcome over sentiment.

The Rev. Kathryn A. Kleinhans, Ph.D.

Trinity Lutheran Seminary forms leaders for Christ’s church at work in the world.