A Letter to Bishop Haller from Chris Cheatum

Dear Bishop Haller,

I am writing because on Holy Thursday you informed the Rev. Anna Blaedel that you have decided to engage in the formal complaint process because someone has complained that Anna is a beloved child of God beautifully created as a self-avowed and practicing homosexual. I fear that you want to deflect responsibility for this complaint, deny your authority to reject it, and claim status as a victim of a flawed and broken system. Nevertheless, you are the only one with any real power in this system, and I am calling on you to exercise that power in the cause of justice whatever the cost to you, as that is the righteousness to which Jesus has called you.

In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders brought a complaint that he had violated God’s law by being exactly who God created him to be. They brought this complaint to Pilate, the local institutional leader, who was the only one with the authority to respond to the complaint. Pilate made every effort to try to resolve the complaint quietly, but the religious leaders and the crowds that they had incited against Jesus pressured Pilate to crucify Jesus. Pilate had options. Pilate could have ignored the leaders, rejected the complaint, and released Jesus, but Pilate feared what consequences would come to him and sought to create the appearance of unity. So, Pilate followed the complaint process to its natural conclusion and attempted to wash his hands of the outcome.

Now, you sit in Pilate’s place. Religious leaders have brought a complaint against Rev. Anna Blaedel for being exactly who God has created them to be. You claim that you have no control over what complaints come to you and that you have to engage those complaints when they come. That, however, is an effort to deny the real power that you have in this situation. You have the power to reject this complaint as an unjust exercise of discrimination against one of God’s beloved children. That choice comes with considerable personal risk, as the religious leaders are then likely to make a complaint against you. Nevertheless, I would remind you that in both the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke Jesus said that, “Whoever would save their life shall lose it, and whoever would lose their life for my sake shall save it.” Which choice will you make? Will you protect yourself, your power, and your position, or will you use your power to protect the one being persecuted unjustly?

In every annual conference, the Bishop receives many complaints about pastors and chooses to ignore most of them. That decision is often easy because the Bishop knows that the complaint is frivolous and that the complainant is unlikely to pursue it further even if the Bishop ignores it. Though it is unlikely that this complainant will let this complaint go so easily, you still have the option to choose to reject the complaint as frivolous. What you cannot do is remain neutral, and there are no choices without risk. If you choose to reject the complaint, then the complainant may bring charges against you, and you will then have to stand in defense of God’s justice. If you allow the complaint to continue, then you are responsible for the violence, both spiritual and physical, that results. You will be culpable in the deaths of countless gay people, and you cannot just wash your hands of their blood.

So, Pilate, here you stand with a child of God before you. You are uniquely positioned with the power and authority to act on behalf of God’s justice in this situation. What will you do? Let me urge you to remember the baptismal covenant in which you “accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” Let me remind you that with great power comes great responsibility. You accepted the call to episcopal leadership. You cannot now deny the power and authority that come with that position. Being neutral is not an option. You must make a choice. Will you save yourself and preserve your own power or choose to take on the risk that queer people cannot choose to escape, to protect a beloved child of God who is being persecuted? May the Holy Spirit work within you that you may hear God’s call to justice.

In the peace and love of Jesus,
Christopher M. Cheatum
Lay Leader - St. Mark’s UMC
Board President -Wesley Center at the University of Iowa