Mary Ann Kaiser was a certified candidate for ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church. Her home district committee voted to certify her earlier this year. Her ordination journey was halted abruptly yesterday when The Southwest Texas Conference Board of Ordained Ministry recommended to the clergy of the conference to revoke her certification because Mary Ann identifies as a lesbian. The vote narrowly passed, temporarily pausing Mary Ann’s process. Proper procedures in the UMC’s own rule book, The Book of Discipline, were ignored by the conference. Furthermore, simply identifying as a lesbian is not grounds to remove someone from the ordination process. Rules were broken. Harm was done. What’s more, the Board of Ordained Ministry has not met Mary Ann.
At 2pm CDT, just as the Southwest Texas Annual Conference was gathering for its next session, over 240 people participated in a Twitter blast, generating over 100,000 impressions on Twitter feeds. They were holding the conference accountable for its discriminatory behavior and for violating Mary Ann’s rights by removing her from her ordination process because she identifies as a lesbian. That alone is not grounds for someone not to be ordained. Her church approved her. Her district approved her. Her conference chose to take her out of the process without even talking to her.
Shortly after the Twitter blast, Rev. Elford, the pastor where Mary Ann serves as Youth Director and Justice Associate at University UMC in Austin, spoke on behalf of Mary Ann, asking Bishop Dorff for a rule of law, saying
Yesterday, a premature decision was made by the Board of Ordained Ministry, to remove Mary Ann Kaiser from the candidacy process on account of her being lesbian without following proper procedures or at minimum, interviewing her. The clergy session voted by a slim majority to maintain that decision, but the correctness of the polity remains in question. As we strive to maintain all of the policies of the Book of Discipline, I respectfully request a ruling of law as to whether a Board of Ordained Ministry can decline to consider the candidacy of a certified candidate for ordained ministry who has been appropriately recommended by a District Committee on Ordained Ministry.
Paragraph 635.2 h of the 2012 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church requires a Board of Ordained Ministry to “examine all applicants as to their fitness for the ordained ministry and make a full inquiry as to the fitness of the candidate.”
And paragraph 635.2 j further requires the Board of Ordained Ministry to interview the candidate. Yet, Mary Ann has not been interviewed. On what grounds can she be removed from candidacy if she has not been interviewed?
Mary Ann has also fulfilled all five conditions for the continuation of her candidacy under paragraph 313 of the BOD.
Finally, bishop, this is not a publicity stunt. Nor is it a question of whether or not we, as a church, are ordaining LGBTQ folks. This is about whether we will follow disciplinary procedures as we support those like Mary Ann whom God is calling into ministry. If we cannot promise to treat our future leaders with respect, compassion, and in a spirit of relationship as they enter the process of ordination, we have little hope of ensuring a future for our church.
In response to the SWTX Conference Board of Ordained Ministry’s decision to remove Mary Ann Kaiser from the candidacy process at their June 6, 2013 meeting (a decision sustained by the Clergy Session), I request a ruling of law as to whether a Board of Ordained Ministry can decline to consider the candidacy of a certified candidate for ordained ministry who has been appropriately recommended by a District Committee on Ordained Ministry without an interview and examination.
Bishop Dorff said he will rule within 30 days, issuing a statement on the conference web site.
Here are a few of the many tweets: