A message from the AMBS Board Chair

Published: September 20, 2019

Dear friends of AMBS,

As you likely know, the AMBS Board of Directors announced the appointment of Dr. David Boshart as the seminary’s next president last week (Sept. 10). In response to this news, we’ve heard words of affirmation from many of you across our constituency for David’s appointment, as well as criticisms that the board’s written communication about this appointment did not say enough about the extended discernment phase of the search process. We hear and appreciate the genuine concern for AMBS that accompanies these questions, and we are sharing the following information to provide clarity. 

The board opted for an extended discernment period that allowed further inquiry into two areas of constituent concern that were heard following the June 10 announcement of David’s candidacy for the role: David’s preparedness to lead AMBS in strengthening its learning community to be inclusive and safe for LGBTQ+ students and employees; and his commitments to the work of improving AMBS’s policies and training for preventing and responding to sexualized violence. David affirmed the decision to engage in this extended discernment. 

The first concern related to the inclusion of people who identify as LGBTQ+ at all levels of church life and leadership. This came from David’s involvement with past Mennonite Church USA polity and decision-making processes in his prior conference and denominational leadership roles. Some constituents have expressed that his candidacy (now appointment) symbolizes the hurt caused to LGBTQ+ communities in the church through processes that have excluded them. We, and David, recognize this deep pain. Constituents have also questioned whether AMBS’s commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion will continue under David’s leadership.  

In the extended discernment period, search committee members listened to these concerns. David also engaged in robust conversation with AMBS's Teaching Faculty and with AMBS’s Intercultural Competency and Undoing Racism (ICUR) team as part of this process. Feedback from the teaching faculty and a summary report from ICUR gave the search committee confidence in David’s commitment to AMBS’s work to undo systemic violence and oppression in its many forms. 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. 

The second concern emerged from an anonymous letter that was submitted to the search committee the evening before David’s June 17–18 visit to AMBS as the presidential candidate. The letter alleged that David, while serving in a staff role in another setting more than 30 years ago, did not act on a report of a sexual assault incident that was brought to him. During an all-campus meeting on June 17, search committee leaders shared about the letter, and both they and David expressed their commitment to learn more about what had happened with the reported incident in the late 1980s. Speaking to the campus community, David noted that while he did not remember the incident, he believed the letter writer and named deep regret for his own apparent failure to act. He supported the use of a third party to revisit the incident. During the extended discernment period, a subgroup of the search committee worked with an outside consultant to do so in a confidential process. The search committee and AMBS teaching faculty both expressed appreciation for David’s yieldedness to the extended discernment process as well as his nondefensive posture and willingness to be vulnerable. 

During the extended discernment period, the search committee also invited and reviewed additional feedback from constituents and members of the AMBS community. This included strong affirmation for David’s unique combination of leadership skills and character traits from people who have worked closely with him in congregational, conference and denominational contexts. The findings from the extended discernment gave the search committee further confidence in David’s integrity and alignment with AMBS’s commitments in the two areas of inquiry. 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.

David was selected via a thorough process to move AMBS forward as a preeminent and globally minded theological school in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, and we are looking forward to working with him and to the leadership he will bring. We are grateful to all of you who have offered counsel, support and prayer for the important work of identifying AMBS’s next president. We’re also grateful for the calls for accountability from those of you who have asked for more information about our search process. As a learning community of theological inquiry, we anticipate reflecting on and applying the learnings from this process to strengthen the seminary going forward. We value your continued engagement as we move into this next chapter together. 

Thank you for your care for AMBS. 

Bruce Baergen
Chair, AMBS Board of Directors

See also: AMBS Presidential Search webpage

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