This open letter is written by a group of Young United Methodist Clergywomen (under 40). We invited all United Methodists to sign this letter and received 760 signatures. We composed this letter because we are outraged by the lack of justice reached in the matter of repeated abuse of women by Rev. Bud Heckman of the West Ohio Annual Conference. If you are unfamiliar with this case of clergy misconduct and the resolution reached, we invite you to read these articles.
An Open Letter To the Cabinet, the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Clergy Session of the West Ohio Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church:
We are writing this letter because we are outraged by the resolution reached by the West Ohio Conference, its bishop, and the Rev. Bud Heckman. We are writing this letter because we believe the many women who have come forward disclosing that they were harassed, preyed on, abused and harmed by Mr. Heckman. We are writing this letter because the survivors of Heckman’s abuse have asked for our support, and we give it unreservedly.
It is clear that there is no justice in this resolution. We are shocked that the church would stand by Heckman’s maintaining of clergy credentials. We agree with what Bishop Palmer said, “There is no excuse” for his choice to target women, his choice to act as a predatory abuser, and his ability to hide behind his professional credentials to shield him from accountability. This resolution sends a painful and clear message to other victims of abuse: they will not be heard, seen, or believed in the West Ohio Conference, or The United Methodist Church. It sends a message to people who abuse their power that the West Ohio Conference will aid in helping to minimize, silence, justify, and excuse their abuses. It sends a devaluing message far beyond the borders of West Ohio and to victims of abuse in the entire connection.
The women he harmed, and their advocates, were kept from having their voices heard in this resolution process. This process was done behind doors that closed out the expressions of pain, violation, and loss that the women felt. Heckman was allowed to shape his own consequences, once again using his clergy status and access to power as a shield from true accountability. This process was not just because those who have been hurt were not heard and taken seriously. This is egregiously wrong. The New York Times, which heard from these women even when the church did not, quotes one survivor, Megan Anderson, as saying, “He’s getting a slap on the hand. It leaves victims out of the picture.” Their fury is justified and we share their sense that injustice has happened here.
We who are clergy seek to use any power that comes from our positions alongside those who have less institutional power, including lay women like those whom Heckman harassed. We who are women, clergy or lay, know all too well the sexual harassment and microaggressions all women in the church endure, whatever their age and whatever their clergy or lay status. We cannot stand by when women are harmed by someone who is a part of our clergy covenant and is not held accountable for his actions. The fact that Heckman maintains his clergy credentials means he suffers very little for his abominable and predatory behavior and he will continue to benefit and maintain status in The United Methodist Church. It is not only parishioners in a local church who need to be kept safe from him, it is all women.
We believe that the resolution reached by the West Ohio Conference, Bishop Palmer, Mr. Heckman, and their counsels without the input of the women Heckman has harmed, allows for continued harassment. We are also aware that allegations against Mr. Heckman date back years, including a criminal harassment charge in 2012, of which the bishop was aware at the time. This shows a clear pattern of behavior on Heckman’s part and a clear pattern of excusing that behavior on the part of the church. What assurance do any of us have that this behavior will not continue? What assurance do we have that other instances of abuse, especially in West Ohio, will be taken seriously? The fact that Mr. Heckman retains his clergy credentials communicates that the United Methodist Church approves of him as a faith leader. This kind of complicity devalues the orders of all fellow United Methodist clergypersons who exercise their God-given authority with integrity.
We write this letter to you because you are Heckman’s closest clergy siblings and his accountability partners. We are seeking justice for the women Heckman has harmed and protection for other women he will come in contact with while retaining his status as an ordained United Methodist clergyperson. We see that you are the groups of people who may be most able to advocate for the survivors of Heckman’s abuse. While we do not believe this resolution brought justice to the women, it was a binding resolution with specific conditions. In continuing to deny the harm he caused, Heckman has violated the resolution. This allows the opportunity for the process to be revisited.
Specifically, we ask
1) that this matter be reopened and Heckman’s clergy credentials revoked, given that he has violated the terms of the resolution in his statements to the press.
2) that you insist that the survivors of Heckman’s abuse who have come forward will be invited to share their complaints and experiences and be received with empathy. We suggest the cabinet, all persons involved in the resolution, and the West Ohio Committee on the Episcopacy be the proper audience for such stories, especially given that their harm now comes not only through Heckman but also through the church. You can do this through their advocates, Cassandra Lawerence and Kevin Nelson. They will be able to help you listen to these brave women in a format they are seeking.
3) That this letter be included in the official report of the Board of Ordained Ministry to this year’s West Ohio Annual Conference.
We echo the statement Laura Heckman, Mr. Heckman’s ex-wife, gave to The New York Times, “What I hoped was that the church would take a stand and be an advocate for women, to demonstrate that they are honored and protected.” We, too, hope that these women, who are but a small part of the women who are harassed in our churches every day, will be honored and protected.
The Concerned United Methodist Clergywomen Listed Below
And Other Concerned United Methodists Across the Connection