Judicial Council to hear Bledsoe appeal in November

The UMC’s Judicial Council will meet in November to consider Bishop Earl Bledsoe’s appeal of his involuntary retirement.

The council released a statement today (Monday, July 30) saying that the meeting will begin on Nov. 9 and and end no later than Nov. 11. The hearing will likely be in Phoenix, but that will have to confirmed, the statement said.

This will be a special meeting. The council had already set the docket for its scheduled October meeting, though one of the items on that docket is a request by the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops for a judgment on whether part of the Book of Discipline dealing with evaluation of bishops is in violation of the UMC Constitution.

The statement regarding Bishop Bledsoe’s appeal does not answer whether the Judicial Council will have oral arguments.

Bishop Bledsoe is asking that the  Judicial Council overturn his recent involuntary retirement by the South Central Jurisdiction episcopacy committee and give him an episcopal area to oversee.

His appeal, drafted by attorney and former Judicial Council member Jon Gray and included at the end of this article, says the evaluation process used by the episcopacy committee was unprecedented, unfair and in violation of the UMC Constitution.

In a July 25 letter, Mr. Gray asked the Judicial Council to add the Bledsoe appeal to its October docket.

Citing concerns about his administrative skills and trustworthiness, the jurisdictional episcopacy committee voted July 17  to retire Bishop Bledsoe.

Two days later, the South Central Jurisdictional Conference voted overwhelmingly to affirm the committee’s decision.

Bishop Bledsoe has defended his character and record as leader of the North Texas Conference the past four years, citing positive statistics.

Don House (left), chair of the South Central Jurisdiction’s episcopacy committee, talks with Bishop Earl Bledsoe during a break in the bishop’s hearing in Oklahoma City. UNITED METHODIST NEWS SERVICE PHOTO BY HEATHER HAHN

Don House, episcopacy committee chair, said, “I am pleased with Bishop Bledsoe’s decision to appeal since the appeal will ask the Judicial Council to give the church clarity in what is and is not constitutional and how jurisdictional committees on episcopacy should perfect their processes.”

The episcopacy committee and South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops agreed that Bishop Bledsoe would be on retired status (effective Sept. 1) while an appeal is decided.

On July 20, Mr. House’s committee recommended episcopal assignments, which the conference immediately approved. Bishop Bledsoe was left off the list.

The committee did not assign a bishop to the New Mexico/Northwest Texas Area, but the jurisdictional College of Bishops asked the Council of Bishops to appoint Bishop William Hutchinson (retiring this summer) and retired Bishop William Dan Solomon to be interim leaders until the Bishop Bledsoe matter is resolved.

Meanwhile, some clergy in the North Texas Conference have begun to meet in hopes of promoting healing of divisions caused by the Bishop Bledsoe controversy. They released a statement that said in part: “We are deeply aware of a variety of emotions in response to the difficult events surrounding jurisdictional conference and the involuntary retirement of Bishop Bledsoe.”

Here’s the appeal filed on behalf of Bishop Bledsoe:

THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

In Re: APPEAL OF BISHOP W. EARL BLEDSOE

CHALLENGING THE ACTION OF THE SOUTH CENTRAL JURISDICTION COMMITTEE ON EPISCOPACY AND THE 2012 SOUTH CENTRAL JURISDICTIONAL

CONFERENCE

TO THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH:

The Rev. Dr. William B. Lawrence, President

The Rev. F. Belton Joyner, Jr., Secretary

NOTICE AND STATEMENT OF APPEAL

Pursuant to the provisions of ¶ 408.3(a) of the 2008 Book of Discipline, as amended by the 2012 General Conference, Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe hereby gives notice of his appeal to the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church.

BACKGROUND

On June 8, 2012 and June 15, 2012, the Chairman of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy transmitted letters to Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe notifying him of the Committee’s intent to conduct a hearing 30 days after the date of said letters to consider a vote to retire the bishop involuntarily pursuant to the provisions of ¶408.3(a) of the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.

Bishop Bledsoe has not been accused of or charged with any chargeable offense under The Discipline, nor have any formal written complaints been filed or processed against him under the provisions of ¶413. There are no administrative or judicial actions pending. He is not under suspension. Notwithstanding the foregoing, and in the absence of any chargeable offenses or complaints, the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy notified Bishop Bledsoe that it intended to conduct a hearing on July 16, 2012, prior to taking a vote on the issue of whether he should be involuntarily retired as an active bishop in The United Methodist Church.

After conducting a hearing on July 16, and 17, 2012, the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy voted to involuntarily retire Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe as an active bishop in The United Methodist Church pursuant to ¶408.3(a). Such action was unprecedented in that it was taken without formal complaint or charges, without an opportunity for just resolution, and without any uniform rules for involuntary retirement of bishops enacted by the General Conference. Said action was based on unconstitutional provisions of the Discipline, denied the bishop the basic elements of a fair process and violated ¶¶16, 19, 27 and 50 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. The South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy reported its action to the 2012 South Central Jurisdictional Conference and asked the Jurisdictional Conference to “affirm” the Committee’s action. The 2012 South Central Jurisdictional Conference voted to follow the Committee on Episcopacy’s recommendation on July 19, 2012, and placed Bishop Bledsoe in the retired relationship as of August 31, 2012.

Bishop Bledsoe hereby appeals the actions of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and the 2012 South Central Jurisdictional Conference for the reasons stated herein and prays the Judicial Council to docket the matter forthwith and to afford an opportunity to file further brief and exhibits in support of this appeal. Upon information and belief, the relevant minutes of the meetings of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and the transcript of the hearing conducted by the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy on July 16 and 17, 2012, are in the possession of or under the control of Donald R. House, Chair of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy (2008-2012). Upon information and belief, the minutes of the 2012 South Central Jurisdictional Conference are in the possession of or under the control of the Reverend Dr. David L. Severe, Director of Mission and Administration, South Central Jurisdiction. Your applicant requests that the Judicial Council direct said persons to provide said transcripts, minutes, and all relevant records in a prompt and timely fashion to assist and facilitate Judicial Council review.

As and for the basis of the appeal, your applicant asserts and assigns the following errors of Church law and procedure:

1)     The South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and the South Central Jurisdictional Conference lack the authority to involuntarily retire a bishop under the provisions of 1408.3(a). Said paragraph is unconstitutional and violates ¶16, Article IV; ¶19, Article III; ¶27, Article V; and ¶50, Article VI of The Constitution of The United Methodist Church.

2)     The action of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy is unconstitutional and unlawful and violates ¶16.5 of the Constitution that provides only the General Conference may establish a uniform rule for the retirement of bishops. The General Conference has not established any uniform rules for the involuntary retirement of bishops as required by the Constitution.

3)     The actions of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and the South Central Jurisdictional Conference violated ¶19 of the Constitution. Said actions are unlawful and unconstitutional and have the effect of changing or altering our rule of government so as to do away with the episcopacy or destroy the plan of itinerant general superintendency of The United Methodist Church, all in violation of the Restrictive Rule.

4)     The action of the 2012 South Central Jurisdictional Conference violated ¶27 of the Constitution by acting in excess of its constitutional authority. Further, the action of the 2012 South Central Jurisdictional Conference violated ¶50 of the Constitution by acting in excess of its constitutional warrant of power.

5)      The actions of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and the South Central Jurisdictional Conference are unconstitutional and violate ¶50, Article IV of the Constitution that provides that bishops elected from jurisdictions shall have life tenure.

6)     The actions of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and the South Central Jurisdictional Conference are unlawful and violates the Constitution in that a jurisdictional committee on episcopacy lacks the authority to involuntarily retire a bishop in the absence of a disciplinary provision granting specific authorization based upon a uniform rule for the involuntary retirement of a bishop adopted by the General Conference of The United Methodist Church.

7)     The actions of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and the South Central Jurisdictional Conference are unlawful and violate ¶406 of the Discipline due to discussion of Episcopal assignments held by committee members prior to the completion of all elections and consultation with all bishops to be elected at the 2012 session of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference where the election of bishops is to take place. Public statements attributed to the Chair of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy make it apparent that such impermissible discussion was had among the Committee, which action is violative of ¶406 of the Discipline.

8)     The South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy failed to provide a statement of reasons for its action along with the 30-day notice but rather, did not provide its statement of reasons until 20 days prior to the scheduled hearing based on the Committee’s self-imposed timetable, all in violation of fair process principles. Additional documents were provided less than 20 days prior to the hearing, and additional documents were provided even later. In addition, the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy failed in significant measure to observe its self-imposed timetable and failed to provide crucial documents and materials relied upon in a fair and timely manner.

9)  The South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy’s action violates fair process by its failure or refusal to provide Bishop Bledsoe with all documents relied upon by the Committee in a timely manner. As a result, Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe was deprived of a meaningful opportunity to review all materials relied upon by the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy in order to meet the substance of the issues and to review all evidence upon which the Committee’s proposed action was based.

10)  The South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy lacks jurisdiction to act unilaterally to involuntarily retire a bishop in that it has not received nor been notified of any formal written complaint presented first to the President of the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops pursuant to the provisions of ¶413 of the Book of Discipline that accuses Bishop Bledsoe of any misconduct, chargeable offenses, or any violation of sacred trust incumbent upon the office of bishop. The provisions of ¶408.3(a) purport to grant such authority to the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy in violation of the Constitutional provisions cited, and therefore said paragraph is invalid and cannot be enforced.

11) By extension, the 2012 South Central Jurisdictional Conference had no lawful basis to take the action that it took on July 19, 2012, to “affirm” the unlawful and unconstitutional recommendation of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy to involuntarily retire Bishop Bledsoe. Said action was unlawful, unconstitutional, and violates ¶413 of the Book of Discipline and ¶¶16, 19, 27, and 50 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church.

12) The actions of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and the South Central Jurisdictional Conference to involuntarily retire Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe with a 30-day notice are unconstitutional, improper, and violate the Book of Discipline in that they violate the doctrine of separation of powers and violate all traditional notions of fair process. Neither the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy, the South Central Jurisdictional Conference, nor any body of the Church has any jurisdiction to act to summarily, to involuntarily retire a bishop in the absence of a uniform rule established by the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. Such action is totally foreign to the Constitution, to principles of separation of powers and fair process, and to established disciplinary process.

13) The actions of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy taken to establish and implement a full and formal evaluation of bishops failed to comply with ¶412 and failed to acknowledge, involve, or consult with the area committee on episcopacy. Further the actions of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy were not fair, not representative of a full evaluation of Bishop Bledsoe’s performance in office and usurped the prerogative of the North Texas Annual Conference Committee on Episcopacy to express and articulate the Episcopal needs of the Annual Conference.

14The action of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy was a violation of ¶637 of the Book of Discipline by its failure to consider the needs for episcopal leadership as articulated by the North Texas Annual Conference Committee on Episcopacy. Specifically, the method of review of episcopal performance bypassed the conference Committee on Episcopacy in violation of ¶637 of the Book of Discipline.

WHEREFORE, your applicant prays for the following relief:

1)   A declaration that ¶408.3(a) of 2008 Book of Discipline, as amended by the 2012 General Conference violates 11 16, 19, 27, and 50 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church and is therefore unenforceable.

2)   A declaration that the action taken against Bishop Bledsoe by the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and “affirmed” by the 2012 South Central Jurisdictional Conference was unconstitutional, unlawful, null, void, and no effect.

3)   A declaration that the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy failed to follow a fair process in its action to involuntarily retire Bishop Bledsoe.

4)   A declaration that the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy failed to follow the provisions of ¶413 of the Book of Discipline regarding complaints against bishops.

5)   A declaration that the actions of South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and 2012 South Central Jurisdictional Conference to involuntarily retire Bishop Bledsoe are unlawful, null, void, and of no effect.

6)  A declaration vacating and reversing the actions of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and the 2012 South Central Jurisdictional Conference that placed Bishop Bledsoe in the retired relation.

7)  A declaration and determination that Bishop Bledsoe be immediately reinstated to his rightful status as an active bishop of The United Methodist Church and an order reversing the unlawful action of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and the 2012 South Central Jurisdictional Conference.

8)  A declaration that Bishop Bledsoe is entitled to an immediate assignment to an episcopal area within the South Central Jurisdiction, with restoration of all salary and benefits.

9)  A declaration that Bishop Bledsoe is entitled to be made whole for all costs and expenses incurred by him in defense of the action of the South Central Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and the 2012 South Central Jurisdictional Conference, including, but not limited to, relocation expenses, travel and lodging expenses, fees, costs, and related expenses.

10)  Such other relief, declaration orders, and remedies as may be just and proper premises considered.

Respectfully submitted,

Judge Jon R. Gray (Ret.)

Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P.

2555 Grand Blvd.

Kansas City, MO 64108

Leave a Reply

13 Comments on "Judicial Council to hear Bledsoe appeal in November"

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
freeinchrist35
Guest

Ok can someone enlighten me here. The Bishop committed no Crime, violated no rules, and not one complaint was of file against the man for doing anything wrong. I smell a RAT. It really sounds like this is "political" and there are some people who wanted the Bishop gone, so they could put in his place a puppet.

Unless someone could show me where the Bishop was wrong, it really looks like the Bishop was doing what God called him to do and some folks did not like it.

subway
Guest

I dont know if I am on the minority here, but I'd really love to know what Mr Bledsoe has done right or wrong to invite a decision from the SJC to involuntarily retired him.
Peeps, is that asking too much?

easygoing
Guest

When is enough enough? There will be no winners in this tug of war, only division. I don't understand why Bishop Bledsoe cannot read the writing on the wall and bow out gracefully. The expense, hard feelings, and tension will not strengthen our denomination. I pray daily for resolution, and pray it will not become an embarrasment to us as United Methodist.

graymen
Guest

Bishop Bledsoe did not do anything wrong and is being railroaded. He did not inflict wounds to the UMC and should not back down.

dorothy
Guest

Praying that the Spirit of truth and love will illuminate the "handwriting on the wall" for all involved. The type of attack the Bishop has had to endure has no place in a truly Christian organization. If this is how the UMC treats those it elected to guide, there is little of Christ's teaching left in this institution!

revtom5
Guest
Even Christian organizations need to periodically evaluate staff and determine whether they are the right person for the job. It appears to me that the SCJ Episcopacy Committee bent over backwards to be fair and to consider all options before making a decision. It appears to me that there was lots of prayer and soul-searching by the committee during this process. I truly think they were trying to find a solution that was best for the church. And that is the priority. The leader's personal needs come second to the health and well-being of the church. The committee tried to… Read more »
border_ruffian
Guest

Having read the 'Appeal,' I am sad that the result of these actions is to fog the issue by placing the UMC and the BOD on trial, rather than the performance of a bishop.

randys47
Guest

Oh, and Bishop Bledsoe was elected from the Texas Conference, not the Central Texas Conference.

flute
Guest

Thanks for the correction and the information. It will be interesting to see how things turn out in October.

randys47
Guest
The SCJ Committee on Episcopacy did not rush this matter to judgment. They sought to deal with a personnel matter in the way they read the 2008 Discipline. In Para. 50, Article VI of the Constitution, the powers given to the Jurisdictional Conference authorize it to form the Committee on Episcopacy and empowers that committee to pass on the character and official administration of the bishops of the Jurisdiction and report to the Jurisdictional Conference appropriate action by the Jurisdictional Conference, as well as recommend the assignments of the bishops to the Conference for its approval. This process was followed… Read more »
flute
Guest
Looks like Bishop Bledsoe might have a good case. A friend of mine pointed out that the only body that can put an ordained elder on involuntary retirement is the order of elders of his or her annual conference. The episcopacy committee of the South Central Jurisdiction appoints and sends out bishops, but it does not have jurisdiction over elders. Perhaps someone (or some committee) didn't read the rule book carefully enough, if this indeed is the case. The committee might well have painted themselves into a corner by leaving one annual conference without a bishop. What they could have… Read more »
joedanboyd
Guest
I am happy to see this appeal, but wish it could have happened sooner. When something this important (involuntary retirement) happens in an unprecedented manner, it's important to have the issue of constitutionality reviewed at the highest level not only for the personalities involved, whose rights should never be trampled by the Denomination, but also for the integrity of the UMC which should always be willing to submit to review and, most importantly, never be allowed to overstep its authority. It is just as important that Bishop Bledsoe's healing be facilitated as it is for those clergy and laity who… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Google+
%d bloggers like this: