This is not a love letter to The United Methodist Church. I do love the UMC, or rather, I love the best of its connectional legacy, history, tradition, and witness. I love that its roots reflect commitment to folk theology, theology of real folk, and an acknowledgment that faithful living is always a meeting of personal piety and social holiness, spiritual practice and systemic change.
In spite of myself, in spite of living the last two years under almost constant complaint and judicial review, in spite of the UMC’s policies and practices that inflict and endorse spiritual, emotional, and physical violences against queer and trans lives and love, I confess: I do feel a deep and complicated love for the UMC. But. And. I will no longer write love letters to a church that continues to persecute and prosecute LGBTQ beloveds for telling the truth about our lives and loves.
I will save my love letters for my queer kin, for my queer and trans beloved(s), for my family both chosen and given, for those friends and students and colleagues and strangers who persist in showing up and leaning in and reaching out in bold, courageous, and honest ways. I insist this is not a love letter because I am painfully aware of how often love language covers over abuse, how often the language we United Methodist queers use to describe our relationship with the denomination reflects dynamics of relational violence and abuse, how often love is used to encourage those who are being abused to remain steadfast in the abuse, enduring it, absorbing it, learning to survive it, hoping it will, over time, end, or at least become less brutal. When violence is normalized and legitimized, it tends to escalate not dissipate. This is not a love letter to the UMC.
I write this as the Council of Bishops is gathered in Chicago. I had hoped to gather with other queer colleagues, friends, and our allies in witness to/for/with the Council of Bishops meeting. There is power in queer flesh showing up, gathering together, refusing to stay hidden, secret, silent, ashamed. Sadly, my own queer flesh is recovering from a recent oral surgery, and I cannot join the witness in body, and so I join them in spirit and Spirit.
Last week I learned that the most recent complaint filed against me in accordance with ¶362.1 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, “being a self-avowed practicing homosexual” (¶2702.1[b]) and “disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church” (¶2702.1[d]), has been referred to church counsel.
A clergy colleague of mine, someone I have known for decades, who has a family member I have pastored, has agreed to my bishop’s request to “investigate and prepare a judicial complaint.” I had guarded myself against hoping that my bishop would dismiss this complaint, but others hoped for a dismissal on my behalf. I am disappointed, and sad, and angry, and weary, and exhausted by this seemingly endless series of attacks on my being, my loving, my ministry.
Let me be clear: I will not stop seeking justice and liberation through theological reflection, liturgical witness, and collective action. I will not stop committing myself to the spiritual practices of bearing witness, telling the truth, creating and encouraging creative collectivities, interrogating power, practicing tenderness, and resisting evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
These are practices of faith, ways to live with integrity in a wounded and wounding and wonder-full world. I no longer feel clear, though, on whether or how long I can do this work in and through the UMC.
I am seeking a denomination willing to risk division, if it is necessary, for the sake of courage, conviction, passion, justice, healing, and an abiding commitment to those who are most vulnerable. Conflict avoidance, fear, colonialism, and preservation of oppressive power are incompatible with Christian teaching. Injustice camouflaged as unity is, too. Thus my deep disappointment, sadness, anger, weariness, exhaustion, and grief.
I do not want to leave the UMC. I do not want to leave the denomination that baptized, confirmed, called, commissioned, ordained, and appointed me in order to do meaningful ministry or live honestly and faithfully and with integrity. And yet, I am facing the pressing weight of wondering if I may have to choose to leave a denomination I do not want to leave, in order to be healthy, and whole, and faithful.
Regardless of my decision, there are countless other LGBTQ folk – babies and youth and young adults and elders – across the world and in every place, harmed by the UMC’s anti-queer policies and practices. So many beloveds have been, and are being, forced out of pulpits, pews, choir lofts. The UMC cannot be faithful without the presence and participation of LGBTQ people, and those who love, really love, us.
I confess: I do not want to leave, but I also do not know how much longer I can remain in this institution without costing me my integrity and soul.
So, I am holding fast to and remembering what matters:
- refusing to be complicit, satisfied by inclusion into and tepid acceptance by an unjust system; I am lured instead by a Gospel that convicts us to seek liberation.
- refusing to be complicit, satisfied by institutional unity at the expense of queer lives and loves; I am lured instead by a Gospel that convicts us to seek justice.
- refusing to be complicit, satisfied by a way forward that legitimizes spiritual violence and institutionalizes options for ongoing discrimination; I am lured instead by a Gospel that convicts us to seek a way forward that repairs and restores and transforms this (and every) institution, that saves and redeems the church from its entrenched fear, and cowardice, and hypocrisy, so that we might meaningfully participate in the work of faithful witness and withness, tikkun olam, building beloved community, manifesting the kin-dom of God, enfleshing ecclesia.
I confess: I do not feel hopeful about the Bishops’ potential actions or inactions. The life, death, and teachings of Jesus taught me too much about how institutionalized power and privilege works to cast my lot with the Council of Bishops as a source of hope. But. And. I have learned more from radical activists than episcopal leaders about things like Truth, and Liberation, and Hope, and I am convicted by King’s insistence that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and by Assata Shakur’s proclamation that “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” So, I am not hopeful, but I make it a practice to remain open to being surprised by what can be unleashed and unloosed when we really show up in loving and supporting each other.
I know there are people on that Council who have more courage than they may now feel, and deeper conviction than they have recently conveyed, and fiercer faith than they have dared to reveal. Now is the time, Bishops.
Bishop Gregory Palmer, accompanied by Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, you commissioned me, and first appointed me to serve as a pastor. Bishop Julius C Trimble, you ordained me, and appointed me, and faced the consequences of dismissing that first complaint against me. Bishop Laurie Haller, we have unfinished work to attend to, here, and I’ve accepted your invitation to make a difference, and I’m working hard to find a way to do that work in and through the Iowa Conference fo The United Methodist Church.
I am watching, expectant. We are watching, expectant. It is not only the future of the denomination at stake. The very soul of the UMC is at stake. You’ve got hard and holy work ahead of you, Bishops. You sought and were elected to these positions of power. May you take thou authority and use your power and privilege for good.
May you feel the power and presence of the Divine, known as “posse ipsum,” possibility itself, and draw sustenance from a Spirit who bursts forth with unimaginable imaginative possibility, luring us as participants and partners in creating what has never before been possible.
In peace that passes understanding,
and peace, peace, where there is no peace,
Rev. Anna Blaedel
- An open letter to the UMC - May 3, 2018
- Formal complaints filed against Rev. Anna Blaedel…again - April 12, 2018
- Resolution reached on complaint filed against Rev. Anna Blaedel - June 5, 2017