Opinion

A powerful letter to the church from a minister accused of being an 'avowed homosexual'

Rev. Anna Blaedel at the Wesley Center, 120 N. Dubuque St., in Iowa City, Iowa on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Rev. Anna Blaedel at the Wesley Center, 120 N. Dubuque St., in Iowa City, Iowa on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

For three years, Rev. Anna Blaedel, an openly queer Methodist minister and former director of the Wesley Center at the University of Iowa, has been fighting three charges of being a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” in the Methodist Church. On Aug. 8, a committee voted to send Blaedel to trial. But on Nov. 12, a resolution was reached, placing Blaedel on permentant leave from the church. The resolution acknowledges the damage the charges have caused Blaedel and the entire queer community. But asking Blaedel to leave their position as minister petpetuates the cruel injustice queer christians still experience in the church. Blaedel wrote a letter the Methodist Church in response to the resolution. The letter speaks to the racism, homophobia and transphobia in the church and is a powerful call to change.

With their permission, Blaedel’s letter has been printed in full below.

Queer poet, feminist prophet 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, there is a part of me that feels, today, like I have already said everything I have to say. One of the greatest gifts of these last three and a half years of harmful charges and destructive complaints has been the ongoing opportunity to dive deep into the practice of telling the truth. Truths about the holy delights of queerness, and the sacred beauty of transness. About the urgent needs for intersectional justice and collective liberation. About the need to escalate our resistance when violence escalates. About the salvific power of bearing witness and cultivating withness. About how narratives and strategies that pit marginalized

groups against each other when our liberation is bound up together are going to fail us all. About how there can be no queer justice without racial justice without ecological justice without economic justice without gender justice without disability justice, because our lives are complex and entangled and none of us is free until all of us are free, and if our comfort is coming at the cost of another’s survival sitting with discomfort is far holier than retreating into denial. About how this denomination’s very roots are themselves entangled in colonialism, and white supremacy, and indigenous genocide and displacement, and misogyny, and how merely

declaring that “all are welcome” or “we include everyone” doesn’t even begin to look anything like justice let alone liberation when we refuse to confront the systems of dominance and patterns of supremacy and structures of power that infect and affect everything at every level of our life together.

I have sought to tell the truth, because the truth does, indeed, set us free. It costs us, sometimes dearly, but coming into truth, living out of truth, lingering together in truth: this is how we access the Divine, how we enflesh Divine power, how we practice transformation and healing and full life.

I was born into a denomination that declares that my very being and loving is incompatible with Christian teaching. I was called into ordained ministry in a denomination and a conference that I thought might never ordain me, but did. When I started the candidacy process almost twenty years ago, I knew I did not have the power to control the outcome, but that I did have the

power to show up faithfully to the process.

Dear ones: my heart is broken open, moved by all I cannot save.

The truth is: I had hoped more would be possible.

This resolution is not just.

None of this is ok.

And, I believe, I have done, we have done, what I, what we, can.

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My primary goals during the 19 months of this 3rd complaint have been: to survive; to create the conditions for a livable future; to find a way out of endless complaints and charges that is consistent with my core values and commitments, and sense of integrity.

I have not wanted to lose, nor be forced to leave, the denomination that has baptized, confirmed, called, commissioned, ordained, and appointed me. I have not wanted to lose, nor be forced to leave, my place of spiritual belonging and religious community. I have not wanted to lose, nor be forced to leave, my clergy credentials.

Today we are naming together the truth that it is not currently possible for me to continue my ministry in the context of the Iowa Annual Conference, nor the UMC. That is not the truth I want to come to, but it has been, is being, revealed as true. I have hoped for a different conclusion to this story, and resolution to this series of complaints. And the story is still being

written. But. And. I am no longer willing to subject my body and soul and life to this particular violence.

Sometimes we have to be willing to risk losing that which we fear we cannot live without, in order to be free. I, too, “believe in freedom more than I believe in the structures incompatible

with freedom.” (Alexis Pauline Gumbs)

Dear ones: It never had to be this way. But it is how it is. We are here today because people with institutional power have refused to take responsibility for unjust, oppressive, discriminatory policies and practices that are incompatible with Christian teaching, and incompatible with collective liberation and common flourishing.

Those of us who have signed this resolution are seeking to reduce the harm. We have done hard and holy work together. We have shown up honestly, and relationally. Interpersonally, we’re good. Thank you for showing up, in the ways that you did.

But, and: it never had to be this way.

But, and: pretending away power structures, histories of abuse, and realities of violence, aren’t going to set any of us free. Our hands are not tied.

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But, and: relational connection and sharing our stories are not sufficient strategies for dismantling unjust power structures, and repairing legacies of dominance.

Dear ones: bigotry, hatred, avoidance, and fear are costing this church so much. And costing queer and trans siblings, even more.

We can barely begin to give an account of all that has been lost, all that is being lost, all that could have been, but was never given space to be. There is so much to grieve. So much to lament. So much to repent. So much to repair.

There are so many truths that remain unheard.

The more steeped we are in legacies of supremacy and dominance—white supremacy, US supremacy, economic excess, cis- and male- and hetero- dominance—the easier it is to justify our complicity and complacency, as centrism, and strategy, and gradualism, and unity.

Dear ones: It is true that we can find meaningful middle ground and compromise on all sorts of things. Living together with and across difference, and collaborating in spite of disagreement, is one of the most unavoidable and indeed holy taskings in life.

But the full humanity, sacred worth, divine indwelling, and holy compatibility of each other is not something about which faithful people can disagree.

There is no holiness in justifying your hate.

There is no faithfulness in legitimizing your fear.

There is no greater value in making nice with the systems and practices and policies that are destructive, demeaning, deadening, and deadly.

We all have a role to play in reconstituting the world. We need each other. I believe in the kind of movement work that meets people where they are and brings people along. And.

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If we are using scripture or doctrine to justify the belief that some of us are more deserving of livable lives than others, we are simply and profoundly wrong. There is no faithful justification for discrimination. There is no legitimate use of scripture for the sake of dominance, and destruction. There is no Gospel compatibility with hierarchies of value that deem some more

If you are using your faith to justify your homophobia, your transphobia, you are wrong. You need to repent. And take responsibility. And get right.

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worthy than others.

If you are using your faith to justify your homophobia, your transphobia, you are wrong. You need to repent. And take responsibility. And get right. Dear ones, there is fuller life and deeper faith on the other side of this repentance. Come. Let us reconstitute the world together.

If you are using scripture to legitimize antiblackness, misogyny, inhospitality and xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, unsustainable consumption and greed, anti-queer and antisex condemnation, you are wrong. You need to repent. And take responsibility. And get right. Dear ones, there is fuller life and deeper faith on the other side of this repentance. Come. Let

us reconstitute the world together.

Dear ones, hear this reconstituting truth: Trans folk. Queer folk. Black folk. Indigenous folk. Brown folk. Disabled folk. Women and nonbinary folk. Those living without legal documentation. Those living haunted by trauma. Those living with addiction. Those living in poverty. Those practicing other religious traditions and spiritual paths. Those deemed heretics. Those most easily forgotten, or most often ignored. You are holy. You bear the power of divinity in your flesh, and your bones. We are holy. We bear the power of divinity in our flesh, and our bones. Our survival is salvific. We know what we need, better than any destructive system willing to sacrifice us all for the sake of those unwilling to sacrifice a thing. Come. We are already reconstituting the world together.

And yes, may we become safe harbor for each other. And may we remember that safe harbor will not come from exile, nor forced migration, nor from the top down, nor from legislation passed 51-49 percent: it will come from us, when we collectively refuse to leave one another alone, when we share in the risk, when we center those most marginalized, when we forgo individual egos, when we give up unearned access and excess, when we use our power to share it more justly, when we insist that flourishing must be collectively shared.

My heart is broken wide open. I am heartbroken, but I am also heartened.

I do not know what this leave-taking will take, nor where it will lead me.

I do not know what my future holds. I do not know what our future holds.

But I do know:

There are so many ways to be brave, in a destructive system.

There are so many ways to be faithful, in this wounded and wonder-full world.

There are so many ways to practice freedom, when our lives and souls are at stake.

I know I need to extricate myself from a denomination and conference that are increasingly toxic, traumatic, and abusive. I do not have what I need to faithfully and healthily continue my participation in it. So, I am taking time, and claiming space, for healing, for discernment, for listening into the unknown future. Sitting with and sifting through the rubble in order to attune

and attend to the still, small voice of the Divine.

I know that I remain invested in, and ready to show up for, the labor of collective liberation, and the work of writing theopoetics and enfleshing public theologies of liberation.

I know there is still ecclesia, entangled within and beyond the UMC, that I remain invested in.

I know that healing is slow labor, a practice of opening to life, and I am turning my attention to

living well, loving well, and nourishing my own and our collective life, well.

I know that we, dear queers, and liberationists, and freedom dreamers, know how to nourish each other and transform crumbs into feasts.

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I know that “we who believe in freedom cannot rest.” (Ella’s Song) And, I know that we who believe in freedom still need rest.

I know that I still believe in the power of tenderness. And I believe in order to stay tender in this world, we need to seek out and sustain those spaces and connections where mutuality, honesty, care, and joy are practiced and nourished. Where we are met, and held.

And so. My deepest gratitude to those of you what have been, who are, my ecclesia. My kin. You who have fed me and nourished me. You who are meeting me, and holding me. Gathered near and flung far, over meals and on hiking trails, in countless creative and caring ways.

My deepest gratitude to and for and with:

All of you unlearning dominance and practicing courage.

All the people, and all the collectives, in all of the places, who are doing brave and holy work of tending to justice, liberation, and delight. Rising up and resisting and persisting and divesting and reconstituting the church, and world, together.

All of you whose lives and loves have been deemed incompatible, unworthy, illegal, indecent, undocumented, perverted, divisive, strange. In every place and throughout all of time, we have cultivated the wisdom and care to survive, to live more freely than laws tell us we are allowed, to tend to beauty and wounds, to share generously and creatively, to cultivate joy when the world wants us dead.

All of you Black and indigenous and brown beloveds, activists, elders, poets, and scholars who teach and enflesh the necessary wisdom about love as collective liberation, structures of power and interlocking systems of oppression, practices of resistance and imagination and truth telling, that set us free.

That particular brown undocumented Palestinian refugee Teacher/Savior/Healer who taught that risking it all can save our lives, and living for each other unleashes unimaginable power.

The communities I have had the privilege of being in ministry with. (Tyler and I requested that the Committee on Investigation investigate my ministry, and interview folks from the congregations and communities I have served. They deemed these sources “irrelevant” and “unreliable” to their work. I know, however, how deeply relevant to and reliable y’all are in my life, and in creating the kin-dom.) Thank you, Collegiate. Thank you, Osage. Thank you, Grace.

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And, thank you UI Wesley Center: For claiming and centering the holy labor of liberation. For sharing in the risk. For having my back, and claiming this work as your own. For continuing my healthcare coverage, now, when I need it more than ever. For your core values and

commitments to intersectional justice, hospitality, courage, community, authenticity, and healthy and sustainable leadership. For dreaming bold visions for who and what we’ll become.

For the incredible students who gather at Table each Tuesday, bringing your full and beautiful selves, your holy and messy lives, your dreams and despair, your laughter and tears, your questions and wisdom, to hold one another and to linger together in Divine truths. I like listening with y’all. I believe in you.

Gratitude and honor: to all of the queer saints and freedom fighters who have given their lives and lost their lives, in this struggle. You who have been kicked out, forced out, pushed out. You who have left when and how you’ve needed to. You who feel a need to leave and don’t know how. You who don’t know whether leaving or staying will cost you more. You who have made a way. You who are searching for a way. You who are weary on the way. You who are laboring, even now, to make a way.

To my given and chosen family. For all of it. Always. Forever. You make life possible.

To my beloved, M, with whom practicing it all is holy pleasure and divine delight. For sharing in and showing up for life together. For your love that is balm. For the quiet we create. For finding our way, together.

And oh oh oh oh oh, for Tyler. Beloved queer kin. Clergy support and legal counsel. Brilliant scholar and heart feeler. For all of the ineffable withness, throughout these years. For all of the conspiring together, showing up together, dreaming together, grieving together, holding together. Oh, the wisdom we have found and cultivated together! We have what we need. It is enough.

And finally, make no mistake about it: I continue to delight in my queerness, and the practice of it. I’m so grateful for queerness, and queer connections. I remain a self-avowed, practicing queersexual. Thanks be to God.

Dear ones: our holy tasking is to “make revolution irresistible,” (Toni Cade Bambara) to make liberation possible, to make life livable, for each and for all. Our collective life depends upon it.

We sing the sorrows of what might have been.

We listen for the possibilities of what might become.

We tend to the sacred Lifeforce that urges us on.

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Life is so short, so wild, so precious, and so precarious. Let’s do our best to tend to the truths of life as it is, and imagine life beyond what is, yeah?

This I believe: We already have what we need, to live and love otherwise.

So much more is possible. May we make it so.

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