Bishop Bledsoe reverses course, says he’ll ‘fight like the devil’ to stay in post

PLANO, TEXAS – Bishop Earl Bledsoe announced last Friday that he was retiring voluntarily, but late Tuesday afternoon reversed the decision in dramatic fashion, telling members of the North Texas Conference that he was being pushed out and had decided not to stand for it.

“With your help we’re going to fight like the devil to claim the ministry that is here in North Texas,” he said at the close of Annual Conference, drawing applause from many and a standing ovation by some. “And we ain’t going nowhere unless somebody forces us to go.”

Bishop Bledsoe, in his fourth year of leading the North Texas Conference, told conference members that he was recently “summoned” to a meeting of the South Central Jurisdiction’s episcopacy committee. He said he was told that he was not wanted back by the North Texas Conference and that his leadership was “so bad” that no other conference  in the jurisdiction would have him.

“So with that in mind, I asked, ‘What are my options?’” he recalled. “The committee said I could either take voluntary retirement or they would vote involuntary retirement.”

The North Texas Conference released a video on Friday, two days ahead of Annual Conference, in which Bishop Bledsoe said he was voluntarily retiring and felt God was leading him in that direction.

But he said Tuesday that after praying about the matter with his wife, Leslie, and seeing a positive statistical report on the conference – including a second straight year of increased average worship attendance – he decided not to go quietly.

“We’re going to serve Christ, and I believe that God is not through with North Texas yet,” he told conference members. “But I need your help.”

Bishop Bledsoe’s remarks came at the very end of Annual Conference, as he wrapped up a “sending forth” service for clergy.

“Whether people are supporters or not of the bishop, I think everybody’s pretty shocked,” said the Rev. Eric Folkerth, pastor of Northaven UMC in Dallas.

Bishop Earl Bledsoe greeted well-wishers after telling members of the North Texas Conference that he would fight to keep his job.

The bishop’s retirement reversal and vow to fight sets up a showdown with the episcopacy committee that some longtime observers of Methodism said is at least extremely unusual, and may be unprecedented.

Don House, chair of the South Central Jurisdiction episcopacy committee, declined to comment on Bishop Bledsoe’s account. He noted the committee would meet again in mid-June.

“That meeting will be to discuss the situation,” he said.

Bishop Bledsoe told the Reporter after Tuesday’s meeting that if he’s involuntarily retired by the jurisdictional episcopacy committee, he will appeal to the Judicial Council.

The Rev. Don Underwood  is pastor of Christ UMC in Plano and a North Texas Conference member on the jurisdictional episcopacy committee. He said he could not comment now on the committee’s discussions with and about Bishop Bledsoe.

But he did offer an assessment of Bishop Bledsoe’s remarks Tuesday afternoon.

“I was surprised and saddened by the Bishop’s statement, which I thought was divisive,” Rev. Underwood  said. “He had been so extraordinarily gracious up until now, and I had hoped that he would retire and be duly honored for an exceptional lifetime of service and ministry.”

Bishop Bledsoe’s retirement decision had surprised many. He’s 61, and is finishing his first term as bishop. Episcopal elections for the South Central Jurisdiction are just a few weeks away.

On Monday, African American caucuses of the conference introduced a resolution asking for Bishop Bledsoe to reconsider.

At a Tuesday lunch, the Rev. Jeremiah Booker, chair of the North Texas Black Methodists for Church Renewal, told fellow members he wasn’t convinced Bishop Bledsoe was going voluntarily.

“It just does not pass a smell test,” he said.

A few hours later, after Bishop Bledsoe described the episcopacy committee meeting and announced he would fight to remain, Rev. Booker said: “We were pleased, because now at least everybody knows what happened. And I just can’t think about how much they have experienced, Bishop Bledsoe and Leslie Bledsoe, carrying all that by themselves, holding all that in.”

Mr. Booker added: “Now it’s out on the table and everybody ought to have a response and participate wherever their hearts lead them.”

In his retirement announcement, Bishop Bledsoe acknowledged “highs and lows” in his time leading the North Texas Conference.

In late 2011, the UMC’s Judicial Council found that a restructuring plan for the North Texas Conference implemented by Bishop Bledsoe did not comply fully with church law.

Bishop Bledsoe and his family experienced the death of his 9-year-old granddaughter, Hannah Moran, in an accident this past January.

In the early part of this year he also faced turmoil through the resignation of Tyrone Gordon as pastor of prominent St. Luke “Community” UMC in Dallas, amid accusations of sexual harassment. Two lawsuits against the church and the North Texas Conference followed.

On May 17, the conference released a video in which Bishop Bledsoe said, “It has come to my attention that there is anxiety, fear and even anger among several members of the North Texas clergy.”

In that video, he said he was aware of various concerns, including about how consultations were conducted for clergy appointments. He said he was setting aside extra time to meet with any clergy who wanted to talk.

“I care deeply about you and your families and learning of your distress saddens my heart,” he said.

On Tuesday, he emphasized positive statistics, including an improved rate by conference churches in paying apportionments, an increase in new members and the starting of 16 churches.

“That makes this conference a very, very strong conference,” he said. “And I felt like I had been an effective leader.”

He added, “I don’t know who poisoned the well, but I know when you’re a leader, and you do things a little different, it does make some folk upset.”

Bishop Bledsoe is the third consecutive African American to lead the North Texas Conference, a fact he referred to indirectly on Tuesday.  He said he had decided not to mention a certain racial remark, but concluded “I’ve got to get it out there.”

“I heard someone say, ‘When are we going to get a white bishop?’” he said. “That’s hurtful.”

Bishop Bledsoe said he had been fair to all in the North Texas Conference.

“I don’t play favorites,” he said. “I do want to expand the table. And I do want more persons to share in leadership.”

Richard Hearne, who at this Annual Conference finished a four-year term as conference lay leader, said he had reported the incident in question to Bishop Bledsoe and that the bishop was taking it out of context.

Mr. Hearne said that at a conference cabinet meeting about two months ago, discussion turned to low morale in the conference.

“One of the people (in the meeting) said, ‘Well, it’s because we’ve had three black bishops in a row,” Mr. Hearne recalled. “I said at the time, ‘That’s nonsense.”

Mr. Hearne said that after the meeting, driving to lunch with Bishop Bledsoe, he brought the issue up again.

“I said to Bishop Bledsoe, ‘I have heard dozens and dozens of comments and complaints about your leadership.  I have never heard any racial implications at all,’” Mr. Hearne said. “And then I said, ‘Except for one old redneck I know who told me, ‘When are we going to get a white bishop?’”

Mr. Hearne said the man in question was a layperson in his 80s. He added that he had cut the man short. “I told him that I was the conference lay leader, he couldn’t talk like that to me, and I support the bishop,” he said.

Mr. Hearne said he had never had any clergy person comment on Bishop Bledsoe’s race and had never heard any other lay person do so.

“This is not a race issue,” Mr. Hearne said. “It’s being made a race issue by some.”

Mr. Hearne said he has “the highest personal regard” for Bishop Bledsoe and believes that he’s been popular among laity.

“It’s the clergy he’s lost,” he said.

In a blog post, the Rev. Christy Thomas, on sabbatical as pastor of First UMC in Krum, Texas, said Bishop Bledsoe “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.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, the North Texas Conference released an interview with Bishop Bledsoe in which he reflected on Annual Conference and his decision not to retire and to fight for his position.

Responding to a question in that interview about why his leadership was “discounted,” he answered in part:

“My sense is either the committee only heard from the unhappy and negative voices that presented a chaotic view, or a few persons cut backroom deals to make a change. I don’t know unless those of integrity on the committee come forth to share their story. All of the work is supposed to be done confidentially. All I can say is that there were no formal complaints filed or charges against me. I have served faithfully and lived up to the integrity of the office of bishop. When asked, much of what I get is generalities and opinions.”

shodges@umr.org

Leave a Reply

12 Comments on "Bishop Bledsoe reverses course, says he’ll ‘fight like the devil’ to stay in post"

applications-education-miscellaneous.png
The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Dr. Randy Kanipe
Guest
What has been happening to clergy at the local church level for decades, is now finding its way to the upper levels of leadership – or so it would seem. I don’t know the details, all I know is that the pattern of events here, closely mirrors the same phenomenon that inflicts so much damage to other pastors and congregations: A small handful of people, as led by one – determine to get rid of a pastor and launch an all out campaign to destroy him or her. The pattern is the same around the world. There are no perfect… Read more »
shs72
Guest
I have been very disappointed in Bishop Bledsoe as a leader after watching the church I grew up in go from a large church that ministered to many to not being able to pay expenses and older members driven away by a pastor who he refused to move or even discuss the concerns of the members. Never in my life did I think that I would hear the communion cup referred to as a shot glass and it be allowed in the Methodist church. Maybe it's time for new leadership. My prayers continue to be with the Methodist church and… Read more »
revng7
Guest
Obviously, I am not privy to the circumstances surrounding the matter of Bishop Bledsoe. However, since the author included the opinion of Rev. Christy Thomas, I too would like to give an opinion – but, regarding Rev Thomas remarks. I am of the opinion that African American’s don’t get to “play” the race card – it was the hand life dealt them by virtue of their birth. Race matters in America: from pre-slavery to present day systemic racism, the color of African American’s skin has resulted in the deck being stacked, whether benign or overt. Rather than a direr “prophecy,”… Read more »
justicepastor
Guest
Why is it that when Black people finally tell the truth about the racism in the church, it is "divisive" and "hurtful" and "playing the race card?" Every United Methodist knows that the Discipline is violated in the appointment process. My clergy colleagues love me until I point out the appointments available to black clergy and women, as opposed to those available to white males. The Discipline provides that open itineracy means appointments are made without regard to race, ethnic origin, gender, color, disability, marital status, or age, except for the provisions of mandatory retirement. Maybe this occurs in your… Read more »
oldnslow
Guest
Since the days of European Prince Bishops, the post has been largely political. Since joining my conference, I have not once seen our bishop at our church, for any reason. And yet, when she retires, we will "celebrate" her as if she were a retiring hero – in a conference that is a total mess. SO who's to say that bishops are or even can be adequately judged until the denomination determines criteria and metrics and adopts regular "performance reviews" for bishops and clergy. The church could learn a thing or two from the corporate world and HR professionals in… Read more »
revgen
Guest
There are always at least two versions of every story…and I know none of the stories in this situation as I'm not a part of that conference. What concerns me is the sad truth is that the election and evaluation of the bishops is often motivated by political agendas of those in power or those seeking power- and sometimes that is expressed in the conflict between the bishops' and the members of the episcopacy committee in the jurisdictions. Immediate questions that come to mind for the episcopacy committee are: did any member of the committee meet with the bishop to… Read more »
1humbleclergy
Guest
Poor choice of words for sure by this Bishop! But it probably gives insight into the man. He is a bishop who seemingly, with all other bishops, has no problem determining effective/ineffectiveness of other clergy, but "fights like the devil" to the existent of fracturing a Conference and possibly a Jurisdiction, when a committee has judged him so. Recently another bishop reflected on GC12 and the lack of trust in the Council of Bishop's. He didn't understand that lack of trust. Hopefully he will read about this bishop and his handling of this situation and gain some understanding. As clergy… Read more »
fhl
Guest

It's strange that we've voted on new provisions to remove ineffective clergy, but don't have a good system to identify and remove ineffective bishops. This is not a race issue. This is an effectiveness issue.

oldnslow
Guest

What metrics would you use to measure effectiveness of a bishop? Would external factors such as economics or changing conference demographics play a part? Or would you merely go on "gut feelings?" It is a slippery slope we're on.

1humbleclergy
Guest

exactly the problem of throwing around the "ineffectiveness" bomb when we have not defined it! However, even undefined I believe it should apply to all clergy – even bishops.

fhl
Guest

What are the metrics for measuring the effectiveness of clergy? It seems no different to me. If we are capable of identifying ineffective clergy, the same should be true of bishops. In my conference we have a wonderful bishop and there is no question whatsoever of his effectiveness! It's evident in the way he is loved by clergy and lay alike for his spiritual leadership and compassion for all.

dorothy
Guest

Good for the Bishop! Taking a stand and calling out the racism and corruption in Annual Conferences is a long needed step in the right direction. United Methodists from the top, bottom, and middle need to stop hiding behind "good manners" and reclaim the honesty and integrity of John Wesley–which is NOT holding on to the status quo.

wpDiscuz
Google+
%d bloggers like this: