May the church never see another day like it

By Rebekah Miles, Special Contributor..

Please God, may we never see another day like it. On July 19, at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference, we voted to affirm the decision of our episcopacy committee to retire involuntarily Bishop Earl Bledsoe, an African American who was assigned in 2008 to the North Texas Conference. We must have accountability, but no jurisdiction, no episcopacy committee, no conference, no bishop and no bishop’s family, should ever have to go through what we went through.

Rebekah Miles

We tried over days to make the best of a terrible situation. Even so, let’s don’t fool ourselves; this has been a bloody mess. We are now deeply wounded as a jurisdiction, and we will be carrying wounds and then scars for years to come.

What can we do to bring some healing and to help this never happen again? I can think of four things right off.

We need to fix the United Methodist Book of Discipline. There is not a person on our episcopacy committee or among our episcopate who would say that the process in the Book of Discipline could not be clarified and improved. Our jurisdiction specializes in reform legislation; writing, supporting and passing reform legislation is our hobby and our calling. Other jurisdictions can help us. We must have a way to hold bishops and other clergy accountable, but we, as a church, can find a better way. Let’s get to work.

We need to talk more to each other, even—and especially—when it is hard. The very best way to encourage accountability is person to person. Before we ever reach the stage of these formal processes of accountability, we need to have talked honestly with other. Yes, many have already been doing this, but we can do it more and better. Let’s keep telling one another the truth, even—and especially—when it’s hard.

We need to talk about race. Please, please hear me, I am not at all saying that the decision of the episcopacy committee was racist or that race was at the heart of things, but if race were not already an issue in the larger context of our church, this would not have been nearly so brutal.

It’s nigh on impossible to look, for example, at our patterns of appointment and say that race isn’t still an issue for our jurisdiction and others. Our dynamic young Anglo pastors and our dynamic young African-American pastors simply do not have the same opportunities. We have to talk about race.

When I have floated this idea, some African-American brothers and sisters have told me, “White people don’t want to talk about race.” Of course, we don’t . . . but we have to. United Methodist leaders, of whatever culture or ethnicity, have a long tradition of carrying the Good News of Jesus Christ into places of pain. That’s where the Gospel is needed. Let’s talk about race in all its complexity.

Finally, we all need to repent. I’m not blaming anybody in particular . . . I’m blaming everybody. In one way or another, we are all complicit. This is one of my least favorite parts of the gospel, and it’s the part I most need to hear. In this part of our life and most others, we need to repent and throw ourselves on the mercy of a God. We cannot heal this, but there is a balm in Gilead . . . a balm that is healing enough even for the deep wounds we now bear. Let’s fall to our knees before a merciful God . . . and then let’s get up and get back to work.

P.S. To the delegates of the South Central Jurisdiction, to the members of our episcopacy committee, and to all our bishops and their families, I give thanks to God for you and your faithfulness.

The Rev. Miles teaches at Perkins School of Theology and served as an Arkansas Conference delegate to General Conference and South Central Jurisdictional Conference.

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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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