Fight Like the Devil and The North Texas Annual Conference at a Distance

I had been formally excused from attendance at the North Texas Annual Conference this year because of my sabbatical leave, but decided to watch as much of it as I could by livestream and to keep up otherwise by twitter and blog posts.

Powerful reports filtered in of great worship, strong youth leadership, renewed energy, hope, connection and collegiality.  The Nehemiah team did a great job presenting options for new delivery models as they held to the essential mission of the Annual Conference.  Church plants are adding many new people to worship and the reports about Owen Ross and the Christ Foundry brought tears of joy to my eyes. The Connections Band brings both great music and hope of life to thousands. Larry George’s strong call to no longer normalize poverty had the twitter feed active and clearly touched by that.

Because of the time difference (I am six hours ahead), I was not able to see the ordination service, but again, the comments suggested an electrifying and powerful evening.  I read the sermon and appreciated it, although I have one concern.  There is a vital point I think Rev. Baughman missed and I also think, at the end, the Bishop missed.  In Acts 2, after Peter’s speech that convicted so many of their need to turn to God, he says to them, “Repent and be baptized.’

Baughman said, “Peter’s prescription is water.”  No, Peter’s prescription is repentance.  The water to end the drought is the result of repentance.

Repentance, metanoia, is the deep and profound turning from darkness to light, and a turning that always, always, always, leads to huge humility. When we turn from darkness to the light, all of our sin is exposed.  Hubris no longer has a place, for we suddenly see ourselves as God sees us, fully in need of the covering of grace. Our proper response: fall on our knees before God with these words, “Have mercy upon me, a sinner.”

That is what didn’t happen, but could have.

I decided to sacrifice sleep on June 5 and go ahead and stay up for the reading of the appointments and the final comments by the Bishop.  I heard him preach a powerful sermon from Mark 5 about the demon-possessed man set free by Jesus and then told to do this:  “Go home to your own people. Tell them your story – what the Master did, how he had mercy on you.”

I thought, “What a great segue into his good-bye to this Conference as Bishop–he too, will be going home to tell his story.  He will have been set free and will set us free to go forward as a Conference.”

How wrong I was.

Instead, I learned with dismay that the man who is the spiritual leader of 160,000 United Methodists in North Texas intends to fight like the devil to keep his position.

How does the devil fight?  With craftiness, by inserting doubt about the goodness of God, by inviting others to embellish the truth in order to justify themselves, and by encouraging the compromise of long term holiness and  joy for short term gain and profit.

What did our Bishop do?  First, his put his sweet wife and her grief fully on display–leaving her unattended to weep openly in full view of the camera.  So like the first man–let the woman take the hit.  The Bishop used a short term gain in numbers, taking credit for the hard work of others and plans that had been in operation long before his tenure began, to compromise the hope of long-term holiness.  On the basis of those short term numbers, he declared himself “effective.”

Then he played the race card, and brought unbelievable harm onto our Conference.  That is fighting like the devil, indeed. Do all possible to divide people on a deep level and keep them far from the hope of grace-filled reconciliation with God and with each other.  Sadly, the story of Genesis 3 was powerfully re-enacted on June 5 at the Plano Centre.

I understand that the Bishop was hurt by the poor evaluation of his tenure as Bishop.  But to turn and then intentionally hurt the Annual Conference in this way brings into question his leadership capabilities.  I believe the holy response to being hurt should have been something like, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

It appears that he has chosen hubris over humility.  That is indeed fighting like the devil–who, as Milton suggested in Paradise Lost, lives from this principle: “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven”

It is time to repent–all of us.  That is what opens the door for the Holy Spirit to enter.

Note: I have written further reflections on the situation here.  Also, the comment immediately below by Rev. Nancy DeStefano offers important insight and needs to be read.

31 thoughts on “Fight Like the Devil and The North Texas Annual Conference at a Distance

  1. Whoa! This blog looks just like my old one!

    It’s on a completely different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Great choice of colors!

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  3. Pingback: Why It Matters: The Episcopal Situation in the North Texas Conference | thoughtfulpastor

  4. I’m a reporter with the Dallas Morning News. (Longtimers around Dallas may recognize my name from when I was a reporter working on the DMN’s Religion section.) I will be writing about this issue in days to come. Anybody who wants to talk to me about it can contact me at jweiss@dallasnews.com.

    Jeffrey Weiss

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  5. Pingback: The Language of Power and Pentecost: Bishops, Clergy and Gardens | thoughtfulpastor

  6. Unfortunatly our morally corrupt society has begun to hit every denomination. There are too many running around with a huge chip on their shoulder, who take advantage of a inappropriate setting to rant of their failings in a positive tone, as if everyone else has failed. Look at our government! When will we as a society become the moral, humble and repentant servant God wants us to be? A very sad event for the UMC.

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  7. I am not taking sides with this comment. Is there some irony in this? A bishop has not been assigned to a new appointment due to being deemed ineffective. Does this indicate the future for pastors with the same problem?

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  8. I appreciate all these comments and reflections on yesterday’s events.
    As a lay minister who works with youth and young adults, I spend a lot of time trying to get past inflammatory language and get down to what’s really at stake. So, I would like to encourage that we not spend too much more time on the “fight like the devil” statement.

    The simile “like the devil” is most commonly used to mean “with great speed or effort or intensity.” It is akin to “like crazy” or “like mad.” It does not imply the rationale or manner in which “the Devil” would act, e.g., with hubris, cunning, manipulation, or by skulking around in dark corners, or possessing folks. If I say “he kicked like a mule” I don’t mean “he got down on all fours and kicked only his legs into the air” or “he was so stubborn that he would rather hurt me than follow my lead.” I mean “he kicked very hard.”

    The Bishop’s use of this phrase did not seem scripted to me at all, and, therefore, I have to think that he meant it in its most common usage. It was an unfortunate choice (at least for the Bishop). It was really convenient for any of his dissenters who need a good tweet-length tag line. Clearly, your blog should reflect your interpretation of all the Bishop’s words, but for someone who knows little of all the facts (I’m talking about me here), it’s not helpful. I have too many memories of National Inquirer covers with the Devil’s face airbrushed in flames and smoke, trivializing lots of tragedies.

    I won’t pretend to know much about the facts of the debate, as all I hear is innuendo and 3rd-person (at best) hearsay. Can anyone give me a link to a descriptive list of the complaints against Bishop Bledsoe? I’d really like to learn more.

    The one thing in this post that I really doubt, is the suggestion that Leslie Bledsoe was a pawn. I believe that when the Bishop says that they talked about it and they prayed about it, that Mrs. Bledsoe has equal power in both discussion and prayer. If she was surprised by his statements or felt used, there will be no need for Bishop Norris or anyone else to intervene.

    love and prayers

    Neil

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  9. Servant leadership calls for us to put the organization above our own pride and interests. Stand there, take it and move on was probably a more courageous way to deal with the conflict. We all have personal pride, but it is seldom in the best interest of the church to fuel the fires and stir the boiling pot with accusations – from either side. Bishop Bledsoe can be proud of his contributions and respect the process without agreeing with the decision makers. Prayers for him and his family.

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  10. Is it possible that Bledsoe felt like he needed to do what he did in solidarity with the black clergy in the North Texas conference? I’m concerned that there may be a knee jerk resentment from white people at play when we talk about the “race card.” It’s obviously hurtful to be accused falsely of racism, but I’m interested in hearing the perspective of black clergy from the NT conference.

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    • Wow–what a thought. Since you’ve brought that up, it does make sense. I do wonder what that wise man of God thinks about all this. Might be helpful if he were to wade in.

      Sent from my iPad

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      • Knowing that wise soul, my guess is that he will pass on public pronouncements ….but if I had a role to play in the resolution of this, I’d certainly seek his counsel.

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        • What is the deal..people act as if he is God!! What would God say about all of the leaders in the NTC (DS as well)? Not zan holmes. That is the major problem, people worship zan instead of God! By the way you were incorrect, he did make his thoughts known, he stood in support of bledsoe.

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  11. It is a sad day for the United Methodist Church when an episcopal leader chooses to put his personal desires for vengeance/justification ahead of what is clearly in the best interest of the conference entrusted to his servant leadership. He was told he was an ineffective leader by the leaders of his conference and the Judicial Council struck down his signature issue/plan of ‘reorganization’: now he has clearly lit the tinderbox issue of race . That’s not just ineffective; that’s irresponsible. This is not about any one of us; I pray he comes to realize that and chooses to put the good of the North Texas conference ahead of his hurt feelings.

    To these unwashed, unordained and as I was told ‘uninformed’ eyes, it appears position, power, pride and ambition have, once again, begun the process of eroding the faith of the shallowly rooted and fueling the forces who will mock and deride the ‘hypocrisy’ of the Body of Christ….

    If he truly felt wronged, truly felt that he HAD been an effective leader, he could have chosen to stand and fight on THAT basis. He chose, however, to throw a red herring wrapped in an IED . It both explodes AND permanently attaches a fishy smell to the intended target(s) AND the bomb thrower.

    I am prayerful that, perhaps, Bishop Norris, Bishop Hayes or some other leader (if a leader of color is not a requisite) will prevail upon him to see the continuing damage he is doing. Otherwise, I see a split coming sooner rather than later, based on politics.

    People should know and remember that, in 2004, most of these same NTCUMC leaders Bishop Bledsoe is vilifying actively S-O-U-G-H-T NT’s first and second African American bishops. It has been a leader in appointing men and women of color to churches regardless of culture.

    This is, I believe, the kind of struggle which, on the heels of General Conference 2012, will continue to make the connection weak, outdated and irrelevant – the connectional church has become more concerned with itself than those to whom it is called to serve.

    The good news is my men’s group finished our 10 week study of the book of Daniel last night. and, as The Message transliteration so artfully puts it in Daniel 12:13:

    13 “And you? Go about your business without fretting or worrying. Relax. When it’s all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward.”

    All of y’all are in my prayers. I know you have much more ‘skin in the game’ than the laity, which is why it is important for us to speak boldly, since they cannot threaten us (oh well, other than to kick us off their cherished committees…)

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    • Don, thank you for taking the time to reply so well to this post. You have a lot of wisdom and knowledge about what is happening, and I trust your insights into the possible political ramifications of the situation. The pain level among clergy is off the charts–and was anyway before all this happened. Now . . . all we really want to do is be faithful stewards in our churches, but we may have a rogue Bishop on our hands. What a deep mess. I know only that I must stay in prayer. And I’m not blind to the fact that by speaking out so publicly, I may have put myself at major risk here. But sometimes, those risks must be taken.

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  12. You and Nancy both make some great points and have helped me try to figure out through all my shock exactly what I feel about this. My first gut reaction was that it was indeed divisive, seemingly tinged with resentment, and a sort of battle cry for what now is sure to be a bloody conference war that is bound to have jurisdictional and church wide ripple effects; just what we don’t need in the wake of a General Conference that was so “bloody.” I left after Bishops sermon because I’m going on leave of absence which has been approved and had to be at work at 6 last night. Before I left I was telling everybody how good I felt about this A.C. and others were feeling pretty good as well. I even commented to a couple of other people who were feeling good about it, “Thank God we don’t kill each other in this Conference like General Conference.” I felt like I’d been sucker punched when I looked on FB at midnight and saw the news. Part of me understands and maybe could even appreciate, somewhat, the Bishop reversing course and taking a stance. But the way he did it, the wording, the timing of it, all of it smacked of some great theatrics and drama, all of which seems such bad form, but also so out of character for this always sober and discerning Bishop. He’s never been one to show his cards and was a hard one to read, but I read this as his making a horrible choice in the way he did this, as Christy points out. He could have chosen to be reconciling and grace-filled about this decision he made. I’m terribly disappointed in the way he pulled this off–that’s the one feeling I feel about all this that I’m sure of in all my shock. I know he must hurt and feel disrespected, but here were are left, a lot of us I’m sure, feeling hurt and disrespected by him. Dear God help us and be with us and please keep us all in grace with one another as we move into the gathering storm.

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  13. Thank you for writing this post to share your observations and thoughts. I would add a special thanks for your observation about Peter’s reply to the crowds at Pentecost. That was quite helpful to me.

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  14. Social media allows for a court of public opinion, and certainly the Bishop has opened himself up to the court of public opinion. I wonder, though, what will be gained from quick evaluation and analysis of the issues before us. I think this process ahead will be a marathon, and not a quick sprint filled with sermonettes. I’m in a phase in life where I’m learning to pause and live in silence before acting (that’s what happens when you have 3 kids under four around you all day…because if you respond too quickly, you might say something you don’t mean to say.). I’m holding everyone in prayer.

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  15. Great article, and great insight. I love the part about baptism being the reward for repentance, I couldn’t agree more. The way for our Church out of drought is to repent, then God will send the rain to restore our barren land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

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  16. The following words of grace were written by Rev. Nancy DeStefano, Pastor, Blue Mound UMC. She has given me permission to post this with her name. What she writes is well worth the read:
    Well you are always a straight shooter. I am responding privately with my thoughts but you may share them if you wish. 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.

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    • 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.

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  17. A thoughtful reflection. Indeed we have been brought into a world of dismay by the bishop’s announcement. Just one feedback on the labeling of “race card”.. What I heard the bishop say of his evaluation was, “when someone says “when are we going to have a white bishop”, that hurts.” Is that playing a race card? Or is it simply reporting what was said by another person in our conference?

    If someone has abused another, does the abused person get blame for reporting what has happened? Does the abused person say nothing for fear if saying what happened would then bring additional grief and blame for reporting it? On its face, the comment is hurtful, I agree. How does a sentiment like that gets put into an evaluation of a bishop?

    Repentance is a good word, it is with humility that we wrestle with the issues of the bishop as a person and as the office in our conference, which you’ve raised in your reflections.

    What an interesting choice of words “fight like the devil” Maybe he should have said “fight the devil.” . We are in a potentially divisive season, which the devil will have a field day..

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    • Tom, it is my understanding that Richard Hearne heard some lay person make the “white Bishop” comment and mentioned it to the Bishop, while also affirming his own service to the current Bishop. I could be wrong, but I do not believe that anyone elected as a Jurisdictional delegate or anyone who is involved in the evaluation process of our Bishop uttered such words.

      Here’s the article that mentions Richard Hearne’s comment on that:
      http://um-insight.net/articles/alleging-racism,-dallas-bishop-withdraws-retirement

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      • Back in 2004, a candidate for bishop taught me a great lesson. Someone had been spreading some absolutely and verifiably false information about him. My first response was to write the person a blistering correction.

        Blessedly, and I use that word with intention, I called the candidate prior to my impulsive move. His response: ‘Don, I appreciate your defense. One thing you’ll learn as a mature leader in the faith is this: sometimes the wisest move you can make is to simply stand there, take it, and move on.” Over the ensuing eight years I have found out when I had the humility/strength to do it, he was right … I wish he had respected the confidential relationship with the Jurisdictional Episcopacy committee …

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