Committee asks approval of vote to retire Bishop Bledsoe

OKLAHOMA CITY – The South Central Jurisdiction’s episcopacy committee found reasons to question Bishop Earl Bledsoe’s “integrity and trustworthiness,” the committee’s chairman, Don House, told delegates to the jurisdiction’s conference this morning.

Those delegates will be asked this afternoon to approve the committee’s vote to retire Bishop Bledsoe involuntarily.

“Bishop Bledsoe demonstrates many gifts. He’s a fine Christian man and dedicated spiritual leader,” an emotional Mr. House told delegates. “Yet the committee believes his gifts are best deployed in other forms of ministry and that involuntary retirement is best for the church and best for his ministry.”

On Tuesday night, the committee voted – with 24 in favor, four against and two abstaining – to retire Bishop Bledsoe, who has overseen the North Texas Conference the past four years.

Mr. House said then the committee had concerns about Bishop Bledsoe’s administrative skills.

But the committee has produced a document titled “Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee Report” that makes plain its concerns about his trustworthiness. The document was used Wednesday night in briefings given to conference delegations. Mr. House read from it in his remarks to the plenary on Thursday morning.

Asked if the briefing document suggests a different set of concerns, centered more on character than administrative skills, Mr. House said: “Part of your administrative skills is building trust with the clergy and laity.”

Bishop Bledsoe took his place with other bishops on a raised platorm in the plenary hall. He said during a break that he was surprised and “hurt” by Mr. House’s presentation, raising questions about his trustworthiness.

“One of my big values is integrity and honesty,” he said. “So those who have experienced me over the years and in my ministry know that.”

Jonathan Wilson, an attorney for Bishop Bledsoe, said in an email that the committee report from which Mr. House read is “an attempt to deflect from the flimsy `evidence’ upon which they relied to support their decision against the Bishop.”

Mr. Wilson also disputed Mr. House’s contention, included in the report, that the Bledsoe legal team tried to intimidate the committee, to the point that committee members perceived a potential threat of legal action against them.

“Chairman House’s reference to an imagined threat of litigation is further evidence of certain members of the committee doing and saying anything to achieve their desired result to involuntarily retire Bishop Bledsoe, regardless of the facts and evidence,” Mr. Wilson said.

Bishop Ann Sherer-Simpson presided at the plenary this morning. She offered a prayer for wisdom, noting the conference was in “uncharted waters.” Later she spoke of a general feeling of “a sorrow so deep that it is hard to move forward.”

Mr. House said in an interview that he expects discussion, at a minimum, when the Bishop Bledsoe matters comes up in plenary this afternoon.

“What I suspect is there are going to be questions and answers and statements and possibly even debate on floor over whether they should adopt or affirm,” he said.

Mr. House said the committee’s action to retire Bishop Bledsoe falls under two parts of church law, one in the UMC Constitution that appears to require jurisdictional conference approval, and another in paragraph 408.3 of the Book of Discipline that doesn’t.

“If the jurisdictional conference does not approve our recommendation, that still does not stop the process,” he said.

Mr. House said he expects and welcomes a Judicial Council review of the committee’s action, something that would happen if Bishop Bledsoe files an appeal. Bishop Bledsoe said today that he and his wife, Leslie, continue to pray about what to do.

If he does appeal, he remains an active bishop, and could stay with the North Texas Conference or be reassigned.

The South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops has asked the Judicial Council to rule on the constitutionality of a paragraph in the Book of Discipline that deals with episcopacy committees and their evaluation of bishops, including the option of retiring them involuntarily.

The bishops support having the full conference take a vote on the episcopacy committee’s decision to retire Bishop Bledsoe, said Bishop James Dorff, president of the jurisdictional college of bishops, in an interview. He emphasized that the bishops aren’t weighing in on how the delegates should vote – just that they should have a voice in the process.

“I am grateful for the reasonable and faithful  leadership of all parties,” Bishop Dorff said in a statement. “All have sought to be faithful to the mission of the church and the mandates of the Discipline. This has been a difficult time for the Bledsoes, the committee, the North Texas Annual Conference, and the church.”

Mr. House, in his remarks this morning, said the UMC’s decline in the United States required greater accountability of church leaders, and described the move to retire Bishop Bledsoe as a step in that direction.

Here’s the full document that was used in briefing conference delegations, and which Mr. House read from in addressing the plenary today:

Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee Report

The evaluation of Bishop Bledsoe revealed many strong qualities, but it raised serious questions about the Bishop’s residential leadership, especially around the issue of trust by laity and clergy, and his management of the annual conference. This includes his supervision of members of his cabinet, actions that polarized his conference, and concerns about the appointment making process and protocol.

In the 7 ½ hour hearing conducted by the Committee, and after many hours of due diligence spent by committee members in listening to depositions and reviewing exhibits provided by the Bishop and his attorneys, the Bishop failed to adequately address those concerns. He also failed to fully answer a number of questions, and some of his answers raised for the Committee questions about his integrity and trustworthiness.

Additionally many members of the committee perceived the threat of legal action by his attorneys prior to the hearing as an attempt to intimidate the committee and influence the outcome. In the hearing the Bishop refused to withdraw this threat. The committee was not convinced that he could restore trust in his current residential assignment, or create trust in a new one.

Again, while the Bishop demonstrates many gifts, the committee was not convinced that he was willing or able to address these issues. It was the committee’s conclusion that, based upon previous actions and his responses during the hearing, the Bishop would not be able to raise the level of his performance.

These conclusions were shared by 24 of the committee’s members, with four dissenting and two abstaining votes.

 

 

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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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calanvolz
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I personally know Bishop Bledsoe and what he said about trustworthiness and integrity being important core values for him is true!! I served five years with Dr. Bledsoe as the Senior Associate Pastor while he was the Senior Pastor at Cypress UMC [Houston–Texas Annual Conference]. I witnessed his trustworthiness and integrity during this time personally–and by the way, he demonstrated excellent leadership and ADMINISTRATIVE skills! I question Dr. House's comments made at the Jurisdictional Conference. How can Bishop Bledsoe be not trustworthy and yet be a "strong spiritual Christian"?? There are other questions: [1] Why would Dr. House's committee put… Read more »
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