The difficulties between Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe and the episcopacy committee to which he reports took a second unexpected turn late June 8, when the committee chairperson released a statement explaining why the panel asked Bledsoe to retire early.
"The results of our evaluation of Bishop Bledsoe were mixed," said Don House, chairperson of the South Central Jurisdictional Committee on the Episcopacy. "While having some skills as a spiritual leader, his administrative skills, relational skills, and style remain in question based upon our own evaluation tools and through conversations with North Texas Annual Conference leaders. We discussed these results, reports, issues and specific examples with Bishop Bledsoe."
The committee also determined that reassigning Bledsoe was not a workable option.
"Additionally, based upon the written and oral evaluations, we found no members of our committee (who represent all of our episcopal areas) who felt Bishop Bledsoe would be an effective episcopal leader in their annual conferences," House's statement said.
House, a lay member of the Texas Annual (regional) Conference, said the full committee took a single action after discussion with Bledsoe, requesting the bishop's retirement effective Aug. 31.
House indicated that he only came forward with his statement because of Bledsoe's public remarks on June 5 at the end of the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference.
Bledsoe, 61 and in his fourth year as bishop, initially announced plans to retire in a video on June 1. During the annual conference, leaders of North Texas' black caucuses had introduced a resolution asking Bledsoe to reconsider.
Bledsoe stunned many of the clergy and lay people gathered at the conference session when he declared that he was being pushed out and he was going to fight.
Bledsoe's reversal and House's statement offer a rare glimpse into an evaluation process that usually remains confidential. A number of longtime church observers, including bishops and church historians, say Bledsoe's public defiance of the episcopacy committee is unprecedented in The United Methodist Church's 44-year history.
Bledsoe told United Methodist News Service on June 6 that he decided to change course after praying to God for guidance.
"The decision to retire was the result of what I believed were the only available options to me, thus it was easy to make, but difficult to justify in my soul," Bledsoe said. "I know myself, and when I cannot face the person in the mirror in light of what I believe God is calling me to do, something is wrong."
July 10 hearing
Under the Book of Discipline, the denomination's law book, jurisdictional and central conference committees can place a bishop in involuntary retirement by a two-thirds vote. The jurisdictional committees assign and evaluate U.S. bishops, and the central conference bodies do the same with bishops in Africa, Asia and Europe.
Each U.S. jurisdictional committee on the episcopacy includes a clergy delegate and a lay delegate from each of that jurisdiction's annual (regional) conferences.
House's statement said the South Central Jurisdictional committee has scheduled a hearing on July 10 to consider involuntary retirement.
The Book of Discipline says a bishop can appeal a vote for involuntary retirement to the United Methodist Judicial Council, the denomination's equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The full statement from Don House follows:
Statement from the Chair: June 8, 2012
The South Central Episcopacy Committee spent many months developing formal evaluation tools for active bishops. As part of that process, the full committee met individually with each active bishop on February 6-7, 2012. Bishop Bledsoe's schedule conflict at that time resulted in an additional called meeting with him to complete our work. In advance of this full committee meeting, three members of our committee met with him on March 27 to review our materials.
Bishop Bledsoe met with the full committee on May 24. This meeting represented the completion of our evaluation of all active bishops in the jurisdiction. The evaluation of each bishop was extensive, including the use of a variety of metrics.
The results of our evaluation of Bishop Bledsoe were mixed. While having some skills as a spiritual leader, his administrative skills, relational skills, and style remain in question based upon our own evaluation tools and through conversations with North Texas Annual Conference leaders. We discussed these results, reports, issues and specific examples with Bishop Bledsoe.
Following our discussions with Bishop Bledsoe, our committee took a single action - that of requesting Bishop Bledsoe's retirement effective August 31, 2012. I, along with one additional member of our committee, met with Bishop Bledsoe on May 29 to deliver our committee's request for an early retirement.
At the end of that meeting, Bishop Bledsoe made his decision to retire early. It was a difficult decision for him and one influenced by additional information presented in the meeting. Our committee had already pledged to schedule a hearing in which a vote would be taken, according to the Book of Discipline, to consider involuntary retirement if he chose not to retire early. Additionally, based upon the written and oral evaluations, we found no members of our committee (who represent all of our Episcopal areas) who felt Bishop Bledsoe would be an effective Episcopal leader in their annual conferences. His decision to choose early retirement was understandable.
In my earlier statements to the press about Bishop Bledsoe's retirement announcement, I purposely withheld some of the above information. Our committee deemed this information confidential and appropriately felt that withholding such information as confidential would be of personal benefit to Bishop Bledsoe, given his decision to retire early.
On June 1, Bishop Bledsoe released his public statement announcing his early retirement. On June 5, at the end of the meeting of the North Texas Annual Conference, Bishop Bledsoe reversed this decision and discussed specifics of his evaluation.
Our committee has scheduled a hearing on July 10 to consider the question of involuntary retirement.
Donald R. House
Chair, South Central Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee
*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.