Will this never end?
That’s what I asked myself upon hearing the not unexpected news that Bishop Bledsoe has filed an appeal to have his involuntary retirement overturned so he may return to active episcopal leadership. Full details of the appeal can be found here. The document flows with legalese, of course, littered with words and phrases like “unconstitutional, unlawful, violates, lack authority, failed, Bishop Bledsoe deprived, lacks jurisdiction.”
Jesus Has Left the Building
No where in there do we have words or phrases like, “do unto others as you would have others do unto you, serving the lost, feeding the sheep, picking up the cross, blessed are you when others persecute you, if your enemy hits you turn the other cheek, forgive in the same way you wish to be forgiven, God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, become like the least of these.”
Nope. The lawyers who, by the way, expect The United Methodist Church to pay all fees and costs of this appeal, took over and Jesus has left the building. Their job is not to do spiritual things spiritually–but to look for the tiniest loophole, the most obscure point of order in a very disordered book, our Book of Discipline. There will be no appeal to Holy Scripture in this fight. Chapter and verse shall be disregarded. All references will be to paragraph this, subsection that which will of course disagree with paragraph that, subsection this.
I am reminded of the truism that the greater the relationship, the fewer the rules. Well, we’ve got rules. What does that say about our relationships?
The Purpose of Outside Examiners
I recently listened to a fascinating interview on Fresh Air, a radio program generally hosted by the talented Terri Gross. She was interviewing the Roman Catholic Bishop who has been given the task of bringing into doctrinal compliance the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a group that connects most US nuns.
The Bishop happily talked about the authoritarian, hierarchical nature of the Roman Catholic Church. He brushed away the long-time pedophile priest cover-up and took the nuns, the ones who actually do the work of the church, to task for not teaching things the Vatican wants them to teach. Like many others, I’ve been appalled at how much those senior leaders of the RC church can get away with because no independent body ever evaluates them for, among other things, the ability to act like decent human beings. With no outside eyes to offer correction, and with no questions permitted from those below them in the hierarchy, evil ran amok, while the finer points of the law are elevated to the state of idolatrous worship.
Our Capabilities For Doing Evil
I’m a long time lover of Russian literature. Not sure why–the stuff is often hard to read with ridiculously long philosophical asides punctuating some very good stories. Of course, it may be said that I write the same way. However, I like the stories and the Russian world fascinates me.
Anyway, one of my favorites is The First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. One of the sub-themes in this tale of talented technicians and scholars locked up together a prison camp concerns the utterly unaccountable life and world of Josef Stalin.
All of Stalin’s underlings were afraid of him, afraid of his capricious and unstable nature, and afraid of the power he held over life and death.
No one ever spoke truth to him and lived–and generally their closest relatives also faced death, or at least exile and imprisonment. Under Stalin’s leadership, over 20,000,000 Russians were executed. These were peacetime deaths, ordered by this despicable man, carried out by his cowed and compromised underlings.
Easily we point the “evil” finger at him.
However, I think we need to consider that any who refuse to hear the words of others that help expose our blind spots are as capable of as much evil as was Stalin. Any of us who will not listen to words of correction and seek transformation through repentance and redirection as necessary has crossed over to hardness of heart. We may not be as spectacular or as overt with our evil as was Stalin, but we still leave a legacy of death and destruction.
We/I/you–none of us escapes this temptation to live unquestioned and unexamined lives.
A Different Possibility
I write with concern on a personal level for Bishop Bledsoe and his wife and family. He is a fellow clergy, they are Christian brothers and sisters, and together someday we will all kneel at the feet of Jesus. We need to be able to do so as reconciled souls.
But no matter how the Judicial Council rules, it is time for him to step aside. He can no longer serve effectively as Bishop.
It is time for this to end.
Should the authority of the Episcopacy Committee to do what was necessary for the health of the church be clarified by the highest law body of The United Methodist Church? Yes, it should. It is my hope that every person in this connection who has the privilege of making clergy appointments and guiding overall direction undergoes rigorous evaluation. The Judicial Council ruling could make it more possible.
Were Bishop Bledsoe to remove his ambitions of restoration to the active episcopacy in the process of the appeal, he would have made an extraordinary step toward healing and the freedom needed to move forward. Such an act offers profound evidence of character and statesmanship.
It would also help us all learn to more willingly take rebuke and correction from each other. As we open ourselves to one another in the Wesleyan manner, we make progress toward perfection in love, to wholeness and holiness of heart, soul, mind and action.
However, what is happening right now needs to end. It is time.