Pastoral Letter to United Lutheran Seminary

Dear United Lutheran Seminary students, staff, faculty, and alumni,

I’m writing to express my gratitude to all of you who attended our community conversations on February 27, 2018, who participated in the listening sessions hosted by the Board of Trustees on March 6, 2018, and who reached out to share your questions and concerns.

Throughout these days, I have listened to stories, experiences, hopes, and expectations as diverse as our community of faith and learning. I have heard the community’s anger, pain, shock, outrage, alarm, fear, incredulity, heartbreak, sorrow, and stress. I have listened to calls for honesty, transparency, integrity, open communication, safety, security, and justice for all—especially for those who have known so little justice in our communities of faith and elsewhere. Many of you fiercely and rightly have advocated for inclusion in conversations and decision-making processes that impact your studies, your work, and indeed your life.

Thank you for your courage to speak all this, and more. Thank you for your vulnerability. Thank you for your leadership.

This is but the beginning of mutual listening and healing, reconciling and justice-making at United Lutheran Seminary. In the days, months, and even years ahead, this work will need to define who we are because it defines Whose we are.

For those of you unable to participate in the community conversations, I want to reiterate a few things:

  1. Starting while I was a college student in the 1990s, I worked as director of an organization in the Presbyterian Church (USA), called One by One, which believed and taught that sexual orientation change was possible to varying degrees for some, if not many, LGBTQIA+ persons seeking to live in accordance with the former “fidelity and chastity” standard of the PC(USA).  My beliefs at that time were heavily influenced by my fundamentalist upbringing.
  2. I profoundly regret my work in this organization. I cannot adequately express how remorseful I am that this previous association has caused pain and triggered fear in this present moment.
  3. I am deeply sorry for any suffering that has resulted from the way this part of my past came to light in the ULS community.
  4. I vehemently repudiate “conversion” therapy and “reparative” therapy in all of their forms and applications.
  5. I completely reject any and all other attempts to change one’s own or another person’s sexual orientation.
  6. I celebrate the beauty of diversity in God’s creation, including all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.
  7. For the past twelve years, I have advocated for the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ persons in the church and academy in my teaching, advising, writing, and administrating. I will continue this now and in the future.

The question—What happens next?—looms before all of us. Regardless of how the Board of Trustees answers that question, the path toward healing, reconciliation, and justice will be directly through the anguish of this moment. It will entail communal practices of dialogue, conflict resolution, care, communication, education, formation, and accountability. I have recommended the following actions to the Board of Trustees, some of which already have commenced:

  1. Additional pastoral care and counseling for students, staff, and faculty, provided by highly trained, reputable professionals from outside our institution
  2. Consultation with specialists in communal trauma in order to develop a systemic plan for healing, justice, and reconciliation
  3. Enhanced communications processes throughout the institution to maintain trust in our community
  4. Implementation of restorative circle practices so persons and groups throughout the ULS community can shape our movement forward
  5. Implementation of an updated social media policy for all students, staff, and faculty
  6. A full diversity, equity, and inclusion audit of ULS by an outside firm, with special focus on issues of race, gender, and sexual identity and orientation
  7. Increased education in cultural competency for students, staff, faculty, and board members, to be overseen by the ULS diversity committee

Finally, I am reminded of a question poignantly asked in one of the listening sessions this past week: Where is the gospel being spoken in our midst? Or, what might God be speaking to us in this moment?

There’s no single answer to those questions, of course. What I share here is, at best, limited and certainly fallible. It only addresses one dimension of a situation that calls for multiple interpretations. So more must be said. This is just a start.

Over the past week, I’ve remembered three stories from the Old Testament:

  • Nehemiah walking among the rubble and charred gates of Jerusalem. God’s people were in grave danger. Nevertheless, Jerusalem was rebuilt and God’s people were restored to safety, through no small amount of strategic leading, undaunted communal effort, and God’s blessing.
  • Ezekiel’s vision of roaming through a valley of disintegrating bones, hearing God ask, “Can these dry bones live?” The dry bones get enfleshed; and, the dead live again.
  • The violent tossing of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into a raging fire. God is present with them in extreme danger and rescues them.

If you feel like you’re walking through the rubble of a beloved institution; if you find yourself in a fiery furnace of someone else’s making; or if it seems as though you’re stumbling through a vast graveyard, I hope you find comfort in this: God is our healer, liberator, deliverer, advocate, justice-maker, and friend. We all have parts to play in this many-fold ministry, parts shaped by our distinct social locations. My prayer is that we do so as bravely and vulnerably as we’ve spoken and listened this past week, and that ultimately God’s will be done in our midst.

Yours,

The Rev. Dr. Theresa F. Latini
President and Professor of Practical Theology