“Anna has the cooties, pass it on” the note said.
Except in this case the scrawled message inside the folded piece of paper wasn’t written by some third-grader but by three grown-ups. Three straight, white, male ordained elders in the United Methodist Church, to be exact. And the note got passed to the bishop.
With all the casual meanness of schoolyard bullies, these three men of privilege in our church responded to Anna Blaedel’s courageous and moving coming-out speech on the floor of the Iowa annual conference by telling on her for being gay.
They could not be bothered to date their note, fully punctuate it, or to properly cite what paragraph of Holy Book of Discipline That is More Important to Follow than Jesus’s Commandment to Love Your Neighbor Anna was violating. Nah, who needs that? Everyone knows gay people have the cooties. They couldn’t even bother to type their complaint, or spell her name correctly.
That this two-minute effort (if you can call it that – it might be stretching the definition of the term) could result in the loss of Anna’s livelihood, strip her of her credentials, and end her career is not incidental to this story, but rather central to it. So is the fact that the bishop thought that this output was sufficient enough to initiate a formal process against Anna. He wrote the letter officially notifying her of the complaint process the day after the Orlando massacre. The day after.
If the bishop saw any connection between queer people being brought up on church charges as “incompatible with Christian teaching” for who they and queer people being mowed down in a nightclub for who they are, it wasn’t enough to give him pause.
But as Anna observed, “people do not begin to learn to hate from hate groups, but from more subtle statements and conventional practices, like those found within our own Book of Discipline, and shared from our own United Methodist pulpits.”
And before anyone utters the words “breaking the covenant” to justify what Revs. Peters, Hoyt, and Blanchard and Bishop Trimble are doing to Anna, let me remind everyone that covenants are about relationships built on mutuality. They imply that the parties to the covenant have some level of respect for one another. What we have here is four men, two of whom have never even met Anna, who with the flick of a pen are willing ruin her career and jeopardize her economic survival. There is nothing remotely respectful in that, no hint of mutuality, and certainly no clue that they absorbed Jesus’s admonition “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
No, this is a raw exercise of power. Conservatives in our denomination have church law on their side; and with their threats, votes, complaints, charges, and trials, they have made it perfectly clear that they are bringing the full force of institutional power against LGBTQI people (as well as the straight allies who dare to minister to us). Outside of Methodist-speak, this behavior would be described as repression. Instead, we are bamboozled by the preposterous claim that it is about “keeping covenant.” Please.
But the powerless in any relationship are rarely without some power that they can exercise in their effort to survive and resist. We do not have the law on our side, nor the church’s judicial system, which has consistently upheld unjust laws, nor our executive branch, the Council of Bishops. But we do have the power of our compliance with the system, and we can and increasingly have withdrawn that.
In the last two weeks, three annual conferences have voted to outright defy the Discipline’s discriminatory laws, and another two have urged their leaderships to refuse compliance. These “acts of non-conformity” follow the amazing and powerful witness of queer clergy coming out this spring, the declarations of five boards of ordained ministry that they will not discriminate against LGBTQI candidates, and years of organized networks of clergy offering weddings to same-sex couples.
We are not powerless. Our power lies in our refusal to be complicit in The UMC’s bigotry and our ability to live into a new way of being church.
For the rest of the church, it’s time to decide: Which side are you on? The bullies? Or the bullied?
- How Did We Get Here? Where Do We Go from Here? - August 23, 2018
- On bishops, choices, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit - November 8, 2016
- Statement read to the Council of Bishops - November 1, 2016