Let me Tell You How I Really Feel: More Thoughts on AMBS

AMBS logo (2)Since I last wrote about Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary hiring David Boshart as president, more information about this decision has come to light. I, along with others on the Inclusive Mennonite Pastors leadership team, had a conversation with two people involved in making the decision; The Mennonite has published an article sharing more details; and Hillary Jerome Scarsella has published a response to that article.

If you haven’t yet read these updates, go ahead. I’ll wait.

As I’ve received more and more information about Boshart’s hiring, I’ve been aware of an uncomfortable—though strangely familiar—feeling. And I finally realized what that feeling is: It’s the same feeling I have every time I listen to the news and realize that people in this country elected Donald Trump–and he is still the president.[1]

The feeling begins with shock.

This is the man who made a special trip to Newton, Kansas, to explain to a roomful of Mennonites that I should not have officiated a same-sex wedding. In person and through email exchanges, he laid out his beliefs that marriage should be between one man and one woman; that pastors should comply with the “teaching position” of Mennonite Church USA despite their personal beliefs.

Yet he was hired to lead a seminary that insists it is committed to LGBTQ justice, and to training LGBTQ students to be pastors.

How can people put a leader in power who so clearly represents the opposite of what the organization (or country) he will lead is supposed to be about?

The shock quickly turns to confusion and a barrage of questions: How did this happen? Why did this happen? What does it mean?

And the confusion spirals into self-doubt. Maybe Boshart doesn’t believe what I think he believes. Maybe the people who hired him don’t understand his public position. Maybe I’m just making too big of a deal about one particular issue. Surely so many people can’t be so wrong about something like this. What am I missing?

Which leads to a check on my memories and assumptions.

  • Do those old emails say what I remember they said? Yes. And worse.
  • Has he said or written anything to indicate his beliefs have changed? Not that I—or anyone else I’ve asked—can find. (Note: Saying, “I will support the institution’s policy of inclusion” is NOT the same as saying “I no longer believe same sex intimate relationships are sinful.”)
  • Is AMBS actually committed to LGBTQ inclusion? They say yes.
  • Does AMBS know what Dave has said and how LGBTQ people and their allies feel about this appointment? Well, if they read even a fraction of the mail I know people sent, they know.
  • AM I over-reacting? Making too big a deal of this one “issue”? Upon prayerful consideration, the answer is NO. (Imagine hiring John McArthur  as president of your seminary and then insisting women are fully welcome and included. Even if he insisted he would “support the policy of inclusion.” Just. No.)

Self-doubt then spirals back into confusion, with a tinge of anger. Because I’m sure that this is a problem. A huge problem. And the people in charge keep insisting, “No. He’s fine. He’s the best presidential candidate. He loves everyone and it will all be great.”

And then, as I’m still reeling in confusion over an “inclusive” seminary hiring someone who has done so much harm to LGBTQ Mennonites over the years, I learn about his failure to properly address reports of sexual assault when he was at another institution—and the cycle starts all over again.

Shock. Confusion. Doubt.

Maybe it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. AMBS did an extended discernment thing and still decided to hire him. They contracted with an organization that specializes in dealing with cases of sexual abuse in religious institutions.

Oh. But wait. That consultant pulled out of the process before the decision was made to hire Boshart. And the chair of the search committee says that the committee disagreed with the consultants about how to proceed—and AMBS went ahead and did their “discernment” the way they wanted rather than the way the experts recommended. Which makes it hard to take seriously their claim that they “followed best practices.”

With both Trump and Boshart as presidents, I feel caught in this shock/confusion/doubt/clarity/anger/more confusion cycle. New information keeps coming out and I think, “OK. This will convince others of what I already know.” And instead, people read the new information and say, “See, we told you it was all fine.”

With both Trump and Boshart, I see things–public words and actions–that make it obvious they are not qualified for their positions. And yet, somehow, people continue to support them. I want to be clear that I’m not saying the two men are the same—or even similar. But the feelings I have around them holding their positions are almost identical.

Except. The people who elected and continue to support Trump are people I don’t expect to agree with me about much of anything anyway. The people who hired and continue to support David Boshart, on the other hand, are people I like and respect; people who hold theological and political views that are quite similar to my own. Which means that the feelings are magnified—the self-doubt is deeper; the confusion more disorienting.

And I’m honestly not sure what to do with these feelings except to share them in hopes that, if you are feeling them too, we can feel a little less alone in the confusion and a little more certain that we are, in fact, not crazy.


[1] Note that I do not intend to compare Boshart to Trump. The comparison here is about my feelings when I think about these men being handed positions of power.

8 thoughts on “Let me Tell You How I Really Feel: More Thoughts on AMBS

    • I understand this, and I am sure some AMBS folks are very attuned to the money stream. But I really don’t believe the money is what is behind all of the support–which is part of my confusion.

  1. Hello Joanna,

    I am a Pastor of two Presbyterian Churches in rural America and have followed you for a couple of years. Your sermons, thoughts and prayers have been an inspiration to me for sometime. Keep your confusion, doubts and yes, anger alive and well. Your logic is sound. I am also in Trump Territory and am most confused with the blindness I have seen among many. In a conversation, with an ELCA Lutheran Pastor we both have been amazed with similar doubts and confusion. He reminded me not to be passive in our beliefs, yet to concentrate on listening more. To continue to seek the truth through continual education of ourselves, so we may be better able to understand and perhaps one day be the bridge of enlightenment to these individuals in power who seem to speak opposite of what is taught in the Gospels.

    I tend to be impatient at this point. Our nation is at a crossroads and I am at a loss at the evangelical movement giving such a wide pass for this man, they want as President. They surely would not ordain such an individual as an Elder of their congregation. Yet it is fine to lead our Nation. I know, one day soon, we will be Called upon to assist in the healing and aftermath.

    You are doing great and thank you for your posts.

  2. I am confused why an institution of the larger Mennonite Church would not follow the teaching position of the denomination? That seems to lack integrity.

  3. Joanna,

    I wanted to say thank you so much for your recent blog post. I’ve been meaning to email you for a while and say thank you. Last year, I made the decision, for my own mental health, to bow out of Mennonite politics and polity. It is enough for me to work at EMU for a more equitable campus. I find that my energy needs to stay here in order to support our lgbtq students. I am one of one faculty, along with two staff members, who are openly lgbtq at EMU. I pretty much I have decided that until MCUSA gets its act together, I will just choose to work locally. It was a hard decision to make because I know that things need to change at the denominational level. I just know that I didn’t have the energy any longer to do that work. I’m so grateful for the inclusive pastors’ network, in particular for your blog, for continuing to do that work with such passion and grace. I’m grateful. Thank you for this most recent article as well. The unrelenting commitment to justice is refreshing and inspiring.

    Thanks so much Joanna.


    • Kathy, I so appreciate you being who you are where you are doing the work you are doing. I feel privileged to be your colleague on this journey–even if we are working in different ways. Sending love . . .

  4. You’re not crazy and you’re not alone. I continue to feel pretty uneasy about this appointment too. Christine Guth

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