by Hilary Jerome Scarsella, Director of Theological Integrity
UPDATED the evening of 10/21/19
The Mennonite put out an article today on details emerging around the AMBS search committee’s decision to appoint David Boshart the next president of the seminary. We’ll have more to say on the subject shortly, but today I’m keeping it quick and dirty. Here are the eight lines that matter most to me in this article:
- Regarding the letter submitted to the search committee alleging that, in a former job, David Boshart “did not take action on the complainant’s report to Boshart of a sexual assault occurring at the time of the report”: We are told by the search committee chair that, “FaithTrust Institute helped the search committee listen well to the letter writer and understand the context, issues and concerns that had been raised.”
What we are not told is whether the letter writer agrees that the search committee listened to them well.
[UPDATED TO ADD: Since this piece was published this morning, we’ve heard from the person who submitted this anonymous letter. They’ve given us permission to share the following information:
The letter to the AMBS search committee, submitted at the complainant’s request by Barbra Graber, a leader in SNAP, describes how, when Boshart was a college residence director at Eastern Mennonite College (now Eastern Mennonite University) in 1988, he refused to take action on the complainant’s report to him of an alleged rape involving incapacitated visiting high school girls and male college students that was happening on campus at the time of the report.
They also provided us with the following description of their meeting with the search committee:
I had a conference call with several of the AMBS search committee members as well as a FaithTrust Institute member. I remained anonymous on this call as well. I went over my statement with them on the phone and the FaithTrust institute member was absolutely beside himself with sorrow and anger. It was my understanding that after this conversation took place that FaithTrust Institute backed out. Again I don’t have any proof of that directly but soon afterwards I received an email stating that FaithTrust Institute was no longer involved in the search process.
(While this individual is anonymous to the search committee and the public, they are not anonymous to us. Into Account’s directors have met this individual in person and have been aware of this allegation against Boshart since 2015. We believe the allegation.)]
- Mim Book, head of the search committee, is quoted as saying, “there was a difference of opinion with the consultant [FaithTrust Institute] about how to gather information from the broader constituency for the committee’s work.”
When I spoke with AMBS reps a few weeks ago, the word that was used was “disagreement.”
- Book continued, “We as a search committee felt we had thorough methods for doing this, so we decided to keep moving forward.”
In other words, the search committee decided not to follow FaithTrust Institute’s advice.
- My response: A decision, “not to heed the advice of survivor-centered sexual violence consultants only raises flags around the institution’s commitment and/or ability to take sexual violence seriously.”
- “Scarsella and others have asked AMBS to make public its contract with FaithTrust Institute as well as the consultant’s findings and recommendations.”
AMBS has not done so, which means that neither AMBS students, personnel, nor the public are able to assess the repercussions of the search committee’s choice not to follow at least one of FaithTrust Institute’s recommendations.
However, we finally *do* have confirmation from FaithTrust Institute that the organization hired to advise AMBS regarding sexual violence concerns took initiative to end their consulting relationship with AMBS:
- “Jane Frederickson, executive director of FaithTrust Institute, said in an Oct. 2 phone interview, ‘We ended our consulting arrangement with AMBS on August 5,’ prior to the AMBS board’s appointment of Boshart.”
For as long as AMBS chooses not to release FaithTrust Institute from the confidentiality clause in its consulting contract, FaithTrust Institute is legally constrained not to explain its reasons for ending that relationship.
Which means we are put in a position to have to read between the lines.
There was a disagreement. AMBS won’t tell us what it was (I’ve asked). The search committee chose not to take FaithTrust Institute’s advice. FaithTrust Institute decided to end its working relationship with the search committee. AMBS is so far refusing to release FaithTrust Institute to explain its reasons and will not let the public read the letter of recommendations the search committee received from FaithTrust Institute. No matter the number of well-meaning folks involved (and there are many), this looks, acts, and smells like institutional cover up. As Stephanie Krehbiel has explained, “Cover-ups are best understood not as nefariously orchestrated plots that are conceived in whole and then executed by a few bad actors, but as a complex series of decisions both influenced by and reflective of shared institutional values and priorities – usually, the priority of institutional self-preservation over the wellbeing of survivors.”
Y’all, don’t forget: I love this community. So it is painful and hard for me to say that this has the scent of a coverup. I don’t want this to be where we are. And yet, for as long as AMBS insists on keeping the details of its disagreement with FaithTrust Institute a secret, this is where we are. The subjective statements of confidence and affirmation copiously quoted in today’s article in The Mennonite and in most other articles that have come out on the subject don’t do anything to change that.
- “For Joanne Gallardo, a 2010 AMBS alum who is part of the leadership team of Inclusive Mennonite Pastors, an ad-hoc group with more than 180 members that advocates for inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQ+ individuals in the Mennonite church, the search committee’s confidence in Boshart is not enough. Gallardo, in a Sept. 24 email to The Mennonite, said she ‘would like to hear from David his views on the inclusion of LGBTQ persons both at AMBS and in the broader church,’ not just his support for AMBS policies regarding inclusion of LGBTQ students and employees. She said she hopes ‘Boshart would be able to acknowledge and seek to repair past harms done’ stemming from his time as a conference and denominational leader.”
As Gallardo indicates, Boshart has neither said nor done anything to publicly suggest he no longer thinks LGBTQ+ forms of gender and sexuality are a sin. He has neither said nor done anything to publicly indicate that he thinks it is spiritually and theologically right for LGBTQ+ students at AMBS to become ordained ministers in the church. There has been no public acknowledgement of harm done. No public repentance. No making of amends.
So let’s just pretend for an absurd moment that we all decide to put the deeply concerning FaithTrust Institute debacle aside: This appointment is still not ok.
- “I’ve spoken with so many survivors and queer people in the last weeks…. This decision [to appoint Boshart] is truly and actually hurting people. And that’s not going to cease to be the case when this story exits the news cycle. It’s going to keep hurting people, most of whom will handle that hurt out of public view, because the church is not demonstrating itself to be a trustworthy space into which people who are hurt by sexual violence or LGBTQ+ injustice can speak.”
If you see yourself in that description, please know you’re not alone. We are many, and we are strong, and we are with you. Thank you for being with us.
More soon, friends.
More of Hilary’s writing on her own experiences at AMBS: