“Queer discourse can only become so when the ‘I’ is present in it,” wrote Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. On June 4, on the floor of Annual Conference, I invited and insisted that the collective body of the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church recognize the presence of a queer “I” among us. The “I” that is me—including in all my queerness, my sexual incarnatedness—has, of course, been part of that body for years. As has the queer “I” that is the glorious and brilliant and faithful Rev. Tyler Schwaller. And, countless other clergy, active and retired, living in varying degrees of closetedness. But the body has studiously refused to acknowledge this publicly. Within The UMC, queer people are expected, implicitly and explicitly, to be silent (or at the very least, quiet) about our queerness. We are asked to bear the brunt of silence and shame and formal discrimination, for the sake of the comfort of non-queer people. Formally, we are prohibited from “self-avowing” our queerness, or from “practicing” our sexuality.
For me, avowing my queerness is a form of spiritual testimony and faithful witness.
For me, practicing my sexuality is a source of holy delight. For me, casting off these harmful expectations of silence, shame, and isolation is a practice of salvation, liberation, and redemption. The UMC has proclaimed, for longer than I have been alive, that my queer flesh is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” For as long as I have been self-avowing my queerness to myself (over two decades, now), I have struggled to cast off these harmful, death-wielding proclamations of incompatibility, unworthiness, and unbelovedness. “Flesh can be lived otherwise,” writes Sharon Betcher. “Or so I’ve discovered.” Thanks be, for this discovery.
When queer people insist that the queer “I,” the queer “We,” is present, the contrived comfort of non-queer people is shattered, and all hell breaks loose. Queerly indecent theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid, may she rest in peace and power, said it simply: “We are what we were not supposed to be.” Again, thanks be. The UMC does not want queer people to part of the body. Or rather, The UMC wants to continue to benefit from the gifts, graces, leadership, faithfulness, and meaningful ministry of queer people, without being forced to recognize, acknowledge, or celebrate our embodied existence, our explicit queerness.
Queer people do pose a threat to the unity of The UMC. Because the “unity” of The UMC is built upon the façade of its not having or needing or always already having benefited from the incredible gifts of our queerness. Stop to imagine (no really, this is not a hypothetical invitation) a UMC without any of the LGBTQ people who have created and sustained it. None of the preaching and liturgical gifts, none of the musical and artistic nuances, none of the prophetic and spiritual and pastoral depth, that we have offered all along. Such a UMC would be even more spiritually and theologically and prophetically bankrupt than we currently are.
The UMC, particularly the institutional leadership practiced through the office of the episcopacy, is desperately trying to avoid recognizing this reality. They do not want to acknowledge the deep differences and divisions that are exposed when we are honest about the presence, profound holiness, and persistent oppression of LGBTQ within The UMC. They try to silence, and cover over. They defer, and dismiss. And in so doing, they do harm to LGBTQ people, and they do harm to the wider church. “Healing does not cover over,” writes Sara Ahmed, “but exposes the wound to others: the recovery is a form of exposure.”
Blessedly and beautifully, queer people within The UMC are exposing our queerness, and the wounds inflicted by the institutional Church.
We are insisting on this exposure. And, we are bearing the consequences of it. Complaints against us are proliferating. Rev. Cynthia S. Meyer has been placed on indefinite, involuntary leave of absence. She is no longer allowed the pastor the congregation that very much wanted to retain her as their pastor. This is a travesty to The UMC, and an inexcusable affront to this gifted pastor. (In my mind and heart, all her clergy credentials are intact. I honor and recognize her pastoral effectiveness, her gifts and graces, her deep calling and faithfulness, and her presence as one of my clergy colleagues in The UMC. Even if The UMC formally refuses to.) I have faced a formal complaint, and a supervisory response period meant to resolve the complaint. The official Iowa Annual Conference news source reports, “After consultation with all parties involved, a resolution was not achieved during that time frame. Trimble then dismissed the complaint, noting that ‘a letter of reprimand will be placed in the file of Rev. Blaedel.’ He did not offer any further details, citing the confidential nature of the process.”
Neither the complainants nor myself sought or expected the process to be confidential. We all agreed that transparency and honesty would best serve the process, and the possibilities for healing and resolution within The UMC. We still do not know exactly why the complaint was dismissed. I still do not know the content of the letter of reprimand (though I did request a copy, and this morning was told a copy is coming via certified mail.) At no point has the leadership of the Iowa Annual Conference, including Bishop Trimble, publicly acknowledged the harm done to LGBTQ people through the (condemning, discriminatory) policies and practices of The UMC. They certainly have not taken public responsibility for their own complicity in this harm by upholding these policies and continuing these practices. They continue to blame the victims, abdicate their responsibility, and inflict harm on LGBTQ people. “Sometimes damage is just damage,” writes Heather Love. “Queers are hated; we wish we were not; but wishing does not make it so.”
- 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