Charge against clergyperson to move to trial

August 14, 2019
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By Arthur McClanahan
 
A charge filed against an Iowa Conference clergyperson has been certified by a Committee on Investigation, which means that the judicial process will move forward toward a church trial.
 
According to published reports, the Rev. Anna Blaedel has been charged under Paragraph 2701.1.b, “practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including…being a self-avowed practicing homosexual.”
 
The charge had been forwarded to the Committee on Investigation on May 20, 2019 by Rev. Bob Ward,  Counsel for the Church.  
 
The original complaint was raised by Mr. John Lomperis, a Chicago-based United Methodist, who serves a director of United Methodist activities of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, which, according to its website, monitors the church and is a “voice for…Christian orthodoxy.” (https://bit.ly/2yZpoxT).
 
Rev. Blaedel had most recently met with the Committee on Investigation on August 8, 2019.  The Committee was composed of four clergypersons in full connection and three laypersons who are professing members.  In addition there are several alternates.  All members of the Committee are elected by either the Board of Ordained Ministry or the conference board of laity.  Members of the Board of Ordained Ministry, the cabinet, or immediate family members are ineligible to serve. (Para. 2703.2)
 
The Committee on Investigation’s vote to move to trial was not revealed. “Church trials are to be regarded as an expedient of last resort,” per the Discipline (Para 2707) and are a rare occurrence.  Trials since 2010 include Rev. Amy DeLong in Wisconsin in 2011 and Rev. Frank Schaefer in Pennsylvania in 2013.
 
Bishop Laurie Haller responded to the decision of the Committee on Investigation in a Pastoral Statement to the Iowa Conference. “As the pastoral leader of the Iowa Annual Conference, I lament the fact that for almost fifty years, The United Methodist Church has spent untold time, energy, and money debating human sexuality.”  
 
In keeping with the Discipline Bishop Laurie Haller has asked a bishop from outside of the Iowa Conference to be the trial’s presiding officer. An announcement of who the presiding officer will be is imminent. Legal counsel may be available to presiding bishop, “at the expense of the annual conference” (2708.1); the conference chancellor may not serve in that capacity.  
 
The presiding officer “may dismiss all or any part o the bill of charges upon a finding by the presiding officer (1) that all or such part is without legal or factual basis or (2) that, even assuming the specifications to be true, they do not constitute a basis for a chargeable offense.” (2708.3). In addition, the “presiding officer may refer the matter as deemed appropriate for a process seeking a just resolution to the resident bishop upon consultation with the counsel for the Church and counsel for the respondent.” (2708.3)  This is grounded “in the hope that God’s work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be realized in the body of Jesus Christ.” (Para. 2701).  The Discipline also maintains that the “presumption of innocence shall be maintained until the conclusion of the trial process.” 
 
Rev. Bladel “shall be entitled to appear and to select to be represented by counsel, a clergyperson in full connection of The United Methodist Church” (2708.7).  They have chosen Rev. Tyler Schwaller. He has been with Rev. Bladel in the course of the Committee on Investigation sessions. 
 
The time and place for the trial is yet to be determined. While the deliberations of the trial court shall be closed (2708.12) all “other sessions of the trial shall be open.” (2780.12)
 
The “jury” will consist of thirteen persons selected from a pool of thirty-five, a group that will include “persons representative of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity” (2709.2).  “All appointments to the pool shall be made by the district superintendents” (2713.3.a).  As in prior considerations, “No person shall serve as a member of the trial court who was a member of the cabinet, Board of Ordained Ministry, or committee on investigation who considered the case in the process of coming to trial” (2709.3). Nine of the thirteen must vote “to sustain charge(s) and nine votes also shall be required for conviction.  Fewer than nine votes for conviction shall be considered an acquittal” (2711.2).
 
In a Facebook post Rev. Blaedel responded to the decision of the Committee on Investigation. "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. 
 
Bishop Laurie Haller extended an invitation to offer “prayers for Rev. Anna Blaedel, for the Iowa Annual 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.”
 
*Rev. Arthur McClanahan is the Director of Communications for the Iowa Conference