Yesterday, I sent this letter to every member of the General Theological Seminary board of trustees. I don't know if it will help, but I believe it is important to have this perspective shared publicly.
October 28, 2014
Dear Members of the Board of Trustees,
I am writing to you concerning the ongoing conflict at GTS. In addition to the individual correspondence I’ve had with several of you, this is my second letter to the full board.
I grew up Southern Baptist in a small town in northwest Texas. This was very difficult. I found that religious people were often ready to condemn me before they knew me because I was gay. If I was honest about who I was and what I felt, it would be twisted and used against me. Most of the religious people I encountered simply didn’t really listen to what I had to say.
I came to the Episcopal Church believing I had found something different. Although there was plenty of conflict within the church, I felt that the majority of people I encountered were trying to listen to one another, and that real spiritual practice was possible. The recent events at GTS cause me to fear I was wrong.
At the heart of the current conflict is a failure of the board to really listen to what the faculty has said, a failure made evident by a truly violent twisting of their words in a raw play of institutional power.
The letters sent by the faculty were not letters of resignation, either in form or spirit. On many occasions they have unanimously stated that resigning their positions was not their intent. Yet the board continues to insist that these were letters of resignation, using unemployment and the threat of loss of livelihood as weapons against those who would challenge the organizational power structures at GTS.
Furthermore, the board has proposed a mechanism (I purposely use this term, as it reflects a basic lack of human engagement) for dealing with issues of safety at GTS that depends upon the very organization that hasn’t listened in good faith to what has been shared thus far. The gyre of power and violence continues to widen.
There has been a lot said in recent weeks about repentance and reconciliation. These are indeed necessary, but a precondition to any reconciliation is the ability to engage in deep listening and truly hear what is being said.
I fear the current situation has mortally wounded the seminary. If there is any hope at all for its survival, the board needs to act quickly, skillfully, and lovingly. You must reinstate the faculty and appoint a neutral third-party to ensure that GTS is a safe space for all people. Then the hard work of repentance and reconciliation can begin.
I look forward to your reply and action. If I can be of any assistance, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Yours in Christ,
Clay E. Williams, PhD
MA, GTS 1997