Just Resolution achieved; church trial avoided

Just Resolution achieved; church trial avoided

November 13, 2019

By Arthur McClanahan*

Just Resolution has been achieved in the matter of a judicial complaint filed against Rev. Anna Blaedel. As a result, there will not be a church trial.  

In a larger context, it is Bishop Laurie Haller’s intention “to avoid, if at all possible, the processing of complaints, charges, and trials related to officiating at same-gendered weddings and LGBTQIA identity and credentialing.” 

According to retired United Methodist Bishop S. Clifton Ives, who served as the facilitator for the process, “the charge [filed against Rev. Anna Blaedel] stemmed from a complaint brought...on March 22, 2018” by John Lomperis, who is the United Methodist director of the Washington, D.C. based Institute of Religion and Democracy. The complaint led an Iowa Conference Committee on Investigation, on May 20, 2019, to charge Rev. Blaedel “for being a self-avowed practicing homosexual in violation of Paragraphs 2702.1.b and 304.e of the Book of Discipline,” according to Bishop Ives.

Bishop S. Clifton Ives served as the facilitator for the process of the Just Resolution.

The matter was about to go to trial, Bishop Ives reported, and a “date had been set but not announced when [Rev. Blaedel] requested an opportunity for just resolution,” something to which Bishop Laurie Haller concurred. “A just resolution is one that focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all parties,” (Paragraph 2701.5) Bishop Ives noted, and “our Discipline [has] been carefully followed in so doing. The Bishop also said, “It is my judgment that the original complainant in this matter [Lomperis] has exercised his right to be heard.” (Mr. Lomperis has been informed of the Just Resolution.)

Achieving the Just Resolution has been a journey that involved several persons. Bishop Ives, who served the West Virginia area of The United Methodist Church prior to his retirement in 2004, Rev. Blaedel, Rev. Dr. Tyler M. Schwaller, who was the counsel for Rev. Blaedel, Bishop Laurie Haller, and Rev. Jerry Oakland, who was the counsel for the church in the latter stages of the process. An October 5, 2019 meeting of all parties culminated in forging a Just Resolution

Just Resolution

The preamble of the Just Resolution asks, “What harm has been done?” In his complaint, Mr. John Lomperis does not name any harm that has been done to him by Rev.Anna Blaedel. Neither has the Iowa Conference identified harm that has been done to it by Rev. Blaedel (paragraph 5).  

The preamble notes, in a subsequent paragraph, “the complaint by Mr. Lomperis against Rev. Blaedel, and the subsequent actions of the Iowa Conference in handling that complaint, have resulted in harm to Rev. Blaedel specifically and directly, as well as to LGBTQIA+ persons and the broader Church in material and spiritual ways. We recognize that these years under complaint have been damaging to Rev. Blaedel’s life and ministry, affecting them in countless and perhaps irreparable ways, including physically, spiritually, professionally, vocationally, and financially” (paragraph 6).

The preamble continues, “In addition, we recognize that the harm to Rev. Blaedel is only one manifestation of the historical and ongoing harm done to LGBTQIA+ persons through the policies and practices of the Iowa Conference and The United Methodist Church...Relentless debate, persecution, and prosecution of LGBTQIA+ persons have not only violated the sacred worth of our LGBTQIA+ kin but have diminished the Church’s witness to God’s grace in the world” ( paragraphs 7, 8).

Just Resolution Commitments 

There is a commitment to five actions in the resolution.

  • “Rev. Blaedel will request a Voluntary Personal Leave of Absence between sessions (¶ 353.4) effective the date this document is signed and will request a continuation of that leave for subsequent conference years until making a request to come off leave.”
  • “Rev. Blaedel will use this personal leave for personal healing, and for discerning a livable future and alternatives to remaining a member of the Iowa Conference and The United Methodist Church—the conference and denomination to which Rev. Blaedel was called, ordained, and appointed, but which seems to hold no future for them and their ministry.”
  • “The Bishop of the Iowa Conference and the Cabinet shall be supportive of Rev. Blaedel during this leave and time of transition, enabling adequate space for healing and discernment by ensuring that the force of this resolution remains in effect until Rev. Blaedel requests a formal end to their leave.”
  • “Bishop Haller shall plan for a meeting with conference leaders in the fall of 2020, to be convened by our conference bishop, and to which Rev. Blaedel and counsel for the respondent, Rev. Tyler Schwaller, shall be invited. The purpose of this meeting is to envision a conference-wide plan for redressing harm and injustice and, in turn, seeking reconciliation and liberation for and with LGBTQIA+ persons, including a plan to offer guidance, repentance, and healing for churches in the Iowa Conference.
  • Bishop Haller will work toward systemic healing in matters of human sexuality and will handle all future complaints in a manner which, to the extent possible will stop the harm being done.”

The Just Resolution concludes by stating that the “certification of any other bill of charges based on [Rev. Blaedel’s] status [“self-avowed practicing homosexual”] would be double jeopardy and “therefore prohibited as a matter of law.”

Achieving the resolution came from what was described as “hard and holy labor.” Though “it does not do justice, this resolution reflects our best effort to make things as right as possible in a broader context that does not yet enable full justice, repair, or accountability.” The resolution calls “the Church to repentance and repair.”

Do No Harm and Do Good

 

Rev. Jerry Oakland was the counsel for the church in the latter stages of the process.

Speaking about the Just Resolution, Rev. Jerry E. Oakland, counsel for the church, talked about a common commitment to “once more to doing everything in our power to do no harm and to do good.” He sees the Just Resolution as a “step toward restorative justice,” one that can be an “offer to embrace our sister in faith once more.”  

Oakland describes the complaint as an attempt “to push Anna Blaedel into isolation... [and] to alienate them from their colleagues and the Church - the Church into which they were born, baptized, called, and ordained – to alienate them from the Church to which they have given their life and their service.” It was Oakland’s hope that “our words of contrition and our actions of repentance will open the door for healing and for sacred discernment of the steps we take in seeking God’s direction.” He believes “Rev. Blaedel has been wounded by each of us who, in our complicity or silence or confusion, have allowed injustice to destroy the lives and ministry of others,” and, as a result, “our own lives and ministries have been stained.”

Resolution “does not bring justice, but it represents the work of care”

“I know the gospel in no small part through and with Rev. Anna Bladel. I know what it means to see where there is need - for love, for are, for mercy, for tenderness, for delight, for justice - and to show up to meet that need.” Rev. Dr. Tyler M. Schwaller speaking “On the Occasion of Resolving an Unjust Charge,” said, “I am here because of Anna.”  

Rev. Dr. Tyler M. Schwaller was the counsel for Rev. Blaedel

Schwaller knows, “I am beloved. I recognize such belovedness especially because Anna expresses in word and deed this blessing of God. What a life-giving, life-sustaining gift!”  

At the same time, Schwaller wondered, “What does it mean that we have structured, assented to, and perpetuated an institution that has made life and ministry unsustainable for Anna?” Schwaller believes, “A specific life has been harmed by the discriminatory policies and practices of this church…[policies] including mistreatment of queer and trans persons [that] are not just generically unfortunate. They ruin lives.”

Speaking about the gathering of the principals to the Just Resolution, which also included signing the document, Schwaller observed, “We are here today because this church and conference have done serious and substantial harm to the life and ministry of one of our own. We have made this church unlivable for one to whom Jesus is gently reminding, ‘Well done, good and faithful beloved.’”

Expressing appreciation for Bishops Ives and Haller and Rev. Oakland, Schwaller said, “This resolution, and the process that have led to it, have been, at times, tender and deeply meaningful. After three-and-a-half years of complaints, we have finally been met in our own vulnerability by people willing, at last, to name the harm honestly and to seek some measure of repair. The affirmation of our lives and work has been a gift, even if belatedly so...This resolution does not bring justice, but it represents the work of care that is more than just procedural and material; it is personal and spiritual. For this I am thankful.”

Truth-telling

“One of the greatest gifts of these last three and a half years of harmful charges and destructive complaints has been the ongoing opportunity to dive deep into the practice of telling the truth,” said Rev. Anna Blaedel. “I have sought to tell the truth, because the truth does, indeed, set us free. It costs us, sometimes dearly, but coming into truth, living out of truth, lingering together in truth: this is how we access the Divine, how we enflesh Divine power, how we practice transformation and healing and full life.”

Rev. Anna Blaedel

“My heart is broken open,” Rev. Blaedel shared. “I was born into a denomination that declares that my very being and loving is incompatible with Christian teaching. I was called into ordained ministry in a denomination and a conference that I thought might never ordain me, but did. When I started the candidacy process almost twenty years ago, I knew I did not have the power to control the outcome.” And yet, they said, even so, “I did have the power to show up faithfully to the process.”

For Rev. Blaedel, “The truth is: I had hoped more would be possible. This resolution is not just. None of this is ok. And, I believe, I have done, we have done, what I, what we, can...I have not wanted to lose, nor be forced to leave, the denomination that has baptized, confirmed, called, commissioned, ordained, and appointed me...the truth [is] that it is not currently possible for me to continue my ministry in the context of the Iowa Annual Conference, nor the UMC. That is not the truth I want to come to, but it has been, is being, revealed as true. I have hoped for a different conclusion to this story, and resolution to this series of complaints. And the story is still being written. But. And. I am no longer willing to subject my body and soul and life to this particular violence.”

Noting, “it never had to be this way,” Rev. Blaedel expressed appreciation for those who worked together on the Just Resolution. “Those of us who have signed this resolution are seeking to reduce the harm. We have done hard and holy work together. We have shown up honestly, and relationally. Interpersonally, we’re good. Thank you for showing up, in the ways that you did.”

Looking toward the future, they said, “We all have a role to play in reconstituting the world. We need each other. I believe in the kind of movement work that meets people where they are and brings people along.” Speaking directly, Blaedel expressed the belief, “There is no holiness in justifying your hate. There is no faithfulness in legitimizing your fear...If you are using your faith to justify your homophobia, your transphobia, you are wrong. You need to repent. And take responsibility. And get right. Dear ones, there is fuller life and deeper faith on the other side of this repentance.” At the same time, they offered an invitation. “Come. Let us reconstitute the world together.”

“I do not know what this leave-taking will take, nor where it will lead me. I do not know what my future holds. I do not know what our future holds,” Blaedel confessed. Nevertheless, “I know I need to extricate myself from a denomination and conference that are increasingly toxic, traumatic, and abusive. I do not have what I need to faithfully and healthily continue my participation in it. So, I am taking time, and claiming space, for healing, for discernment, for listening into the unknown future. Sitting with and sifting through the rubble in order to attune and attend to the still, small voice of the Divine.”

At the same time, with certainty, Blaedel said, “I know that I still believe in the power of tenderness. And I believe in order to stay tender in this world, we need to seek out and sustain those spaces and connections where mutuality, honesty, care, and joy are practiced and nourished. Where we are met and held...And finally, make no mistake about it: I continue to delight in my queerness and the practice of it. I’m so grateful for queerness, and queer connections. I remain a self-avowed, practicing queersexual. Thanks be to God.”

Throw open the doors of the church for everyone

“I [want to] humbly acknowledge the unrelenting pain that our sister Anna Blaedel has experienced because of the complaint that was filed against them eighteen months ago and the length of the process that has led us to this point,” said Bishop Laurie Haller. “What have we become when a complaint process that was meant to produce justice and reconciliation only results in more pain?” (Click here to read Bishop Haller’s statement.)

Bishop Laurie Haller

Bishop Haller acknowledged, “The United Methodist Church is broken because we are still not able to honor our differences around human sexuality.” She also wondered, “Where did Jesus say it’s okay to hate and exclude? How can we justify this? And how do we explain it to our children and grandchildren? ...What has become of our heart?”

The Bishop believes “with humility and grace, it is time to throw open the doors of the church for everyone.” As a result, she has “made a commitment to avoid, if at all possible, the processing of complaints, charges, and trials related to officiating at same-gendered weddings and LGBTQIA identity and credentialing, and I will always seek just resolution first.” Bishop Laurie is also asking, “both laity and clergy exercise restraint in filing complaints at this time.”

“I invite your prayers for healing for Rev. Anna Blaedel, I ask for forgiveness for the ways in which our LGBTQIA sisters and brothers around the world have been disenfranchised and mistreated,” she added.

Bishop Haller is making several commitments:

  • “I covenant to continue leading with my heart into the future to which God has called us all.”
  • “I will work toward a future where every child has the opportunity to become who God has called them to be, and a future where no one is ever rejected because of their sexual orientation, immigration status, the color of their skin, the job they hold, or the neighborhood where they live.”
  • “I will devote my ministry to creating a future where every person is inspired to deeds of justice and mercy through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

“Anna, you are a trailblazer, and as one who is out in front, you have offered your very self to speak out on behalf of your queer brothers and sisters,” said Bishop Laurie. “You have carried a heavy load, the weight of the world has been on your shoulders, and I deeply regret the toll this process has taken on your mind, body, and spirit.”

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The complete texts of the Just Resolution, and statements of the principals - Bishop Ives, Rev. Jerry E. Oakland, Rev. Dr. Tyler M. Schwaller, Rev. Anna Blaedel, and Bishop Laurie Haller - and links to the videos of them sharing their remarks is available at www.iaumc.org/just-resolution

*Rev. Arthur McClanahan is the Director of Communications for the Iowa Annual Conference