Bishop Bledsoe: Issue is fairness, not race

By Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe, Special Contributor …

 Editor’s note: This column is adapted from a blog entry Bishop Bledsoe posted last week for the North Texas Conference website. He announced his retirement on June 1, and reversed himself on June 5. He told conference members then, at the close of their annual gathering, that the South Central Jurisdiction’s episcopacy committee wanted him out. But he said he had decided to fight to stay. The committee is to meet July 16 to decide whether to retire him involuntarily, based on a performance review. 

The Psalmist reminds us, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (121:1-2)

This past week, I have witnessed and listened to many within and outside the North Texas Conference about what comes next. I came to Annual Conference this year still hurting and not at peace with my decision to retire. The words I spoke at the end of Conference were from my heart, but I must admit it was with somewhat of a broken heart that I was speaking.

I now want all of you to hear my words and how I feel about the entire situation and about any discord my words may have caused.

First of all, I want to say, as I did several times at the Annual Conference: I love the people of the North Texas Conference. I love all the people, not simply the ones with whom I agree, but the ones with whom I have had differences; not just people in the cities and suburbs, but those in the towns and country as well; not simply the people of color, but all of us in our special God-made uniqueness. I love all of you and have considered you family.

I also love the work that we have done together in the last four years. Not every conference in this jurisdiction or denomination can boast of the positive changes that have occurred in North Texas. To God be the glory, and to you, much credit, as we, the North Texas Conference, have embraced change.

That is never easy and always produces some level of discontent. You not only adopted the 2010 Strategic Plan (which, by all indicators, is bearing fruit), but you have also been open and willing to deal with the hard issues and challenges facing the church in accomplishing its mission.

For the second year in a row, worship attendance is up. I’ve noticed an increase in the number of people joining the church. You’ve paid a higher percentage of apportionments over the last year during a time of slow recovery from unprecedented economic hardship in our nation. We’ve started 16 new churches of various demographic groups. We’ve done all of this together without increasing the apportionments from local churches.

In fact, for the fourth year in a row, we have reduced the NTC budget. I love what we, the people called United Methodists in the North Texas Conference, have done together!

High stakes

Second, please hear me clearly: This issue is not about race! Not only have you embraced change to accomplish our mission, you have embraced the leadership of three consecutive African-American episcopal leaders with three different styles. You have made my wife, Leslie, and me feel at home and a part of the family of God here as you did those bishops and families before us.

All bishops have their own style and leadership abilities. I have felt your support and prayers in our good times and celebrations along with our heartbreaking losses. I love the NTC because you have the unique ability to embrace diversity of leadership, and we have been recipients of your love.

So what is the issue, and why am I doing what I am doing? For me, the single issue is about fairness and due process in assessing leadership and procedures that lead to more effective ministry at all levels of the church.

We as a denomination are at a critical point in our journey together. We are taking more risks because the stakes are higher. We need mentors and trusted confidants to help assess clear direction; we need open ears and guiding hands like never before.

Let us also be reminded that the God whom we serve is able and willing to get each of us to the place to which we are called, if we are patient with each other and always guided by God’s perfect love. Even when we lift our eyes to the hills that sometimes seem so large, we must be reminded that our help ultimately comes from the Lord. Leslie and I solicit and covet your prayers!

Bishop Bledsoe has overseen the North Texas Conference since 2008.

 

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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)
 
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