a modern tragedy: Tim Rohde and the failure of the saints


This is a special post, please take the time to read it through to the postscript. Someone critically needs your help. Thanks in advance.

***

This time of year, for the better part of 20 years, Timothy Rohde would be prepping for finals week, grading papers, meeting with students and getting ready for Christmas break.

This month, Rohde is preparing to lose his home to foreclosure, a man whose body, as well as his denomination, have betrayed him.

Rohde, 44, devoted and invested his life into education, working on a doctorate in English literature at the University of Kansas and then going on to do further doctoral work in English education at the University of Minnesota. Rather than going back into a world where faculty were, until the recent economic meltdown, relatively well taken care of, Rohde’s passion was in the more thankless service to Christian higher education, being a tireless advocate for academic excellence, as well as a trusted ally for students. During my recent visits to his home over the past several months, the phone would ring consistently, with the audible caller id chirping out the name of former student after former student.

I do not mean to speak of Rohde in the past tense; the man is very much alive. However, his life’s ambition and passion, as well as his dignity, are all now in hospice.

By way of personal bona fides, many years ago, when I hosted a blog, e8s, Tim contacted me privately in response to a post I wrote on then-developments at the Bible college I attended and he taught at in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I had actually never studied under his teaching, his courses never intersected with my then-academic and professional ambitions. I was initially hesitant to speak with him, but I dialed Tim up and we ended up speaking for hours. Thus began one of my strongest and most valued friendships. I went through hell for a few years, and he provided outside wisdom and insight that helped me through some of our darkest days. His intellect, tempered with a deep reservoir of compassion, gives him a nobility of spirit and gentleness of disposition that makes him more than a professor, it makes him an admirable man.

Over ten years ago, Tim began to notice some persistent discomfort in his feet. Doctors diagnosed it as peripheral neuropathy; a strange call, given that neuropathy, the frequent sensation of needles jabbing into a hand or foot, is most commonly associated with diabetes, which he does not have. So, when he awoke one morning about 18 months ago, stepped out of bed and heard his foot sound like a Black Cat firecracker going off while collapsing to the floor, Tim realized that what was happening was probably something more serious than neuropathy. The foot had swollen to the size of a football.

X-ray images, the likes of which would challenge the stomachs of even the most macabre of taste, revealed that his foot had been broken for some time, each step inviting disaster, exacerbating the condition. Months of testing, then, revealed something more perverse for someone of Rohde’s craft and talent–Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.

When Tim first told me the name of it by phone, I needed to ask for the name about four times. (‘Shark tooth? What?’) According to the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association, “CMT is one of 40 diseases covered by the [Muscular Dystrophy Association], but unlike muscular dystrophy, in which the defect is in the muscles, CMT is a disorder in which the defect is in the nerves that control the muscles.

“CMT patients slowly lose normal use of their extremities as nerves degenerate and muscles weaken because the affected nerves no longer stimulate the muscles. Many patients also have some loss of sensory nerve functions.”

Though hereditary, no one in Rohde’s family has actually been diagnosed with it. His father, the late Rev. Dr. CE Rohde, did suffer with neuropathic conditions in his early 70s and later the condition required the amputation of his left foot. Inferentially, it could well be possible that his father too had CMT, though it remains clinically unproven. So the English professor who devoted his life to lecturing in classrooms, grading and reviewing papers and conducting research, was doomed to lose the ability to stand–already hobbled by a mangled foot–or write.

Through other, bizarre machinations that make genetic flukes look like the pathetic idiom of the cute runt puppy of the litter, he was doomed at his place of employ, as well.

Rohde’s reputation for being tough but fair on students, as well as his impressive academic resume, was nothing compared to the strange projections of some of his colleagues. Given the regularly incestuous connections amongst the ivory tower, pulpits and the halls of political power in the Assemblies of God, when someone is on the out, that person is often the last to know. As someone who’s been on that end of the deal, I can speak firsthand to being in that position of being blackballed.

It’s not unlike the cosa nostra, but the power-players tend to have the influence of Michael coupled with the strategic acumen of Fredo. Or, perhaps more accurately, Luca Brasi.

So, when the whispering campaigns began by a colleague, two of his major pillars of support were knocked out from underneath: not only at his job, but at the church where, prior to these developments, he had been a regularly-attending member. And with the spectre of a mountain made of a molehill–one night almost a decade ago, as a new faculty member at the college, Rohde came home only to discover, to his shock, that his wife had left–and later, there was enough William Randolph Hearst in the heart of some men to provide war for the pictures.

Someone once said that all one needed to get accepted into an A/G Bible college was $12,000 and a pulse. That’s no longer the case–the price has gone up. And while I can attest to the fact that there were courses which had no business being taught in classrooms by faculty who had no business being there, there were the few who were worth their salt and then some. Tim was one of the few. Moving to Springfield for him was supposed to be a move up, from the VoTec-minded Bible college environment–with requisite apologies to VoTec schools everywhere–to the esteemed liberal arts college of the denomination.

When the sword of Damocles hangs overhead, though, by the absence of tenure–a hot topic right now in nationwide political circles–and looming possibility of the A/G university choosing not to renew the one-year contracts they offer to all faculty members, it’s best to be ingratiated with the right people, or to mindlessly toe the company line. Rohde was shocked to find that the small-mindedness of the Bible college was not simply the province of Bible colleges.

Unbeknownst to him, in the 2010 fall semester, the university was moving to release him from his teaching responsibilities due to his deteriorating health mid-year and opting to not renew his contract. Which is their right, of course; but is also de facto firing. That, and it provides the school’s authorities with the luxury of dismissing anyone they simply do not like. (A gambit they apparently plagiarized from the Boss Hogg-esque antics of some A/G district offices. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, the university where Rohde taught does have nominal tenure, but still relies on one-year contracts.) Only after retaining an attorney, the university relented and allowed him to remain employed through the end of the academic year, extending his health care benefits through the end of the academic calendar.

Also, though it is Rohde’s right to obtain legal representation, the appearance of violating 1 Corinthians 6 is usually more than enough in the typically kangaroo court of A/G opinion to warrant action due to a ‘contentious or noncooperative [sic] spirit’ (Assemblies of God Constitution and Bylaws, Article X, Sect. 3, Pt. f.) Though no inference or implication is intended or should be assumed, fringe religious cults from Jonestown to Jehovah’s Witnesses tend to use passive-aggressive technique and uphold the readiness to conform as virtues to keep adherents in the flock. (Coincidentally, Jim Jones once held credentials.)

Never mind that Tim had a reputation for being an excellent instructor and a tireless friend and advocate for students, or that he was diagnosed with a severe neurological condition which would garner sympathy and compassion even in the most emotionally sterile of workplaces. A haphazard whispering campaign filled with bizarre imaginings–the likes of which remain confidential due to potential legalities–was enough to render his service to the university complete, effective at the end of the 2010-’11 school year.

At the same time, his church, ever looking out for the disabled and homebound of their membership, no longer called. His home sits, almost literally, in the shadow of the flagship church facility of the Assemblies of God, James River.  Though he did not attend there, the irony alone merits mention.

And here, in the city which hosts the global headquarters of that mighty movement of Pentecostal witness, a man whose family has served the denomination for decades, is being left to rot. A movement which boldly proclaims its four-fold raison d’etre as being “Evangelism, Witness, Discipleship & Compassion” [emphasis added and, tellingly, needed to be contentiously fought over via parliamentary procedure in 2009 in order to be codified] cast off a life-long adherent and employee because certain people connected to the right people did not like him. Who needs proof when conjecture will do the job with cold and ruthless, if blunt, effectiveness?

As a result, Tim Rohde spends his days at home, alone with his Pug, his health having betrayed him and his academic career up in smoke. He has been homebound now for 14 months, and is unable to walk without a walker. His right foot is broken beyond repair. While he was recently approved for Social Security Disability, it will not be enough to cover the expenditures incurred from going through this waking nightmare. There is also a 12-year waiting period for Medicare eligibility. He waits for publicly-subsidized housing in California, to be back home, nearer to his ailing mother; his home to be foreclosed on by Wells Fargo within a week. Money is slowly running out, and if CMT requires his leg to be amputated, a when and not an if, the medical bills will leave him with nothing. A man who prides himself on having never missed a payment on anything in his life before this cruel episode, is faced with the very real threat of bankruptcy, and to be thrown out of his home just in time for Christmas.

In another era, this tale would be nothing short of a Greek tragedy; the story of Job also seems apt when reflecting on it, right down to the pious trying doggedly to convince him that he somehow did something sinful. Anyone who spends more than a few minutes with this man, a giant of a man with wisdom and a heart which far exceeds his stature, knows that what is truly wrong in all this is that he somehow deserves to suffer this fate.

Evil is being perpetrated here, where good men and women not only do nothing, but the ones who should be standing along with him–family, friends and colleagues alike–are nowhere to be found.

Tim was reluctant to have me share his story, and understandably so: a man’s sense of self requires him to have such a disposition. However, when the circumstances are this dire, and the level of injustice this pronounced, dignity gives way to the pleadings of this desperate friend. The overwhelming response to a recent facebook status where he disclosed to his social network that he was losing his home was a tepid and meaningless chorus of ‘I’m praying for you.’

My response? Screw that. Isaiah–or, if you’re a fan of verbal plenary, God–agrees, 1.15.

***

This is very short notice, and I typically do not use this space as virtual panhandling. However, my friend and the friend of countless students needs our help. I will not mince words, I want to save Tim’s house from foreclosure. I am fully aware that Christmastime can make for tight finances, but there is no worse prospect than what Tim Rohde is facing right now. If you are able and willing to help, however you financially can, please contact me, brentsirviois AT gmail DOT com. Please, share this story, and demonstrate what it means to truly act as Christ’s ambassadors or, if you’re not religious, a decent human being standing up for compassion and justice for a man who desperately needs both to manifest in his life.

It is the very least I can do to dedicate my voice as a catalyst against this dire situation. I hope you will join me. Thank you for reading. –b.

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2 thoughts on “a modern tragedy: Tim Rohde and the failure of the saints

  1. One final note: first, I need to be very clear that the post includes fact as well as editorialization therein. In no way should these words be considered as those of or endorsed by Tim, or any other person or entity (see the About section for more on this.) He was reluctant to let me share his story, and above all, the focus here should be on him and his situation, and not anywhere else. Thanks for your understanding.

  2. With traffic booming on this page due to Tim sharing this, I reread this for the first time since it was originally published. There are plenty of things I would do to tighten the copy. It’s rough.

    I won’t, though. It is what it is, and I stand by what I’ve written–warts and all–as I stand by my friend.

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