UMNS Photo by Holly McCray, Oklahoma Conference
Update: The Judicial Council, The United Methodist Church’s top court, has scheduled a special session Nov. 9-11 to consider the appeal of Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe concerning his involuntary retirement as an active bishop. The location is still to be confirmed.
Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe is appealing to the Judicial Council, The United Methodist Church’s top court, in an effort to overturn his involuntary retirement as an active bishop.
“Bishop Bledsoe has not been accused of or charged with any chargeable offense under The (Book of) Discipline, nor have any formal written complaints been filed or processed against him,” said the appeal filed by Jon R. Gray, a retired judge in the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit of Missouri and former Judicial Council member.
“There are no administrative or judicial actions pending,” the appeal continued. “He is not under suspension.”
The appeal contends that the vote by the South Central Jurisdiction’s episcopacy committee and later an affirmation by the jurisdictional conference delegates to remove Bledsoe used a provision in church law that violates multiple parts of the denomination’s constitution. The appeal also says Bledsoe’s forced retirement infringes on other aspects of church law.
Paragraph 408.3 of the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, says that a jurisdictional episcopacy committee, by a two-thirds vote, can place a bishop “in retired relation” if the committee finds it “to be in the best interests of the bishop and/or the Church.”
General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, this year added a sentence to the provision that said the committee would need to report clearly its reason for its decision to the jurisdictional conference. The change took effect immediately.
A variation of this provision for jurisdictional episcopacy committees has existed since the 1976 Book of Discipline.
However, longtime church observers know of no other case before this one in which an episcopacy committee actually used the measure to retire a bishop against that bishop’s desires.
Don House, the episcopacy committee’s chair, said on July 26 that he was open to the appeal.
“The arguments presented in the appeal largely address questions of constitutionality and the relevance of specific disciplinary paragraphs,” he said. “Judicial Council responses to these arguments will offer much-needed clarity.”
Bledsoe, 61, and in his first term as bishop, has led the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference. He was the first bishop elected during the 2008 South Central Jurisdictional Conference.
The appeal is seeking the Judicial Council’s declaration that Paragraph 408.3 is unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable. It also seeks a declaration that the South Central Jurisdiction episcopacy committee “failed to follow a fair practice in its action to involuntarily retire Bishop Bledsoe.”