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Bishop Earl BledsoeBishop W. Earl Bledsoe
Bishop Earl Bledsoe
Scandal rocked the final moments of one of the most politically powerful U.S. annual conferences June 5 when its bishop rescinded his announced early retirement by implying that racism played a role in forcing his departure.
After playing major roles a month earlier at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference, North Texas Annual Conference leaders were thrown into chaos June 5 when first-term Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe told a stunned gathering that he had decided against early retirement. Five days earlier, Bishop Bledsoe had shocked the Dallas-based conference by announcing via videotape his intention to retire after only one episcopal term.
As his wife Leslie stood wiping away tears behind him, Bishop Bledsoe broke the confidentiality of the United Methodist personnel process to reveal the reasons behind his retirement. His remarks came at the behest of North Texas black church leaders, who had submitted a resolution the previous day asking him to stay.
"Two weeks ago I was called before the [South Central] Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee and told that North Texas didn't want me back," the bishop said. "Not only that, the jurisdictional committee told me that because of the North Texas report of my ineffectiveness, none of the other regions wanted me, either.
"I asked what my options were, and the committee told me I could take voluntary early retirement, or they would retire me involuntarily."
Bishop Bledsoe then said that despite both his performance report and his previously announced retirement, he had decided to remain an active bishop. He cited 16 new church starts, increased worship attendance over the past two years and "having treated you fairly" as evidence of his effectiveness as an episcopal leader.
As he prepared to dismiss the gathering with a benediction, the bishop dropped a further bombshell, "because it hurts," he said.
"I was told that someone had asked when North Texas would get a white bishop," said Bishop Bledsoe, who is black.
"I don't know who poisoned the well, but I'm not going out like that," the bishop declared to whoops and applause from black clergy and lay members, while the rest of the conference stood in shocked silence.
As soon as the meeting adjourned, a knot of clergy and laypeople gathered around Richard Hearne of Dallas, the outgoing conference lay leader known for his outspoken challenges to North Texas laity.
"I'm telling you something as a member of the press," Hearne told this reporter. "I'm the one who told the bishop that someone had asked me when North Texas would get a white bishop again. And I told the bishop that I responded to that person that he [Bledsoe] was my bishop and I supported him, and that I wouldn't get into that kind of talk."