Bishop Julius Trimble has dismissed a complaint filed against a United Methodist clergywoman who announced during a plenary session of the 2016 Iowa Annual Conference, “I am a self-avowed practicing homosexual. Or in my language, I am out, queer, partnered, clergy.”
The Rev. Anna Blaedel, a campus minister at the University of Iowa Wesley Center, made her announcement during a moment of personal privilege during a June 4 plenary session. Shortly after her address, three of her clergy colleagues prepared a complaint against her and submitted it to Trimble.
Trimble informed the complainants on the second to last day of his tenure as bishop of the Iowa Episcopal Area that he was dismissing their charge. As of September 1, Trimble is now the presiding bishop of the Indiana Episcopal Area.
Two of the three complainants in the case, the Revs. Craig Peters and Ben Blanchard, were only mildly surprised by Trimble’s decision. They noted that other bishops are also trying to quietly resolve cases related to the church’s sexual ethics and teachings on marriage, and that the resolutions often allow clergy members to keep their ministerial credentials and remain under appointment with no blemish on their service record.
But Peters and Blanchard also pointed out their laity are mystified by a system that allows clergy to openly defy its standards and then suffer no consequences for their defiance.
In order to dismiss a complaint a bishop needs the consent of his or her cabinet (i.e., the district superintendents serving the annual conference). According to Peters, Trimble told him that he had the “general consent” of his eight cabinet members, but he also said the bishop would not say whether that meant all eight approved his decision or just a simple majority of them.
The Book of Discipline requires a bishop to put in writing for the complainants the reasons why he or she has decided to dismiss a complaint. Both Peters and Blanchard report they have received no such statement from Trimble.
Bishops are also charged with giving “due regard to the interests and needs of the complainants” when deciding to dismiss their complaint. Both Peters and Blanchard said Trimble failed to do so. They believed they were acting as representatives of a larger body of clergy and laity in their annual conference who are concerned about integrity and accountability with respect to the UM Church’s sexual ethics and teachings on same sex marriage.
“I believe the bishop was hoping for a swift and quiet just resolution,” said Blanchard. “But when it became apparent that would not happen he dismissed it as an alternate way of keeping it quiet.” To date, Trimble has not made a public statement regarding his actions, and the Iowa Annual Conference Communications Office is either unaware of Trimble’s decision or has decided not to report on the matter.
In an open letter to “Friends and Colleagues” regarding Trimble’s decision, Peters said he interpreted the bishop’s decision as follows: “We find ourselves in an unprecedented ‘time of transition.’ … We must be willing to offer grace to one another, who for conscience sake can no longer follow the Book of Discipline. This evidently would include those who, for conscience sake, feel they can no longer, with integrity, pay their church apportionments.”
Blaedel remains at her appointment at the University of Iowa Wesley Center, and newly elected Bishop Laurie Haller is now presiding over the Iowa Episcopal Area.
Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergy person and an analyst for Good News.