Iowa clergyperson to face trial

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The Rev. Anna Blaedel (at microphone) speaks during the Iowa Annual Conference in June 2016. Blaedel is facing a church trial after being charged under the ban against ordination of a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” File photo by Arthur McClanahan, Iowa Conference.
The Rev. Anna Blaedel (at microphone) speaks during the Iowa Annual Conference in June 2016. Blaedel is facing a church trial after being charged under the ban against ordination of a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” File photo by Arthur McClanahan, Iowa Conference.
The Rev. Anna Blaedel will face a church trial after an Iowa Conference Committee on Investigation certified charges against Blaedel.

Blaedel has been charged under ¶ 2702.1 in The United Methodist Book of Discipline, according to published reports. That paragraph spells out chargeable offenses, including “practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including … being a self-avowed practicing homosexual.”

Blaedel has faced several complaints after announcing publicly at the 2016 Iowa Conference that: “I am a self-avowed practicing homosexual.” Blaedel resigned as director of the Wesley Center at the University of Iowa last April during Holy Week. 

In a letter to the conference after resigning as campus minister, Blaedel said, “My decision is rooted in two urgent longings: to shift time and energy toward writing my dissertation, and to carve space for imagining future vocational and denominational possibilities.”

The original complaint against Blaedel was raised by John Lomperis, a Chicago-based United Methodist, who serves as United Methodist director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington. The institute is a member of the Renewal and Reform Coalition in The United Methodist Church, which has lobbied for maintaining church bans on ordaining gay clergy and same-sex marriage. 

The Rev. Bob Ward, counsel for the church, referred the complaint to the Committee on Investigation on May 20. Blaedel met with the committee Aug. 8. The Rev. Tyler Schwaller represents Blaedal.

According to the Discipline, the church’s lawbook, trials should be “regarded as an expedient of last resort.” Trials since 2010 include the Rev. Amy DeLong in Wisconsin in 2011 and the Rev. Frank Schaefer in Pennsylvania in 2013. DeLong was charged with violating The United Methodist Church’s ban on non-celibate, gay clergy and the prohibition against clergy officiating at same-sex unions and Schaefer with performing a same-sex wedding for his son.

Iowa Conference Bishop Laurie Haller said in a statement that she would be appointing a United Methodist bishop from outside the conference as the presiding officer of the judicial process as it moves toward trial. “I would also issue a reminder that a just resolution is possible throughout the entire complaint process, and is, in fact, the preferred option,” Haller said in the pastoral statement.

Haller said that, as a pastoral leader of the conference, she lamented the fact that for almost 50 years, “The United Methodist Church has spent untold time, energy, and money debating human sexuality.”

The bishop asked for prayers for Blaedel, for the Iowa Conference and for “all of our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters whose gifts and graces for ministry continue to make a difference in Iowa, in our country and around the world.”

After the committee’s decision, Blaedel wrote on Facebook, "I receive this news with deep sadness and grief. We offered and invited ways to do this differently, and had hoped against hope that this might be an opportunity to create something more just, holy, and loving, together.”

More than 400 United Methodist clergy and laity of Indiana have expressed support for Blaedel in a public letter.

The time and place for the trial is yet to be determined. The jury will consist of 13 persons selected from a pool of 35. Nine of the 13 must vote to sustain charges and nine votes are also required for conviction, according to The United Methodist lawbook.

McClanahan is the director of communications for the Iowa Conference. Dan Gangler, a retired communicator in the Indiana Conference, contributed to this report.

News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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