UMNS Photo by Mike DuBose
The agency charged with monitoring racial matters in The United Methodist Church is expressing concern prompted by the situation involving Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe, an African-American bishop who says he is being pressured to retire.
The United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race said that Bledsoe, who oversees the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference, is not making an allegation of racial discrimination, and thus the agency will not pursue the matter on his behalf.
According to previous accounts by United Methodist Insight, this GCORR report conflicts with those of African American leaders in the North Texas Annual Conference, who have contended that race is a factor in Bishop Bledsoe's negative performance review. The report also conflicts with Bishop Bledsoe's remarks at the close of the conference's 2012 session on June 6, when he reported that a question of "when will we get a white bishop" played a role in his decision to fight for his office.
However, the commission said in an open letter to top agency executives that Bledsoe’s case raises “several denominational issues” that the commission must address. The commission’s letter was signed by Erin Hawkins, the commission’s top executive; Wisconsin Area Bishop Linda Lee, its president; and Phoenix Area Bishop Minerva Carcaño, its vice president.
The issues include the question of whether clergy at all levels of the church receive evaluations under “rigorous, consistent and commonly understood policies and processes,” the commission’s letter said.
The United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race said that Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe, who oversees the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference, is not making an allegation of racial discrimination, and thus the agency will not pursue the matter on his behalf.
“Weaknesses in the system of evaluation can potentially make all clergy leaders regardless of race or ethnicity, gender, age or cultural group vulnerable to inequitable or discriminatory behavior and the church to legal action,” said the letter.
Bledsoe, 61 and in his fourth year as bishop, initially announced plans to retire in a video on June 1. Days later, during the North Texas annual gathering, leaders of the conference’s black caucuses introduced a resolution asking Bledsoe to reconsider.
On June 5, Bledsoe surprised many of the clergy and lay people gathered at the conference session when he declared that he was being forced out and he planned to fight. He said he made his decision after prayer and seeing the conference’s positive statistical data, which included a second consecutive year of increased worship attendance.
Late on June 8, the chair of the South Central Jurisdictional Committee on the Episcopacy, which oversees Bledsoe, released a statement explaining why the panel asked Bledsoe to retire early.