Is There One Righteous Bishop in The United Methodist Church?

Is there one righteous Bishop in The United Methodist Church?  This would be akin to Abraham asking if there were 50 righteous men in Sodom.  I am just asking for one.

I ask for just one righteous Bishop to stand up and say,

This is wrong.  All of our colleagues who are in covenant relationship with us as Bishops have just lost their guaranteed appointments, while I am a Bishop for life with a great salary and nice retirement and financial security for self and family.  

Those colleagues, whose lives are in my hands, may, at my nearly unaccountable discretion, lose appointments, housing, health insurance, and pension contributions.  I will never be threatened with such a loss, but I can freely threaten others with this.  

Jesus said, “The First Shall be Last.”  I know  I am first here.  Therefore as one who has dedicated my life to the highest ideals of following Jesus, I must now place myself last.  I vow to serve eight years only as Bishop. After that time, I shall return to the ranks as Elders to be appointed, nor appointed, at the pleasure of the Bishop of the Annual Conference where I am located. Should such Bishop be willing to appoint me, I request to be sent to the least of the churches in that Annual Conference.

 I say this is the name of righteousness and justice. To do otherwise makes me the greatest of hypocrites, deserving of the condemnation both of God and of my brother and sisters in clergy covenant with me.

Will even one have the moral integrity to do this?  Just one?  I seriously doubt it.  The heavens are weeping today.

35 thoughts on “Is There One Righteous Bishop in The United Methodist Church?

    • And today, Bishop Bledsoe, armed with lawyers and counsel, something he denied his clergy in our conference as he sought to move them out, fights to stay as our Bishop, despite significant evidence of his ineffectiveness.

  1. Somehow I just found your entry today–well after being a delegate to General Conference and hearing now of the ‘issue’ that may allow the claim on appt. to stand. What I have also found disturbing is the way the language has changed, at least in our conference. It has gone from ineffectiveness to missional appointments. A direct quote is, ‘this is not about ineffective pastors, it is about missional needs of the local church and the freedom to appoint pastors in that way.” Any questions were met with the retort that no one who is “in it for the job’ should be in ministry–its all about the call.
    The logical fallacy in that is that call is not the criteria-nor is it the nebulous ‘effectivness’. The way I shared it with one person a missional reason could be compared to a man who looks at his wife of 20 years and says, “When the mission was to raise our children well and have a home you were just fine. Now however the mission has changed so while you have done nothing wrong, I’m getting a different model wife for this stage of mission.”
    It is a breaking of covenant-which we know has bloody consequences.
    It will silence the prophetic voices that are left (if there are many since churches know they blackmail the cabinet via apportionment payout)
    And it is unconscionable to continue to require everything of clergy with no concessions as we are to take a Godly vocation and cram it in a corporate model size hole–leaving us less than whole; as clergy, as communities of faith, and as the Church.

    • Robin, your analogy about the “missional wife” is quite powerful and sheds even more light on the situation. My confidence in God says that this is a redeemable situation that will bring growth to the kingdom of heaven. My awareness of the brokenness of the system and the push for survival at all costs leads to the conclusion that we are going to be walking through serious fires here.

  2. Thank you all for your thoughtful responses. As I read them, I wondered what precisely determines an ‘ineffective pastor’? Is it one who cannot get the congregation to pay its apportioned giving in full? Is it one with a declining membership? Is it one with a declining worship attendance? Is it one who doesn’t ‘do the dashboard’? It is one who ‘grieves the Bishop’s spirit’ by asking questions like I’m doing now? I’d like to think that our Bishops will use this new found power justly. I truly would….

    • Dear Mike,

      I’m asking all the same questions you are asking–and I’m asking them opening in what is a fearful atmosphere right now for us in the North Texas Conference. A bundle of clergy have thanked me privately for having the courage to speak out about these things. I find it truly sad that they have to offer their support privately. This is just wrong.

      If I get a retributive move (or put on forced transitional leave) by my openness and willingness to challenge the Bishop on these and other issues, the UM world will hear about it. Yes, I’ll pay a price. But someone must speak out about what is happening.

      Blessings on you and your ministry.

      Christy **

      • The most common commandment in the Bible is to ‘fear not’/ ‘do not be afraid’. I keep reminding myself of those commandments as I shudder to recall the historical events in Christendom that really have put the ‘fear not’ commandment to the test.
        Having stated that, I really do trust my current Bishop. However, Bishops do move and I hope to be an active part of the order for the next 10 to 15 years before I retire. Inasmuch, I choose to face the future unafraid. Even though speaking out can be risky, I pray that I’ll have the courage to do so not only for the time of my active service, but also to stand up and speak plainly when there appears to be an injustice anytime I perceive it. As I do so, I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 12- regarding the body of Christ metaphor culminating with (26) ‘…if one member suffers, all suffer together with it’. May we have the courage to stand as the body, anytime one of our sisters or brothers suffers….remembering that Paul also instructed us to do so with a love described in 1 Corinthians 13.
        That is why, Thoughtful Pastor, what you provide in this venue is important.

        May God richly bless you and all who comment as all are a blessing!

        Mike

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  4. What do I think? I don’t know WHAT TO THINK. I’m frightened. I don’ t like what I see and hear. I’ve been a Methodist all my life, practically, and a member of my local congregation for nearly 20 years and I’m feeling queezy about my church’s refusal to come into the 21st century and also the idea of maybe losing our beloved pastor because some bishop says, “Pick up everything you love and have established and leave behind anger, hurt and frustration in your flock because, even though I don’t know you well, nor your circumstances, I have decided to control your life and perhaps ruin it.” All this with no justification at all. Just ego, pride and hubris. This is not what I have always believed my church to be…..what’s happening to it, anyway? As I say, I’m frightened. I don’t like being frightened in my own church. I see many pastors thinking about whether or not to stay with the church they love – it hurts too much.

    • Thank you for expressing this fear. I suspect you write what many think: what is going to happen if an arbitrary Bishop (and we do have them) goes wild with this new power. There are some checks and balances built into the legislation, but it was intended to be perfected on the Conference floor, and that never happened. It’s going to be a fascinating ride.

      *The Rev. Dr. Christy Thomas* *940-220-4152* *The Krum Church* *”Thoughtful Pastor” Blog* * **Follow me on Twitter * **

  5. Is it really so out of bounds for a bishop, with more responsibilities and burdens, to also have a greater degree of trust and freedom within the system? I can see a call to make bishops, active and retired, more accountable, but the move to limit their tenure makes less sense to me. It seems more of a tit-for-tat, revenge move on the part of anxious and angry clergy. The end of the guaranteed appointment will help the bishops do what we ask them to do: lead the church.

    • Not being a Methodist, I will comment on this as an outsider. Seems to me that when you give absolute power, then you have done just that. You no longer have an out as they say. Without limits then those in power can control everything. In other words one bad apple can mess up the whole barrel. And yes bad apples are out there. You say the end of the guaranteed appointment will help the bishops do their jobs. What about them? Don’t they need to be held accountable to someone? As for the clergy in general, I wonder how can one say what is effective and what is not? Is the church about money or about spreading the good news? Hard questions and a fine line to walk. You continue to ask clergy to give all and let the church take care of them, and now you say wait a minute you are on the chopping block if you don’t produce. Double standard here. Jesus didn’t do this. He offered and if accepted he entered, if rejected he brushed the dirt off his feet and then moved on. Yes churches should be financially sound, but that isn’t always the case even in churches that are sound regarding love of God and each other. Will they work? If God wants them to and they listen to his voice then yes. The problem comes when men take things into their own hands instead of listening to God’s voice.
      OK enough said. Final statement. Bishops should not have absolute power because it corrupts absolutely. Limit them so that mistakes can be corrected if and when they are made. Man is not perfect only God is.

    • If giving bishops tenure for life frees them to lead the church, then doesn’t a “guaranteed appointment” do the same for clergy in the local church?

      And if it’s a tit-for-tat revenge move to “un-tenure” bishops, then shouldn’t we admit that the removal of guaranteed appointments for clergy amounts to a little more than a scapegoating of clergy for the church’s failure?

      It is not revenge to ask for “non-guaranteed” episcopal tenures, it is simply a request that everyone within the order of elders be held accountable the same.

    • At this point, Bishops, who have the same ordination as all other clergy and are elected Bishops, not ordained Bishops, have set themselves up as a special elite, exempt from the usual rules. They are acting much like our Congressmen, happily making rules for others and voting special exemptions for themselves–and I don’t see how this kind of leadership has a place in an organization that purports to live by Kingdom of Heaven principles.

      Are some clergy anxious and angry? Sure. Our work is nearly impossible, and pressure comes both ways, from our congregations and from the Cabinet. But our Bishops carry a shepherd’s crook, and there are responsibilities to care for their flock (the clergy in their AC’s) that I don’t see happening. That needs to change for trust to be rebuilt.

      • Throughout the history of the church, bishops have indeed been an “elite, exempt from the usual rules.” In military circles, generals can usually do things that Sergeants cannot.

        In an ideal world, bishops would be doing more pastoring of the pastors, but unfortunately they spend so much time troubleshooting the problem-children of the clergy that there is little time left over for hand-holding. If you haven’t met the ineffective and incompetent clergy that this change is designed to address, then I want to be in your AC, because I have seen plenty of them. The hyperbole of the original post is rather astounding. The heavens are not weeping. No great injustice has been done. A vote was taken, by laity and clergy. How many of our parishioners have a guaranteed job, in any field? Why should we set ourselves up as a “special elite” that have one?

        Bishops may not be, in our system, another order of ministry. Yes, they are elders. But read the history. Our church has operated quite well under rather authoritative folks who claimed many special privileges for themselves, namely John Wesley and Francis Asbury. Our modern bishops have nowhere near their authority and frankly, that is probably part of the problem. The heavens are not weeping; or, if they are, it is because we are too concerned about our own jobs and the manufactured injustices visited upon us as clergy, while we are content to let our neighbors suffer in the vast spiritual wasteland that is 21st century America. Our calling is above all of this.

        • I’ve read our history and Bishops haven’t always been exempt – take the case of Bishop Simpson, who in 1844 was told by a vote of the General Conference of the Methodist Church to sell his slaves.

          As for “manufactured injustices” – I share Christ everyday with people who have suffered the “manufactured injustices” of living unemployed, underpaid, and underfed, and I have learned that an injustice by any label is still an injustice that no one deserves to suffer.

          How can the church address this “spiritual wasteland” if we call good the poor ways of the world that created it? Why should the church embrace the “you’re fired” model of American corporate accountability, when Jesus has given us a model of accountability in Matthew 18? If our ministry is to have the “mind of Christ,” then should not Bishops be held to the same sorts of accountabilities as Elders? Is not the greatest among us to be the servant of all?

          Vision should not be confused with autocracy, and a visionary that is held to different level of accountability than those that visionary leads and serves, is in grave danger of becoming a soul that manufactures injustice.

        • Thank you, Skip. You’ve said this far better than I. The church MUST operate out of kingdom of heaven principles, not those of the world that seek to kill and destroy.

  6. Here’s a fun fact: One of our predecessor denominations, the United Brethren Church, elected bishops to four years terms. On occasion, a Bishop was not re-elected to another term. I believe one of those bishops might have been Jacob Erb, who was appointed to serve my current appointment from 1864-1866.

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  8. I will say, up front, that I was raised in the Methodist Church as a young person but I have not been a consistent church-goer as an adult. I do not understand what happened at the GC that has everyone so upset but without knowing I can tell it sounds like it involves “politics”. This sort of thing has gone on forever. I have heard it said, that today many people have left their churches but they haven’t left their religious beliefs regardless of denomination. I think you speak of the very reasons for this trend away from organized religions. It is because of the fallibility of man that has disclosed the weaknesses within all organized religions.

  9. In a time where I have been told that the most bold and prophetic voices must be heard; when the local church must be led to a vital witness and help in the transformation of the world; as we seek to make all kinds of adaptive change–how will the Bishops really know if we are ineffective clergy or simply making the laity really angry? Especially in a system that has too often rewarded sinful and unrepentant congregations who withhold money and tear the pastors to pieces with another pastor?

  10. I’m also not a Methodist, but was raised Catholic. It seems to me that no matter the organization that those in power are the ones that hold all the cards so to speak. And I will go out on a limb and say that absolute power corrpurpts absolutely. I will definitely be keeping all in prayer on this latest issue. I would ask a couple of questions. How does one get to be a Bishop? Is this political? And who does the Bishop answer to?

  11. I am just a plain ‘ole everyday Sunday-goin’-to-church type person, not a clergy member or anything like that who joined the Methodist church 2 years ago. All this doesn’t feel safe and secure to me. It makes me wonder what I’m into. Will it turn out that I should stay? What part do I play? Do I have a say? Do the Bishops stop to pray before they lay down the law? And if they do, is it a two-way conversation?

    • Excellent question! Is it a two way conversation? It has not been much of one to this point: clergy go where they are told, and trust that the Bishop and Appointive Cabinet have made that decision prayerfully. The problem now is that trust has been significantly broken because those who make the rules don’t have to abide by them. And that’s a problem.

      *The Rev. Dr. Christy Thomas* *940-220-4152* *The Krum Church* *”Thoughtful Pastor” Blog* * **Follow me on Twitter * **

  12. I am puzzled about the idea of a bishop returning to the ranks of Elders. I remember being taught that the bishops are not in a separate order. They are an Elder among Elders. Was I wrong in my thinking? If that is in fact the case, I am even more saddened that an elder in covenant with me would be so careless about my future appointments while being secure in the knowledge they cannot be touched.

    • Judi, I think you are exactly right–there is not a special order of Bishops, or a different ordination. But they get to be Bishops for life, with all the privileges and guarantees that go along with it. Just plain smelly to me.

      *The Rev. Dr. Christy Thomas* *940-220-4152* *The Krum Church* *”Thoughtful Pastor” Blog* * **Follow me on Twitter * **

    • Yes, I believe you are right. But I am asking one to stand up in light of what just happened at GC as a stance for justice in light of injustice, not a decision made before this.

      *The Rev. Dr. Christy Thomas* *940-220-4152* *The Krum Church* *”Thoughtful Pastor” Blog* * **Follow me on Twitter * **

  13. Amen and amen and amen. Thank you for posting what so many of us are weeping about. Particularly, I believe, Jesus is weeping.

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