BACKGROUND: Over the years, liberal United Methodist activists have, in an ironically Pharisaical manner, argued that bishops can avoid holding clergy accountable to our church’s ban on self-avowed, practicing homosexual clergy, as long as the clergyperson in question avoids saying the specific magic words, “I am a self-avowed, practicing homosexual” to certain people.
However, at the 2016 session of the Iowa Annual Conference, less than one month after the General Conference had passed a motion characterized as a sort of cease-fire on internal conflicts on human sexuality, Rev. Anna Blaedel, a campus minister at the University of Iowa Wesley Foundation, broke this cease-fire with a dramatic publicity stunt of suddenly going to the microphone and giving an extended speech, in which she said the “magic words” to make clear to the entire annual conference that she was personally not living according to our denomination’s biblical standards for sexual self-control. When some faithful pastors in the Iowa Conference duly filed a formal complaint against her violation of the clergy covenant, she promoted vicious character-assassination attacks against these United Methodist clergy on social media.
Bishop Julius Trimble chose to wait until August 31, his very last day as bishop of the Iowa Conference (to be transferred to be bishop of Indiana) to simply dismiss the complaint against Blaedel, leaving it to others to deal with the pieces of the bombshell he dropped on Iowa United Methodism, only at the very moment he was heading out the door. This effectively means that the bishop chose to substitute his personal liberal biases for the church standards he vowed to uphold, by unilaterally moving to authorize an openly non-celibate lesbian activist be an appointed minister in good standing.
Now a group of Iowa United Methodist clergy and laity have filed a formal complaint against Bishop Trimble himself.
It is important to note how this complaint against Trimble was only filed as a last resort. Bishop Trimble had a responsibility to cultivate a culture of covenant accountability in the Iowa Conference. Instead, his choice to basically refuse to discipline a clergyman who rather publicly violated church law against performing same-sex unions appeared to have emboldened the further anarchic protest of Blaedel. His management of this complaint process broke with normal protocols of keeping such matters confidential. The bishop chose to offer little effective protection for those clergy who were targeted with harassing phone calls, letters, emails, as well as threats Blaedel openly encouraged of disruptions of their worship services. He chose to shrink from his duty bringing a restoration of integrity to our denominational covenant by moving the complaint process to the next level. He seemingly chose to disregard the elected leadership of the North Central Jurisdiction (which includes both Iowa and Indiana) recently rejecting a call to never have any church trials in matters related to human sexuality. And he chose to only impose this one-sided solution, of unilaterally substituting his own ideas for the biblical, communal standards he himself vowed to uphold as a condition of his becoming a United Methodist elder and then bishop, just at the precise time when he would no longer have to pastorally relate to those most hurt by his disregard.
What follows is the text of a press release from the group of individuals filing the complaint against Bishop Trimble.
PRESS RELEASE: Complaint filed against Bishop Julius Trimble
Seventeen lay and clergypersons from the Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church have filed a formal complaint against their former episcopal leader, Bishop Julius Trimble, for “disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church” and an unwillingness to do the work of ministry entailed by a bishop. Trimble has recently been reassigned to the Indiana Annual Conference. The complaint, which will be represented by the Revs. Craig Peters, Mike Morgan, and John Gaulke was sent to Bishop Gregory Palmer and Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, president and secretary of the North Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops. (As eluded to above, fourteen additional lay and clergy members of the Iowa Annual Conference have also added their names to the complaint.)
The focus of the complaint centers on the public testimony of the Rev. Anna Blaedel, a campus minister at the University of Iowa Wesley Center, when she announced before her colleagues at the Iowa Annual Conference in June, “I am a self-avowed practicing homosexual. Or in my language, I am out, queer, partnered, clergy.”
In response to Blaedel’s public comments, a complaint against the campus minister was filed. After one supervisory response meeting, the bishop was unsuccessful in obtaining a mutually agreeable just resolution. Bishop Trimble summarily – and incorrectly – dismissed the complaint against the Rev. Blaedel and reappointed her as an ordained clergyperson.
The Iowa United Methodists who filed the complaint point out that Bishop Trimble does not have the right – according to the Judicial Council – to “legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which [he] disagrees, even when the disagreements are based upon conscientious objections to those provisions” (Decision 886).
The concerned persons also contend that Bishop Trimble’s failure to provide a written explanation of the dismissal of the complaints is a failure to do the work of ministry of a bishop. “The disruption caused by the bishop’s dismissal of the complaint has been severe,” write the three pastors representing the group, “impacting local church members and clergy across the Iowa Annual Conference who do not understand why the clear standards of our Discipline have been ignored. Bishop Trimble made no provision for a process of healing, which constitutes a failure to do the work of ministry and a violation of the requirements of the Discipline.”
In his negligence to the process of handling the complaint, Bishop Trimble failed to consult with – or even notify – the complainants before dismissing the complaint.
“We are reluctant to file this complaint and do so out of love for our church and its integrity,” state the three clergypersons representing the group. “The integrity and trustworthiness of the church is undermined when a bishop chooses to arbitrarily ignore violations of our covenant life, especially when those violations are so public.”
Rev. Craig Peters, 319-210-8316
Rev. Mike Morgan, 319-721-8549
Rev. John Gaulke, 515-967-2991