Preliminary Hearing with the Committee on Investigation

Update from Rev. Anna Blaedel:

Tyler Schwaller and I met with the Committee on Investigation today for the preliminary hearing. Tyler brilliantly laid out our legal argument, and procedural principles. his capacity for strategy and clarity under pressure is incredible, and I will never be able to convey my gratitude for his ongoing and unfailing withness, in and through it all. we are able to kindle joy and share delight even in spaces that are hostile and soul deadening--such a queer spiritual practice.

I am moved by y'all's prayer and love and energy and collective holding. and I am awed and grateful and indebted to the liberation laborers and freedom fighters and prophets and dreamers and fierce and tender beloveds--known and unknown--who have created this path, modeled making a way out of no way, insisted on cracking open possibilities from impossibility, and offered the wisdom and witness needed for times like this. bless you. thank you. love you. with you.

(and to you trio who showed up to hold vigil and offer hugs and chocolate, thank you for your grounding presence.)

there will be more in the days and weeks to come, and we don't know how this will unfold.
in the meantime, in case you feel like reading (it's looooong, but/and there's so much that needs said) here is the statement I offered today:

"Poet Adrienne Rich writes:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

Dear ones, so much has already been destroyed, and my heart is moved by all I cannot save.

I lament that most of us are meeting for the first time, under these circumstances, today. You do not really know me as a pastor, a campus minister, a daughter*, a disciple, a sister, an aunt, a niece, a neighbor, a preacher, a woodworking apprentice, a beloved friend, someone who learned to sit on my porch each morning for prayer time from my mama, someone who learned to garden during my first appointment in Osage, someone who cared for my very old grandma through the end of her life, someone who learned Wesleyan theology from my papa singing out of the hymnal at night, someone who moved back to Iowa because of a deep call to campus ministry and the spiritual nourishment of college students, and a commitment to being a regular and active presence in my nieces’ lives, someone who loves to gather friends and strangers at table to share a meal, someone who finds God most easily in poetry and on hiking trails and in silence and contemplative mysticism and music and the sacraments, someone who is—despite what you might think you know about me—by instinct an introvert who wants to avoid the spotlight, a deeply relational person who values kindness and vulnerability and connection across different contexts, and a rule follower who wants to avoid conflict and keep the peace. We don’t really know each other. Anyone who knows me well knows how complex these last three plus years have been, how scared and weary and overwhelmed I have been, and also how much gift there has been in showing up to the Divine’s beauty and generosity and healing, unlearning narratives of unworthiness, and finding grounding in movements of liberation, and feeling held in deep and wide networks of care. I do not want to let fear and weariness keep me from doing what I am convicted is right, and true, and good, and necessary, and just. And this I know: at no point in any of the last three complaints or judicial council review have my call, my gifts and graces for ministry, or my pastoral effectiveness been questioned, or under complaint.

I also lament how many hours and dollars and even relationships have already been lost over the last three years of complaint after complaint after complaint, negotiating discriminatory policies and practices that are not only harming queer folk and those who love us, but harming the entire global connection of people called Methodist, when we could have been doing ministry, proclaiming Good News, binding up the broken hearted, proclaiming release to those imprisoned, listening deeply to Spirit, reconstituting this beautiful and broken world, and this broken, barely alive church. This is no way to build or be in covenant, to build or be ecclesia, to build or be beloved community. The work before us is urgent and important; there is much at stake. My heart is moved by all I cannot save. So much has been destroyed.

Perhaps all you know about me is that I am a self-avowed, practicing homosexual. And, I am. I am queer. I am out. I delight in my queerness. I did not choose to be gay, but if I had a choice I would choose it again. My queerness is not all that I am, but it is an important part of who I am, and an important part of my theological and biblical grounding, my spiritual life, my relational life, my practices of kinship and holiness and cultivating and sharing Divine delight. I have been an out queer for more years of my life than not, about 20 at this point, and I have been an out, practicing queer at every stage of my candidacy process and ordination process and appointive tenure. I have been increasingly vocal and public about my queerness as the stakes of silence, isolation, and shame continue to rise. I have never hidden who I am, or how I love. I have become more adamant about the sacred worth of queer and trans lives, and the holy gift of queer and trans love, because I cannot remain silent or even quiet when violence is escalating, and so many beloved queer and trans siblings are losing our lives, our families, our communities, and our places of spiritual belonging because of religious bigotry and condemnation. Silence in the face of this violence is incompatible with Christian teaching.

Black liberation theologian James Cone writes: “As theologians of the church of Christ, if we have difficulty telling the truth, then we ought to choose another profession.” I would rather tell the truth and lose my clergy credentials than hide or deny the truth and retain my professional standing.

I am in a life giving, faith deepening, love sustaining, sexually satisfying relationship with my queer beloved. Our connection is full of joy, and tenderness, and commitment. We do the hard work to show up for and with each other, and to keep growing and deepening our love for each other, for God, and for the world. Loving and being loved by M is a holy mystery, and profound gift.

The discriminatory policies and practices of the UMC, and the harm, harassment, and oppression enacted through these complaints and judicial council reviews, have cost me too much, have cost queer people too much, and have cost all of us too much, already. So, I ask you questions that I have been asking myself repeatedly, and prayerfully. What are you willing to do, what risks are you willing to take, what courage are you willing to kindle, in order to commit to the holy labor of liberation, reconstitution, and repair?

The destructive and deadly powers of Empire are raging, in our church, and our world: colonialism and white supremacy, corporate greed and callous consumption, misogyny and sexual violence, inhospitality and cruelty to refugees and asylum seekers, denial and addiction and isolation and despair, queer shaming and trans hatred and anti-LGBTQIA+ fear mongering, unprecedented ecological devastation. As the world is in flames, a denomination that could have been a leading voice and witness for hospitality, healing, care, courage, advocacy, sanctuary, and connection is instead crumbling in on itself. And make no mistake: while some of this crumbling is due to good people being enticed into complicity and complacency, unwilling to sacrifice comfort for collective flourishing, it is also due to the sustained and intentional efforts at undermining our life together by organizations like the IRD, and by efforts like this complaint, initiated by someone in another state, another conference, who does not know me and has done no work to build or be in relationship with me, who seems obsessed with what I do with my genitals, but uninterested in what I believe, or how I seek to put those beliefs into practice.

This is no way to build or be in covenant, to build or be ecclesia, to build or be beloved community.

Partly through our labor together responding to these ongoing complaints, Tyler and I have developed an incredible and deep kinship. We have become sanctuary for each other. We know what it feels like to be free. To refuse to allow fear to constrain what’s possible in our present, or in our becoming future. We ask you: Do you know how it feels to be free? To practice freedom? To accept the freedom God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? We know that there is joy and delight in laboring hard together in faith, in grounding our lives and loves in what matters most: collective healing, wisdom, liberation, and delight.

And, we know what we are called to do: To tell the truth. To remember that none of us are free unless all of us are free, and liberation must be collective, and justice is only just when it is intersectional, which means there is no LGBTQIA+ justice without racial justice without economic justice without immigration justice without ecological justice without gender justice without disability justice. Jesus insisted, over and over and over again, that those pushed to the margins, those despised and condemned by religious and political authorities, bear and bare the wisdom and witness of the kin-dom of God. Y’all need queer people, if you are to be a faithful, relevant, and holy church. We know of long and hard cultivated Gospel truths about practicing courage when the consequences can be deadly, grounding our lives in the Gospel when it costs us our jobs and credentials and conference standing, about enacting love and tenderness and healing when the church wants us purged and the world wants us dead. How can one part of the body say I have no need of you? Y’all need us, and the wisdom we have to offer, just like we need each other.

As our connection crumbles, we are no longer content to settle for crumbs. To do so would cost us too much. What are you no longer content to settle for?

It is time, it is so past time, and yet the time is always right: to let our Yes be Yes, and our No be No. Trans youth are watching to see what you will do. Queer college students are deferring seminary to discern if there is a place for them in this denomination. Proud parents and siblings and grandparents and friends are waiting to see if they can continue to claim their United Methodist congregations as their faith communities. Closeted pastors are wondering whether they can continue to live under the cover of isolation and fear. What is at stake in this hearing bears incredible consequence for my life, and bears incredible consequence for what is possible in our collective life.

These proceedings, regardless of outcomes, decisions, and consequences beyond my, but not beyond your, control, can still cost us, collectively, so much. I trust that if I remain faithful, and if Tyler and I continue to show up for and with each other, telling the truth, bearing witness to the Gospel call of collective liberation, refusing to cower in fear, and envisioning a church and world reconstituted in justice-love, liberation, and collective flourishing, well, then: I know this will not, cannot, cost me my soul. Tyler and I, joined by queer and trans kin across and beyond the connection, have no extraordinary power, but we do know with whom we cast our lost. And we know we follow and profess a teacher who taught us that risks taken on behalf of truth, healing, and fierce and tender care for those who most vulnerable, are worth the cost. With whom do you cast your lot?

And, what is your biblical and theological grounding, guiding you in the work that is before you? When Tyler and I met with the cabinet during the second complaint, we were struck by an unsettling reality: We were prepared to talk about the Bible, about biblical authority and interpretation, about theology, and theological understandings of sin, atonement, redemption, salvation; the cabinet wasn’t referencing the Bible, or theology—they had the Book of Discipline. Specifically, a couple of rules that United Methodists have debated and been divided on throughout the history of our denomination. Tyler and I know, and delight in the opportunities to proclaim and bear witness to, the biblical and theological groundings that have nourished us and sustained us when it seems like there is no way forward and all is lost. What is your biblical and theological grounding?

Our commitment, as baptized, confirmed, called, ordained, and appointed United Methodist clergy leaders and disciples is to the fullness of the Gospel, and to the radical, relational, reconciling, and revolutionary love preached, practiced, and enfleshed by Jesus of Nazareth. I’ll conclude, now with words I wrote in my initial contact with y’all: “In his epistle, James writes, “Anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.” We are at a crossroads, dear ones, and I do not know if we can arrive at a shared understanding of what is right, and what is sinful, and what it looks like to repent of, turn from, and make amends for our participation in sin. I do know that I remain deeply convicted that a denomination that purges queer people, punishes honesty, enshrines injustice, and claims that queer lives and loves are incompatible with Christian teaching is a denomination that is, itself, engaging in practices incompatible with Christ’s teachings. You have a decision to make; it may be hard, but this is also a holy opportunity. I am praying for you as you decide how to proceed with this charge against me.”

May we cast our lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world."

(*I'm nonbinary, and they/them pronouns make me feel seen and known and valued, especially in public and professional settings. these gendered relational identities also continue to feel right, because of the relational intimacies they point towards, so I'll use them as long as they do. that's my personal choice, and shouldn't be used as a general guide for nonbinary folk. gender is complicated like that.)


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