Time For This To End: Bishop Bledsoe’s Decision to Appeal

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.

23 thoughts on “Time For This To End: Bishop Bledsoe’s Decision to Appeal

  1. I am disgusted. I am not going to church Sunday. I think the United Methodist Church of which I have been a member for years and years is a farce. I became familiar with this situation very recently and have been on the computer getting more information about it. I was merely a worshipper and did not get involved in the politics of the church. I now see that the UMC is as corrupt and hypocritical as other political units. Emphasis on money raising and membership,secretiveness, posturing and raw exercise of power. And I thought the catholic church was bad. Organized religion is all the same, it seems. I’m done. No more. I am thoroughly disillusioned and disheartened and disgusted with the United Methodist Church. Guess I’ll just have private worshipping at my home.

    • Yes, it is an awful situation . . . but what continues to amaze me here in the North Texas Conference is how faithful individual pastors continue to be despite the mess in the episcopacy. Much, much work is being done in the name of Jesus as the good news is preached, hungry fed, naked clothed, and people do learn to love their neighbors as themselves. I hear your anger, and understand the need to stay away, but it may not help the situation.

      God has not abandoned the church–not even the UMC. There is a good cleansing going on. What has happened here is opening the eyes of many to problems that need to be addressed and are being addressed. What is called for is faithfulness from each of us.

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

  2. Ok after reading the latest posts, I have to ask if anyone out there knows or can enlighten me on just what types of things are “chargeable offenses”?
    And what types of accusations were being made regarding Bishop Bledsoe? I’m not a Methodist, so I am clueless when it comes to how this system of the Book of Discipline works etc. Seems to me that if you are going to make a case for removal of a person for cause, then you need to really have a system that operates differently than what I’ve seen here. The Bishop has taken it outside of the church and this is upsetting to many. I get this, but I can also see why he might have thought he needed to go that route. All of this being said, experience has taught me that a system fails when it lacks structure as in written rules/expectations in plain English and has no set procedures in place for evaluation of performance. Only when all parties know what is expected and how performance will be measured and then what happens when expectations are not met, can a system work.
    Perhaps it is time to end the current issue and then begin with a new system of accountability with consequences when you do not meet expectations or don’t follow the rules.

    • Below is the list of “chargeable offenses”, however, there are a few others scattered through our Book of Discipline (like if an Elder is summonsed at a Church trial and refuses to appear or to testify and that action/non action is seen to be important information for the trial court.)

      “1. A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference (¶368), local pastor,clergy on honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may be tried when charged (subject to the statute of limitations in ¶ 2702.4)* with one or more of the following offenses: (a) immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage;*** (b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies;*** (c) crime; (d) failure to perform the work of the ministry; (e) disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church; (f) dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church; (g) relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor; (h) child abuse;** (i) sexual abuse; (j) sexual misconduct** or (k) harassment, including, but not limited to racial and/or sexual harassment; or (l) racial or gender discrimination.”

      Angie, your second question is the magic one that no one knows! Bishop Bledsoe hasn’t been charged with anything. The head of the committee that evaluates Bishops made a speech/report saying that there were chargeable offenses/violations but that they decided the least painful route would be retirement. Words used during that report were “untrustworthiness”, which implies a lot but doesn’t provide specifics. There has been speculation that the person meant offenses (g) or (k) listed above due to his treatment of clergy persons in his Annual Conference but no specifics have been provided.

      One other point of clarification – the Bishop did not “take it outside the Church”, the appeal is being taken through proper Church structure. The United Methodist Church has a Judicial Council which rules on Church matters – all those serving on the Judicial Council are United Methodist Laity and Clergy who have knowledge and experience in Church and usually Civil law. Those serving on the Judicial Council are chosen and elected to serve by delegates from each Annual Conference (usually geographical areas) throughout the world. There are people who claim that Bishop Bledsoe does have a good legal case in Civil Court but he has not taken it outside the Church at this time. Thanks for your questions, I forgot sometimes that the whole world is not as United Methodist “geeked out” as I am! ;)

      • Thank you so much for your response, it helps me to understand a bit better how things are. I still say that if you are going to go so far as to involuntary retire someone, then you need to say what he did so that others will have all of the information. As for what Christy said about it needing to be over, I believe that I agree with her on this one. If the Bishop and the others involved in all of this are truly the Christians they profess to be, then it needs to be over and done with asap. You say that he did not take it outside of the church, but he did get legal counsel. It seems to me that no matter what happens in the future that people will get hurt if they don’t remember that they are supposed to follow Jesus. As for Bishop Bledsoe, I pray that he will be blessed and that he will be enlightened by God.

        Again thank you for explaining to me the book and other things I just don’t understand about Methodists. I still say that even with what you have given me, that this is not enough if you don’t want trouble when you tell as Bishop that he doesn’t have what it takes.

  3. (For full disclosure: I am a clergy member of the Texas Annual Conference which is the home conference of Bishop Bledsoe. I went to college with Bishop Bledsoe’s son. While serving as clergy colleagues, we were not on the same committees or ever work directly together. I have not always been a fan of his theological positions but have always respected him a colleague and have never heard or seen any reason not to respect him.)

    I don’t think that it is time for it to end, as a matter of fact, it is truly just beginning. The public first heard of this in May/June and it is only the first of August and a lot is still happening. Brand new accusations were talked about just weeks ago at Jurisdictional Conference and some of the phrases used begs for this not to end until justice is served. I don’t know what justice looks like in this case but I do know that justice work is uncomfortable – this may very well be the “sausage making” of Church work. Why is it that people aren’t comfortable with this moving forward? Why aren’t more people asking about the phrase “chargeable offense”? In reviewing the list of chargeable offenses – rarely are any of those “crimes” without a victim… So, where is the crime? Where is the victim? And why use the phrase “chargeable offense” in a way that makes it seem as if you are being gracious to Bishop Bledsoe? And IF Bishop Bledsoe had committed such grievous acts that he should no longer be an active Bishop and could have charges brought against him to remove his credentials as a clergy person, why is it the gracious thing for him to be in active ministry as a retired status Bishop? If Bishop Bledsoe shouldn’t be a Bishop or a Pastor as was hinted at during the Jurisdictional Conference, are we hiding something that shouldn’t be hidden? Is the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee not concerned about future actions or is the term “chargeable offense” being used as a scare tactic?

    And, I for one, believe that the Jurisdiction delegates were bamboozled – when they voted to support the work of the Episcopacy Committee, it was with the understanding that the forced retirement would not take place until after the appeal was settled by the Judicial Council and that Bishop Bledsoe would be assigned an area, it was a last minute thing that the retirement would take place August 31. If this was their plan, then why not let Bishop Bledsoe make a retirement speech along with the other Bishops who retired at the Jurisdictional Conference? From the body language and some other information I have, Bishop Bledsoe was not told when his retirement was effective until all the Bishops and spouses were told of their assignments! That’s right, in the middle of the dance party is when Bishop Bledsoe learned of this next kick to a man who was already down! How is that gracious? How is that a way to treat our Christian brother regardless of the “wrongs” he has committed? (Even though we have not been informed of any specific wrongs).

    And if this were to end now without any clarification, what message do you send to Jurisdiction Delegates who elect Bishops? “You can elect them but we can throw them out?” Or is this an example that the delegates haven’t elected the right person? Either way, it gets tricky.

    While I mostly agree with the following quote from your blog, I do have trouble with it. Where is the concern for Bishop Bledsoe’s healing? Where is the concern for Bishop Bledsoe to have any type of justice? “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.” Lastly, if Bishop Bledsoe were to remove the appeal then it would end and we would not get the answers. If Bishop Bledsoe and the team of lawyers who are working at no cost on the appeal withdraw then everything stops, Bishop Bledsoe is retired involuntarily, the work of the committee is not reviewed, and most go away with the nagging questions, “Was it right? Was it legal? Was it just? Will it happen again? And what did Bishop Bledsoe do that no one is telling us?” I think that perhaps this difficult journey will be a lesson to those of us doing Church work – Bishop Bledsoe is being a statesman by not being bullied into retirement, he is defending himself for what he knows to be true, and he is standing by his principles, and is willing to be examined in such a public way – I believe that those things show character. The process and the unknowingness may make us uncomfortable but imagine what it is like to be the “one on show”, the one who has been told “no one wants you”, and yet he stands and fights with his head held high. Once again, I don’t know what justice looks like in this case but I do know that if the Church doesn’t model living in the midst of disagreement and living with uncomfortable instead of wishing it away then we aren’t being the Church.

  4. I’ll say from the outset that Bishop Bledsoe has not been my favorite bishop, but I also think that one of my favorite bishops made some really bad appointments. I say that to remind us that none of us do everything perfectly – literally or in the eyes of any number of people (myself included) who have logs in our eyes.

    Yet, what I keep hearing is that we need Bishop Bledsoe to step down so WE can heal. What about him? What about Leslie?

    Obviously, due to issues of privacy, I understand why the committee couldn’t share details of allegations against the Bishop, but honestly, the vague statements shared sounded weak. Since official proceedings of the committee apparently only began in 2011 followed by a meeting with Bishop Bledsoe in March and then May, where is the opportunity for growth or change? Fix everything in just a few months in just the way we want you to fix them or else. Is that the future?

    Is that the way others Bishops will be treated in the future?

    So many Elders (I’m a Deacon) are up in arms over the potential of “guaranteed appointments” going away. Is this the way Elders want to be critiqued in such a process?

    Many folks say that if Bishop Bledsoe is reassigned to another Conference he would not be able to lead effectively. How many local churches since the ordination of women began in our denomination have said, “Don’t send us a woman. She won’t be able to lead us effectively.” Many women have proven that wrong, but it would have never happened had a DS and Bishop not said, “Too bad. Learn to be in ministry together.”

    My major beef is the short turn-around this all happened in with little time to seek to rectify concerns other than, “We don’t think, based on his answers, that he could make the changes we want.”

    • Your comparison between this situation and the appointment of a woman and strongly challenging those to work together is good. Rarely, do we change or do so something uncomfortable without encouragement and/or a challenge.

  5. Abdicating his position is not what he is being told to do as much as he is being let go, he was being ineffective, and being told that he will not be able to work in ANY position that he has been used to for his career. No other profession in the U.S can force retirement and keep someone from working in their craft anywhere else, why is the church choosing to break that ground! That is the injustice i see. As an educator i can be dismissed for being ineffective but i dont have toturn in my certificate as well, i can work somewhere else. If i were in his situation i would pursue all options to an appeal and i would expect anyone else to do the same. To use the innapropriate analogy to Stalin above, the church should not be allowed to make such a heavy and unprecedented decision and action unchecked. The appeal serves not onpy Bishop Bledsoe but also other clergy that may be affected by such a decision down the road.

    • The Bishop was not asked to turn in his credentials, nor was he being denied meaningful work–retired Bishops have multiple privileges and responsibilities and he was going to be able to enjoy them all. Unfortunately, it is the Bishop who has apparently made multiple decisions concerning the credentials of others in an unchecked and unaccountable manner, and they were routinely denied both counsel and appeal. This needed to stop. The Bishop is being treated in the way he treated others–and he is discovering that it is none too pleasant. Even so, the committee really was trying to preserve his reputation and dignity. That is no longer possible now.

      • True; most bishops thrive in retirement and many have told me they get more good accomplished and more self-satisfaction in being professor emeritus positions, still active in overseeing boards and agencies or their branches, staring missions and outreach ministries without having to jump through the institutional hoops (ironic considering how many hoops they put in front of active clergy under them), and new and in some ways better perks they had as active leaders, and the perks are many for sure. Some of them have had so many people opening doors for them so long they don’t know how to open a door anymore. I don’t begrudge them the perks and pay and they do work hard and shoulder huge responsibilities, and many, or some, do stay humble with all that power and control over people that they hold and can wield over other servant-leaders in ministry. Power can and often does, though, corrupt a bishop in many ways, big or small, in terms of their retaining the highest integrity and self-awareness, just as in any other institution. I’m saying no more except that Christy’s columns have been right on the honest-to-God mark, tough-minded for sure, but if she or I or any other well church educated clergy can’t be tough minded in situations that can and do effect our livelihoods and the Church and Wesleyan tradition that we all love and cherish so much, as we love Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior, that says something about the mess we all honestly know the church as a whole is in as well. She speaks for a lot of clergy who are way too timid or fearful to express the same feelings in public and it’s sad in itself that so many clergy in this church live in fear. Love God and love your church but be honest to God in your heart and if necessary, be vocal with your honesty in God.

  6. A good friend was asked several years ago to surrender his elder’s orders…when he asked about process and hinted at a ‘trial’…he was told “you don’t want to put your family through this”. At the time he had a wife and small children, his wife knew of his indiscretion, so he pushed the issue a bit farther and was told…”we will hurt you”. I don’t know what Bishop Bledsoe has done, perhaps he should have been charged with an offense, but what needs to stop is protecting the system to the point of “hurt you”.

    By the way, my friend is no longer an Elder in the UMC. He has long since been forgiven by those he hurt…but the hurt placed on him by a dysfunctional system he has not forgiven.

    • Ron, when I read this, I suddenly became hugely nauseated. What have we done to one another? How can we claim that we are the people of God in the midst of this? What a mess.

    • They are serious when they say they will hurt you. They will tell you this even if you have no indiscretion. The statement to me was, “You just don’t want to go there..”

  7. I sympathize with your pain and impatience. I am trying to figure out how to explain to my church why we do not have a bishop. However, I do not believe that it is time for this to end. The time for this to end was when Bishop Bledsoe had the opportunity to voluntarily retire.
    Although I have great respect for all involved, there were allegations made during the involuntary retirement process that need to be resolved — particularly the allegations that Bishop Bledsoe was guilty of chargeable offenses that were overlooked. As the bishop points out, this sullied his reputation without giving him an opportunity to respond. It was uncharitable to him and also damaged the reputation of the church. If someone is to be removed for a chargeable violation, we should go through the process established in the Discipline for addressing the charge and determining guilt or innocence — not do some back door voluntary or involuntary retirement process. Consider how we feel about Penn State University because, instead of charging Jerry Sandusky with child abuse, they let him retire quietly. I doubt that anything Bishop Bledsoe did was criminal, though the failure to report abuse cannot be ruled out. But the allegation should never have been made in the interest of the reputations of both Bishop Bledsoe and the UMC.
    Were the Bishop to do as you suggested and remove his ambitions of restoration to the active episcopacy in the process of the appeal, it would render the case moot (i.e., there would be no relief that the Judicial Council could provide) and so the appeal would not be heard and no decision would be rendered to clarify that authority of the Episcopacy Committee to act as it did. (The Judicial Council does not have time to deal with cases where there judgment makes no difference.) The only issue that would remain before the Judicial Council would be the request of a declarative judgement on the constitutionality of ¶408.3. This would be of less value than a complete hearing and more comprehensive decision. Should Bishop Bledsoe win and clear his name, it might well be the right time for him to voluntarily retire. But right now, the toothpaste is out of the tube and the only way to get it back in is to let the process work, painful as that is.

    • Maybe I don’t understand what the Judicial Council is going to do, but I don’t think even a victory (that the Episcopacy Committee didn’t have the right to put him on involuntary retirement) will clear his name. That can only be done now with formal charges filed–and I suspect they will be–and a formal church trial. So no matter what happens in October, this is going to go on for some time unless he does retire.

      Yes, I’ve written about the Penn State/Sandusky situation. Yes, there are parallels here. In that case, they were trying to protect the football program. In this case, I think the efforts were made to protect the Bishop’s reputation and put him in a situation where he would not be able to exercise church leadership. This is much more than his ability to make good appointments. If that were all, I think we could just shrug this off. There is something much deeper, but I have to admit, it is an undefined deeper. Something is just terribly wrong.

      Please let the folks out there where you are know that you all stay in my prayers.

      • Christy,
        Thanks for the prayers. Since the Judicial Council has scheduled hearings for a special session in early November, their decision may come sooner than I had anticipated (next spring). However, it is difficult to see what will happen after either possible decision. If the retirement is upheld, I still doubt that the Church will spend $100,000 – $150,000 for a special Jurisdictional Convention to elect another bishop. It certainly doesn’t seem like the best use of the money. If the retirement is overturned, the future becomes even more cloudy. Interesting times indeed!

        • I forgot to mention one parallel with the Penn State situation that seems apparent — lack of concern for the victims. If Bishop Bledsoe were guilty of chargeable offenses, then there are likely victims among the clergy and churches that he oversaw. What is done to help them, if this all ends with a retirement, voluntary or involuntary? If there were lives or careers ruined by inappropriate actions, where, within this grace filled communities, do they go to get their reputations, careers, or lives back when everything is swept under the rug? There are no easy answers when mercy for one is injustice for another. It is indeed a time for prayer.

  8. I agree. Just wondering how much of our apportionments will be spent on all this…. There are so many missions we should be focusing on!

  9. I appreciate your comment. Every time I post on this, my own fear grows of significant career repercussions. I am choosing not to give into it and to continue to speak out. Prayers are welcomed.

  10. Thanks for continuing to speak out the feelings of a lot of people too timid to say the same things you’ve had to say about this, Christy. It needs to be spoken with the kind of clarity you’ve brought to this “fight” he wanted.

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