Thursday, March 1, 2018

Spiritual Abuse at the Meeting at ULS regarding Dr Latini

TW: conversion therapy, spiritual abuse of LGBTQ+ people.

For factual background for this post, read this first.

For spiritual preparation before reading this post, pray this by yourself or with others.

Spiritual Abuse

What happened last night on Gettysburg campus was more spiritual abuse heaped upon LGBTQ+ people by the Board of Trustees of the ULS seminary.

There was spiritual abuse in the attitude of Bishop Dunlop, Rev. Elise Brown, and Charles Miller, who presented themselves as the unemotional adults in the room, who had the right or authority to control our pain and anger.

There was spiritual abuse in the way Bishop Dunlop claimed the ban on recording was to make this a "safe space" and his very act of presuming to be able to state what is safe space and what is not.  Nothing about that space was safe.

There was spiritual abuse in the way the board asked Dr. Latini to parade her pain before us.  Her story, told in another setting at another time for another purpose could have been a vehicle for healing and reconciliation.  Told in that way at that time it was a function of manipulation.

There was spiritual abuse in the request from a powerful figure (Dr. Latini) that those she has power over keep her secrets for her, secrets they didn't consent to having shared with them.

There was spiritual abuse of Dr. Latini in the board calling her to a position that she is not yet able to perform well.

I suspect there was more, but that's just the beginning of the list.

On Grace and Reconciliation

I believe Dr. Latini is sorry for what she has done, and is forgiven by God.  And I believe in change and redemption: that someone who has sinned can be and should be brought back into human community.  But I also believe that accountability and reconciliation is part of that grace.

A useful comparison made by many is to that of St. Paul, who persecuted the early Jesus followers before his conversion.  But afterwards, this story became a central part of his witness and testimony.  Everyone knew his history. They knew it because his repentance for the harm he caused, and the overwhelming grace of God to use him anyway, was a continual theme of his ministry.  He never minimized the pain he caused. 

If Dr. Latini had been open about her history, had confessed it with full knowledge of the damage she caused, had openly sought to make restitution to those she harmed, and sought reconciliation with the community, before it was forced upon the seminary by outside revelations,  I believe she would have been welcomed with open arms.  

On Secret Keeping

Dr. Latini told the story of her connection to One by One, her conversion away from those ideas, and some about her current sense of self, but she asked those present not to repeat any of this.  With profoundly mixed feelings, I am not going to.  But I am also going to say it was spiritually abusive of her to ask this of her students and employees.

No one walking into that room was told that they were about to hear deeply confidential and personal secrets, nor were they given a chance to consent to that exchange of information. 

Healthy confidentiality is when people in power control the personal information of those they care for in order to protect them.  Unhealthy secret keeping is when those in power ask those in their care to protect the powerful person's information for the sake and protection of the powerful person. It is inappropriate for pastors to ask church members to keep their personal secrets, for parents to ask children to keep personal secrets, doctors to ask patients, etc.

This is especially painful in a setting, as several students pointed out to me, where most seminarians are in candidacy, being asked to reveal their entire lives on paper, having their own personal stories and intimate details scrutinized by those in power over them, with no assurances of confidentiality.  For students to be asked to reveal all, and to simultaneously be asked to preserve the secrets of their seminary president, is a grave injustice.

I understand Dr. Latini's desire to control her own story and her own identity.  And yet she has applied and accepted a position as a public face of a religious institution before being able to talk about parts of her religious life that were very public.  Public theologians, and public representatives of institutions, need to be able to take responsibility for their public record, and to explain previous writings and actions.  It is especially important that the leader of a seminary be able to speak about her life with at least as much integrity as the institution asks of its students in candidacy. 

On the Board of Trustees Actions

In my opinion, the Board of Trustees of United Lutheran Seminary displayed shocking incompetence in one of the most important tasks that was set before them.  The failure to truly vet the online history of their candidates is incomprehensible.  I read every google result of any person I hire, and I am not hiring the public face of a multi-million dollar institution that is shaping the future of our church.

The board's indifference to the impact of conversion therapy upon the LGBTQ+ community is likewise shocking.  That is a critical failure in a competence in understanding one of the communities they claim to serve.  This is repeated in the inability to even say "LGBTQ" without stumbling, and in Bishop Dunlop's use of the term "a homosexual."

The Board of Trustees cannot simply expect us to forgive and overlook this.  Serious re-organization is called for- paid diversity trainers, resignation of key members, the inclusion of LGBTQ+ members who represent the community.  (And, while we are at it, people of color too.)

The inexplicable silence of Rev. Elise Brown needs to be addressed.  I cannot see any way forward for her after this other than resignation.

Rev. Brown also currently serves on the board of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, making her inability to understand the severity of this situation all the more inexplicable.  I see no way for her to remain a leader in that community after these revelations.

On Students and the Seminary Community

The students I spoke to were all devastated by this breach of trust.  They were also, to a person, strong, faithful, powerful leaders.  The church is in good hands with them.  And yet they are also the most vulnerable people in this system, and need our support.  They were glad of my presence, and strengthened to hear of alumni and Queer Lutherans all over the country watching and supporting them.  I look forward to hearing them tell us what they need, and a community of people responding.

The faculty and staff were likewise hurt, worried, upset, and strong.  I am not sharing exact words or names of any of them, because I heard frequent concerns about retribution for speaking out.  (A fact that ought to trouble us by itself.)

It was very clear that, although hearing that crucial information about Dr. Latini had been kept from them was deeply upsetting, this was within the context of larger trends in the formation of the new seminary.  Faculty and staff were upset about this as a part of a pattern of no transparency and trust between board and faculty.  And students mentioned that faculty had been so far reduced and split between campuses that they didn't even have access to faculty members they trusted for appropriate pastoral care.

I heard, over and over again, that this crisis was bringing together the students of the two campuses, uniting Queer people in the community as a whole, and bringing faculty, staff, students, and alumni closer together.  Out of this crisis is growing a powerful community, no longer willing to stay silent, with students as leaders and the Spirit on the move.  I would have preferred no crisis at all.  And yet I see God's Spirit at work in the midst of it. 


  1. Thank you, Lura. I'm deeply frustrated that I couldn't be there because of the board's egregious strategy to limit participation. This merger process has been a tremendous stumbling block for the Church and this latest action further reveals the demons in our own house. The only thing "uniting" has been the response to the harm caused by it. I do agree, however, that the Church is growing stronger as a result, that light is shining in the darkness, and that the redemption of the Church is being realized. Thank you for your prophetic voice.

  2. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I appreciate each and every word you have written here. This is a betrayal on so many levels and you lifted up the exact reasons why.

    This is a glaring example of a broken system - one of many within our church - which needs to change. Thank you for using your voice to help create that change.

    I’m committed to using my voice too!

  4. Thank you so much for your word and witness.

  5. As a relatively recent graduate of the former LTSP who has been discussing this issue with other recent graduates, I want to thank you, both for putting this account into the public record and for your excellent and unflinching analysis.