AMBS’s New President (or What Were they Thinking?)

AMBS logo (2)I invite you to do a thought experiment with me. Imagine that I am qualified to lead a seminary: I have a PhD in Mennoniteness and have taught graduate level classes in Missional Transformation Transforming Missional Paradigms. I’m the perfect candidate for seminary president. Except the seminary has recently committed itself to the “traditional” position that same-sex marriage is unacceptable. Would that seminary hire me? Ever? Even if I said I would respect the school’s position? Even if the only other person willing to take the job was some twenty-four-year-old dude who barely graduated from two-year Bible college?

In case you’re struggling with this, the answer is “no.” They would never hire me. And they shouldn’t. And, frankly, I shouldn’t have applied in the first place.

But enough about hypothetical me. Let’s talk about Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary appointing Dave Boshart as president.

First, two relevant facts about Dave:

  1. He is a NICE GUY. I mean, really, super-nice. That’s what a lot of people will say about his appointment as president. He’s so nice. And it’s true. I’ve had a few opportunities to communicate directly with Dave, and he’s always been nice.
  2. He is LITERALLY a spokesperson for MC USA’s official “teaching position” against same-sex marriage. When Western District Conference wanted to hold a workshop exploring “both sides of the issue,” Dave was the guy they brought in to talk about why I shouldn’t have kept my ministerial credentials after officiating a same-sex wedding. This was several years ago, but I have seen nothing from Dave that would indicate his position on this has changed.

I’ve dealt intimately with institutional politics at the congregational, conference, and denominational levels for over a decade now. I am often frustrated by the actions of institutional leaders, but I generally understand them. I don’t agree with everything church officials do, but I have a pretty good idea why they do it. Yet when it comes to this decision by AMBS, I am truly baffled. Why would they say they are fully supportive of queer students and then hire an anti-gay spokesperson for their president?

It’s not that Dave’s perspective on sexuality is a secret. He has published articles and spoken out publicly. He WROTE A BOOK called Sex and Faith which is a distinctly hetero-normative Bible study on sexuality.

It’s not that AMBS is unaware of people’s concerns about Dave. They received a lot of comments when they first announced that he was their top candidate for the job.

It’s not that nobody else was qualified and willing to do it. They had options.

It’s not even that Dave is SO NICE. Because trust me, in the Mennonite world there is no shortage of nice.

I guess it may be that they think this middle-aged white dude is their best chance at increasing cultural and racial diversity at the school—but that seems pretty unlikely to be true. And that reasoning furthers the unfaithful and false narrative that church inclusion is some sort of zero-sum game where queer people are pitted against people of color (and God help the queer people of color).

Or it may be that after sending out a few weak signals to queer people and allies that AMBS is an inclusive space, they felt the need to blow the not-so-subtle dog whistle of Dave Boshart to assure conservatives that they’re not too inclusive.

Whatever their reasons and whatever their intent, AMBS’s appointment of Dave Boshart signals to me—and to many other people I know—that the seminary is not fully committed to providing an inclusive and affirming environment for lgbtq+ students. While I believe that most people involved in this decision had good intentions, there is simply no integrity in insisting your institution is fulling welcoming while you put in place a president that everyone knows is not.

 

*This might be a good time to remind people that this is a personal blog and my comments here do not necessarily reflect the position of my congregation or any other group with which I affiliate.

6 thoughts on “AMBS’s New President (or What Were they Thinking?)

  1. Thanks Joanna – I really appreciate your way with words! Thanks for being willing once again to stand with the queer community and call bullshit!

  2. Bruce Baergen
    Chair, AMBS Board of Directors
    Letter regarding appointment of David Boshart

    “This includes his clearly expressed support for the established AMBS policies that help the seminary be a safe and inclusive place for LGBTQ+ students and employees.”

    “Both David and the AMBS Board have expressed their full affirmation for and commitment to the values and actions outlined in the Statement of Renewed Institutional Commitment Regarding Sexualized Violence Prevention, Reporting, and Response (released in June 2019 by the AMBS Administrative Cabinet) and the seminary’s Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures. Further, David and all of us at AMBS are committed to ongoing learning in these areas.”

    “We value your continued engagement as we move into this next chapter together.”

    The above statements may be used to hold AMBS and David Boshart accountable during his tenure as president of AMBS

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