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Progressive Christianity’s Suicide, ELCA Edition

A dying Lutheran seminary doubles down on wokeness
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There’s a crisis at United Lutheran Seminary in eastern Pennsylvania. It seems that around 20 years ago, its new president professed a totally mainstream (at the time) Christian view about homosexuality. Excerpts:

A Lutheran seminary in eastern Pennsylvania is facing a leadership crisis due to a belated disclosure that the president of the LGBTQ-affirming school once directed an organization that said gay Christians should change or at least resist same-sex attractions as a temptation to sin.

The Rev. Theresa Latini, the first president of United Lutheran Seminary, which has campuses in Philadelphia and Gettysburg, now repudiates the philosophy of the group she worked for, saying it was “fear-based, controlling, and particularly marginalizing of LGBTQ+ persons.”

But many alumni and students are expressing dismay that she never disclosed this part of her work history — more than five years of work as director of the group OneByOne, beginning in 1996 — to the search committee that interviewed her.

Rev. Latini said in a Feb. 21 statement that she is committed to working with the seminary in “actively identifying and resisting homophobia and heteronormativity.”


Bishop Kurt Kusserow of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who was on the presidential search committee, said given the seminary’s stances on sexuality, Rev. Latini’s decision to withhold this part of her work history “is in retrospect evidence of poor judgment.”

He noted that the denomination remains committed to unity among people of different views on sexuality.

“I don’t think at the time we would have imagined the emotional response of the seminary community,” he added. “That is part of the changing world that we’re in,” in which such a work history would now be seen as deeply offensive.

ELCA is so “committed to unity among people of different views of sexuality” that one of its seminaries has been thrown into a spasm of angst over the fact that its president once held mainstream Christian views that she has long since repudiated. More recently, the seminary board chairman resigned over the controversy, which is spreading:

A joint letter from the Lutheran Students of Harvard Divinity School and the Union Theological Seminary noted that many Lutheran students at those two institutions finish their pre-ordination studies at United Lutheran (and previously did so at one of the two seminaries that merged). The letter said that this tradition has been “jeopardized by the past statements of President Latini and the recent, deceptive actions of the ULS board.”

So now they believe that Theresa Latini’s cooties will have retroactively infected them? Wow. Progressive Donatism in our time.

Anyway, three weeks ago, the seminary fired Theresa Latini.  So, blue skies ahead, right?

Not really. Last year, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the circumstances that led to the creation of the new seminary:

For decades, Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and its denominational counterpart in Gettysburg tried to repair the 153-year-old split that created two religious-training institutions 140 miles apart.

Efforts to join the schools under one banner in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America repeatedly fizzled — until the pressures of declining enrollment, dwindling finances, and rising costs were too powerful to fight. Between 2005 and 2015, enrollment declined from 420 to 275 in Philadelphia, and 305 to 138 in Gettysburg.

In July, they will become one: United Lutheran Seminary. The new entity will maintain two campuses, though each is likely to shrink to a fraction of its current size in the not-so-distant future. The staff and budget will be smaller, the curriculum transformed to reflect new demands on clergy and lay ministers.

So, roughly a 50 percent enrollment collapse in a single decade.

But never fear, United Lutheran Seminary is doubling down on wokeness. A reader points out these workshops — the only ones — at the seminary’s spring convocation this month:

Awesome. The reader, an ELCA pastor, adds:

Those who run this liberal old line seminary are confounded why no one comes to their seminary anymore. They also lament that that they have few candidates for ordination. There is no way I would ever attend any of these alumni workshops or send a candidate there. As a result pastors are beginning to meet locally to figure out how we can form and train candidates for ministry locally. The old line ELCA seminaries are captured by the spirit of the age and will not be around in any sense of being a seminary in a decade or less.

In other words, orthodox ELCA pastors are taking a kind of Benedict Option for themselves, to save the tradition from its suicidal institutions. Smart.

UPDATE: Reader Charles writes:

I’m friends with some people who were in the middle of this particular witch hunt on facebook. It was unbearable to watch. I’m not going to dig it up, but there was an article in which someone reported the president musing with one of the board members about how God works in such funny ways as she recounted the transformation of her views on sexuality. The way I understood the story from the blog posts and articles I read at the time (a few weeks ago), the problem was not necessarily the president’s nondisclosure during the search process, but the board’s long term nondisclosure once various members of the board found out.

The level of scorched-earth policy I witnessed from people who all seemed to be ECLA was eye-opening to me, to say the least. The person they were targeting was _on their side_. In fact, the person was more on their side than they’re on their own side, because this person saw enough reason to come from a commitment to the other pole to join them. Who’s to say she’s not actually far more committed to redressing the sinfulness of conversion therapy than they are?

I thought about bringing up points like this in the facebook threads because everyone in the situation seemed to have completely lost any sense of perspective, but didn’t as I realized that the entire discussion presupposed such a level of “insider status” that trying to offer any reason outside of that decision matrix was doomed to fail.

The whole affair definitely let me know what other people would personally think of me for holding conservative views on marriage and sexuality. They couldn’t forgive someone trying to lead them 20 years after she last held the opposing views, so what chance does a person in the present have for surviving unscathed? It was almost as if that was the point, to make a public example out of her. “See what we think of your kind!” the whole episode seemed to shout.

See, this is why you must never, ever “dialogue” with these people. It is always a trap. As soon as they have you in a place where they have power over you within the church, they will destroy you.