South Central Jurisdiction Bishops Max Whitfield (left) of Albuquerque, NM, and Earl Bledsoe of Dallas discuss the proposed UMC restructure during the Fall 2011 Council of Bishops' meeting. Bishop Bledsoe is now embroiled in a personnel dispute.
UPDATED 6-8-2012: The North Texas Annual Conference has posted an interview with Bishop Earl Bledsoe expanding upon his remarks June 5 in which he promised to "fight like the devil" to retain his episcopal office.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Rebekah Miles, who teaches United Methodist polity at Perkins School of Theology, has posted a text transcript of the bishop's remarks on her Facebook page, and an audio of the bishop's remarks on her blog.
In addition, Dr. Miles responded to a Facebook discussion about how the United Methodist Book of Discipline might pertain to Bishop Bledsoe's situation: "The Book of Discipline paragraph 408 lays out the differences between voluntary retirement (408.2), involuntary retirement (408.3), and resignation (408.4). [The late Rev. Ed] Paup resigned (by submitting a letter to the Council of Bishops) and then was no longer a bishop. His conference membership as an itinerant elder returned to the Rocky Mountain Conference. Other relevant paragraphs are in this general section. 406 is about the assignment of bishops. 413 is about the complaint process."
The day after Dallas Area Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe announced he would "fight like the devil" to keep his episcopal office, pundits' analyses and prayer requests from and for the North Texas Annual Conference filled online blogs, Facebook, Twitter and email.
Speaking with the United Methodist Reporter, immediate past conference lay leader Richard Hearne expanded upon the comments that he gave originally to United Methodist Insight at the June 5 adjournment of the North Texas Conference.
Hearne told the Reporter that he thought Bishop Bledsoe had taken his account regarding a racism comment out of context. Hearne cited widespread discontent with the bishop's leadership among North Texas clergy, adding that he thought the bishop had great respect from laypeople. Hearne also emphasized again that with the exception of "one old redneck in his 80s," none of the complaints from clergy or a few laity about Bishop Bledsoe's performance were racial in context.
“This is not a race issue,” Mr. Hearne was quoted by the Reporter. “It’s being made a race issue by some.”
The Reporter article also quotes two key political players in the North Texas Conference:
- The Rev. Jeremiah Booker, senior pastor of Hamilton Park UMC, Dallas, and chair of North Texas Black Methodists for Church Renewal, on black leaders' push to have Bishop Bledsoe disclose the circumstances of his retirement announcement;
- The Rev. Don Underwood, senior pastor of Christ UMC, Plano, and a member of the South Central Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee, who said he thought the bishop's public disclosure of his negative performance review and the allegation of racism as a motivating factor was "divisive" for the conference.
Restraint counseled in 'volatile situation'
On Facebook, the Rev. Rebekah Miles counseled her Perkins School of Theology students to avoid making any public comments about the Bledsoe situation. Dr. Miles teaches United Methodist polity at the seminary.
Dr. Miles also asked if anyone had recorded Bishop Bledsoe's remarks so that he could be heard speaking for himself, as opposed to being quoted in news articles. She commented that if a recording emerged, she would post it on Facebook for public use.
Other clergy also counseled restraint in rushing to judgment, especially through public comments, about the situation. One Facebook commenter suggested the need for face-to-face meetings around the North Texas Conference to process Bishop Bledsoe's actions and their implications for annual conference relationships.
Also on Facebook, various clergy and laypeople around North Texas posted requests for prayers for the conference, Bishop Bledsoe and his family. Affirmations of prayer came from around the United States and from Canada and Great Britain.
Deep pain and hurt
The Rev. Christy Thomas, pastor of Krum First UMC who posted her own long-distance reactions from England where she is on sabbatical leave, also published an exchange between her and a sister clergywoman, the Rev. Nancy DeStefano, pastor of Blue Mound UMC. Rev. Thomas said Rev. DeStefano gave permission for their private conversation to be published.
Rev. DeStefano writes of Rev. Thomas' blog:
I see much I can agree with in what you say and at the same time I see it differently too.
I see a man – who often I have not agreed with – who is in deep pain – hurt like many of us have been hurt when we have poured ourselves out to congregations who have not wanted us no matter what we do or how hard we work just because they don’t like where we think they should go or because we are a female or liberal or of color. He listened for three days to people tell him thank you – you’ve been a great bishop – you’ve done so much, we are so grateful all the while that stinging phone call – “they don’t want you – nobody wants you” – is ringing in his head.
To believe in one’s work – to want to continue doing it – to decide to live another day – that’s something all of us who are pastors should get. To believe I have a call and powers outside of me and my understanding are trying to take it away – I get that and so I can feel with Bishop Bledsoe at least something of what he feels.
When a few in my first appointment didn’t want me because I am female and worked for four years to undermine me and get me out it hurt – and if there were other things I did wrong not one of those people who sought my departure bothered to sit down with me and tell me. Why – because then I might have stayed longer and that was not their agenda.
I can only speak for myself – but I did not share with Bishop Bledsoe my concerns and differences with him – I kept it to myself or talked with others of like mind – I am as in need of humility and reconciliation as anyone.
I can excuse myself that I have no power and he has it all – and if I am not careful I’ll be out of a job – but that is not what Jesus calls me to do – he doesn’t say those with power do the right thing and the rest of you are excused.
Perhaps by his staying we can all try to get it right. Maybe we will, maybe we won’t -- I can only work on me and that is what this whole thing has taught me – again – I seem to have to learn this lesson over and over – I have power over what I do and say and if I would just work on that the kingdom would be served.
There has been much damage done and there is much repair work needed – enough to go around – I pray all will drink deeply from the waters of our baptism and find within the strength to do the work of repair and reconciliation that alone can lead to life renewed a re- empowered with the Spirit.
One last thought that is something I have been stewing over for days. It cones after experiencing General Conference and the aftermath of responses by many who were there. That saying – “speak the truth in love” – I now hate that saying – who’s truth am I speaking? It surely is not THE truth – I sure don’t have that – it is my partial -sometimes sinful – sometimes myopic -sometimes selfish – sometimes dead wrong – truth that I want to shove down others’ throats – that I must speak – — but then the second part – in love – too often when I am so convinced that my truth is THE truth and all should see it MY way – it’s more with a sledgehammer than love that I speak it – and for that I must say mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. (Latin for "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault").
Rev. Thomas replied:
Here’s my take on speaking the truth in love–that verse comes from Ephesians 4 as part of a long, long, complex sentence that in Greek really has no way to diagram it–and I finally decided it was real inspiration because we can only speak truth in love when we are inextricably connected with the rest of the body of Christ, giving what we have and receiving what we need. The moment our truth (and it is our truth–always partial, always prejudiced) is spoken and done so as a separating statement, we have crossed over a line and moved to damage.
I do believe the Bishop could have spoken his truth in a reconciling, connected way last night, but he chose to separate and to separate in the most damaging way possible by tossing in that comment about race. This conference has intentionally sought out black bishops and supported, encouraged, and loved black leadership. I fear that this was a proverbial straw, or he crossed the Rubicon, or whatever cliche works here.
Even so, we as a Conference must be active reconcilers here, looking to ourselves and acknowledging our sin–and that is what you have so eloquently written.