Author: Rev. Dr. Mark R. Holland , Executive Director, Mainstream UMC
This is the first in a series on the complaints and trials going on currently in the UMC and what is ahead when the Traditional Plan takes effect January 1, 2020. The Traditional Plan’s goal is to evict bishops, clergy, and entire annual conferences from the UMC. This series will explore how we actively resist this harm. Each of these emails will begin by hearing about the harm experienced by those who are currently under judicial complaint in our church:
“No one from my ministry contexts has ever suggested that my queerness has caused harm. Countless people have testified to the value and impact of my ministry…To fully identify, and attempt to account for, the impact these complaints and charges have had on me, my ministry, and my nearest and dearest, is admittedly exhausting and perhaps impossible. So too, the cumulative impact of growing up in a denomination that has called my life and my love, and the lives and loves of my queer and trans siblings, “incompatible,” “divisive,” and of debatable sacred worth. The emotional and psychological toll has been significant.”
Rev. Anna Blaedel, Iowa, UM pastor for 11 years.
We should not forget, the harm caused by complaints and trials is the explicit goal of the Good News Magazine 2004 masterplan, “Options for the Future.” This troubling document says in part:
“This option is a form of Forced Departure [emphasis theirs], based on the model of church discipline, wherein the majority party within the church would essentially expel the minority party…The orthodox have mastered the legislative process and have been progressively tightening the requirements regarding homosexuality and (to a lesser extent) doctrine, hoping that those who could not support or live with these requirements would leave the denomination…[T]here will need to be more explicit methods of direct forced departure, through the judicial complaint process.” [emphasis mine] pp 5-6 [Link below]
It is not a surprise that this document was co-authored by Tom Lambrecht, VP at Good News, who is also the principal author of the Traditional Plan. Fulfilling this harmful vision requires “traditional” activists to file complaints against clergy, usually people they do not know and by whom they have not been harmed. Think about that. The self-appointed “forced departure” police are actively scanning the internet to file complaints, not only to remove clergy but to demoralize their allies into leaving the denomination.
It should also be noted that this document is an open confession that “traditional” leaders are explicitly targeting LGBTQ persons as political pawns to win power in the church. Very few people want to believe that there is malicious intent in our church. We all want to believe that we all are just trying to live out our beliefs. Unfortunately, what is happening in our church right now shows this mean-spirited masterplan is underway and actively causing harm to our clergy, their families, and the church.
This is exactly the scenario that has befallen Rev. Anna Blaedel of the Iowa Annual Conference. Rev. Blaedel was commissioned as an Elder in the Iowa Annual Conference in 2008 and ordained in 2010 and has served three appointments, currently campus ministry at the University of Iowa. Rev. Blaedel’s complaint was filed by John Lomperis, a lay delegate from the Indiana Annual Conference.
Mr. Lomperis is a paid staff member under the direction of President Mark Tooley, of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) which is a longtime member of the anti-gay coalition in our church. Mr. Lomperis lives in a different conference and has never even met Rev. Blaedel. Since they have never met, he has never been harmed. Nevertheless, Mr. Lomperis stalks Rev. Blaedel on the internet from 230 miles away and sends screenshots that he considers queer to the Iowa bishop. Members of the Indiana Annual Conference are so appalled by Mr. Lomperis’ behavior, more than 400 people signed a letter of support for Rev. Blaedel. In closing, the Hoosiers note, “We unequivocally denounce the actions of this complainant and his employer, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).” [Link below]
Rev. Blaedel is clearly effective in ministry, always queer, always under appointment, never accused of causing harm. If there were allegations of harm to someone, there would be a suspension during the complaint procedure. But this complaint is not about harm caused or effectiveness. This complaint, the third during Rev. Blaedel’s short ministry, is nothing more than a decades-long, mean-spirited plan hatched by those who call themselves “traditional” to run LGBTQ clergy and their allies out of the church.
Just wait until January 1, 2020 when the Traditional Plan takes effect. The “forced departure” police will be on patrol. Enabled by the problematic politics of General Conference 2019, this group is ready to roll out more harm. Further, the same anti-gay coalition that brought us the Traditional Plan has pledged to bring it back to GC 2020 with all the parts they did not pass last time. In other words, they are ready to double down on the harm to LGBTQ persons and their allies as leverage to dissolve the church.
This is an abuse of the judicial process of the United Methodist Church. Our judicial system should serve like an immune system to stop harm in the body. But the 2004 master plan, “Options for the Future,“ and the 2019 Traditional Plan have, like a cancer, weaponized our own immune system to harm members of our body who are not harming anyone else. How do we resist this harm and restore our collective health?
In this post we focus on the bishops’ role.
Bishops, we need your pastoral leadership to protect the most vulnerable of our clergy. You have been elected for just such a time as this. Please ignore any complaint that does not involve harm to others. These vindictive complaints from absentee activists are a corruption of the complaint and trial process and are beneath your dignity. Just last year, the Appeals Court for the North Central Jurisdiction postponed action on a similar complaint until after GC 2019. This is again a legitimate choice. Change is coming with GC 2020 and there will be a safe place for LGBTQ clergy soon. There is no reason to continue with a harmful complaint and trial process and the expenditure of tens of thousands of ministry dollars for something that will be moot in a few months.
Bishops, now is the time to put your Wesleyan faith into action. Jesus continually lifts marginalized people above literalist interpretations of the law. (Mark 3:1-6; John 8:1-11) John Wesley’s three “General Rules” begin with “Do no harm.” (UM Book of Discipline ¶102) Our baptismal vows call us to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” (UM Hymnal page 34) We do not need you to bang a drum of defiance, just take John Lomperis’ letter, and those of his fellow harmful activists, and quietly put them in the shredder. This is a pastoral act of holy worship. Amen.
What can we non-bishops do? Forward this email to our bishops and district superintendents and ask them to stand with the marginalized. Ask our bishops to fire up the shredder, they will need it come January 1.
Please contribute to the work of Mainstream UMC at https://mainstreamumc.com/donate/ Thank you.
Read all about the troubling Good News document “Options for the Future” here: http://hackingchristianity.net/2019/02/the-betrayal-of-good-news-how-a-2004-blueprint-created-the-gc2019-endgame.html
Read an article about the letter of support from Indiana United Methodists to Rev. Blaedel here: https://um-insight.net/in-the-church/ordained-ministry/hoosiers-support-iowa-pastor-facing-trial/
Watch a 9-minute video of Rev. Blaedel discussing the 2017 charges against her for performing a same-gender wedding. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SI7_Ui6QoXQ
You can learn more about Rev. Blaedel here: https://enfleshed.com/blogs/about/rev-anna-blaedel
If any of the above links do not work, please copy and paste them directly into your browser. Thank you.
This article has been updated with the correct spelling of IRD employee John Lomperis.