Last night I attended a meeting at the Gettysburg campus of United Lutheran Seminary, to discuss the revelation that Dr Theresa Latini, the seminary President, advocated for conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ people in the past. I am going to try to be as factual as possible in this first post, and to offer my reflections in a second post coming soon.
You can read Dr Latini’s blog post coming public with this information here.
And the seminary board’s support of her here.
If you have a strong stomach, you can read an example of her former writings here.
Dr Latini was installed as the President of the newly formed United Lutheran Seminary in July, but the students, faculty and staff of ULS only learned of her former advocacy, as the Director of the Presbyterian group One by One, last week. The outcry from the seminary community, and the LGBTQ+ community throughout the ELCA, was instant and intense.
Conversion therapy is more than bad theology, it is spiritual abuse perpetrated upon the LGBTQ+ community, and can be deadly. It is still very much a current and pressing issue for us, with many of us survivors of conversion therapy, or with survivors of conversion therapy in our social circles. Many of our friend groups also contain the memories of those who didn’t survive conversion therapy.
On Monday, February 26th, an email went out from the ULS communications office inviting students, faculty, staff, and alumni to two meetings on Tuesday, Feb 27th, to "begin a restorative dialogue" about Dr Latini's past statements. Despite the fact that alumni live all over the country, and that many current students are distance learners or away on internship, this email made clear there would be no distance options for attending these meetings. A form was given for submitting questions in advance. An executive summary was promised, but as of this time, has not yet been released. Despite the meeting being so scripted the executive summary could have been written in advance, it has not yet been released.
The meeting was informative, as to what the board knew when, although none of it in ways that made the board look very good.
Bishop Dunlop, Bishop of Lower Susquehana synod, who sits on the ULS board, chaired the meeting, and began by making it clear that any recording would not be permitted, "in order to keep this a safe space."
The chair of the search committee spoke first. (I believe this was Charles Miller, but will double check this name when the executive summary becomes available.) He was clear that the search committee did not know of Dr Latini's past association with One by One, or her advocacy for conversion therapy. None of these were listed on her CV. He said the committee had asked her questions about the seminary's RIC status and LGBT inclusion, and was very satisfied with her answers. (His authority on what are satisfactory answers for LGBT inclusion was somewhat undercut by his inability to say "LGBT" without stumbling over the letters.) He admitted, and regretted, that the committee had not done due diligence in searching their candidates' online history. His quote was "although some committee members were googling during the interviews." He admitted, and regretted, that the committee had not asked the standard question if there was anything in Dr Latini's history that could potentially embarrass or harm the institution.
Then Rev. Elise Brown, chair of the ULS Board of Trustees spoke. She told us that shortly after the committee recommended Dr. Latini for the position of president, but before the board vote, Dr Latini called her to disclose her past association with One by One. The exact timing of this went unsaid, but the committee made their recommendation in March, and the board announced her name in April. She admitted she did not tell any other board members until November. She reported that she reached out to the director of More Light, the Presbyterian organization for full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, who did not know Dr Latini. He asked other More Light leaders, and reported that the older ones did not know of Dr. Latini, and the younger ones knew of her vaguely as an ally. She also completed standard background checks, and confirmed with Presbyterian leadership that Dr Latini remains in good standing on their roster. She decided this was sufficient to satisfy her concerns.
Bishop Dunlop spoke next from the board perspective. He said the first he heard of Dr Latini's past was in December, when a pastor in his synod called him to ask about it. (This is in contradiction with Rev Brown's account that she told the board in November.) He said the board met by phone on Dec 21st to discuss this, but that it was primarily a discussion about how to communicate this information, nothing more. He said that the board had no idea what a big deal this would be to the LGBT community. (Audible gasps were heard in the auditorium at that statement.)
Then Dr Latini, visibly emotional, took the microphone. She told us that yes, she had been the Director for One by One. That she had believed and taught that sexuality was only expressed in a healthy way between one man and one woman in a marriage, and that she had believed and taught that it was possible for some people to change their sexual orientation. She admitted that she had advocated for conversion therapy (which she called reparative therapy) and that although she was not a reparative therapist, she did refer people to them. She utterly repudiated these beliefs, and apologized for them.
Dr Latini then told us her personal story, and asked that we not share it outside of the room. With very mixed feelings, I am honoring that request, although I think it is an illegitimate and abusive one, and will reflect on that in my next post.
A very short time was allowed for questions, although most questions were not answered, and there were great and frustrating technical difficulties with questions from people on the Philadelphia campus. In the questions, it became clear that the faculty were not informed of Dr Latini's history before the larger community, and felt unprepared to support their students when they didn't have information either. When I asked about the board's cultural competency on LGBTQ issues, I was told they had "a homosexual" on the board. A few faculty and students gave powerful impact statements and requests for how future communication would be improved, and were not truly answered.
Bishop Dunlop tried to wrap up the questions after a few minutes, and a faculty member said "Oh, we're just getting started!" After one more comment, Bishop Dunlap invited a faculty member to up to offer a closing prayer- a moment of awkwardness, as the faculty member had clearly not been asked ahead of time, and was clearly still reeling from information received.