Sam Hodges, Managing Editor

Author's details

Name: Sam Hodges, Managing Editor
Date registered: April 28, 2012

Latest posts

  1. The United Methodist Reporter: Four seminaries to have new leader — June 11, 2013
  2. The United Methodist Reporter: General Conference 2016 cost projected to exceed $10 million — June 7, 2013
  3. The United Methodist Reporter: Book collects sermons by UM pastor Stephen F. Dill — May 31, 2013
  4. The United Methodist Reporter: Costs are in, implications still debated, in Bishop Bledsoe controversy — May 23, 2013
  5. The United Methodist Reporter: Ogletree: Change UM church law regarding homosexuality — May 20, 2013

Most commented posts

  1. The United Methodist Reporter: Bishop Bledsoe reverses course, says he’ll ‘fight like the devil’ to stay in post — 3 comments
  2. The United Methodist Reporter: Clergy, laity group asks censure of Bishop Talbert over gay rights activism — 2 comments
  3. The United Methodist Reporter: UMC reformers feeling thwarted by Judicial Council — 2 comments
  4. The United Methodist Reporter » Blog: Guaranteed appointment ended — 2 comments
  5. The United Methodist Reporter » General Conference 2012: Gay rights protestors cause early GC lunch break — 2 comments

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Jun 11 2013

The United Methodist Reporter: Four seminaries to have new leader

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Top leadership of United Methodist seminaries is undergoing quite a shuffle, with four of the 13 schools set to have new presidents or deans.

Lallene J. Rector has been named the next president of Garrett-Evangelical Theological School in Evanston, Ill., becoming the first woman and first layperson named to that post.

Lallene Rector

She’ll succeed Philip Amerson, who retires Dec. 31, after eight years as president.

Dr. Rector has been on the Garrett-Evangelical faculty for 27 years, and currently serves as vice president for academic affairs and academic dean. She holds a master of theological studies degree and doctorate of philosophy in the psychology of religion, both from Boston University.

“She is considered one of the top-tier talents in theological education and we are blessed to have her as president-elect,” said Jerre Stead, Garrett-Evangelical’s board chair.

Iliff School of Theology in Denver recently named the Rev. Thomas V. Wolfe as president. He’ll start Aug. 1.

Dr. Wolfe most recently has been senior vice president and dean, division of student affairs, at Syracuse University, overseeing more than 350 employees.

He’s a former dean and chaplain at Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University, and also served UM churches in New York.

“His leadership and management skills will greatly benefit Iliff as the school moves forward with a number of strategic initiatives,” said Jim Wilkins, Iliff’s board chair.

Jeffrey Kuan

Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, Calif., named the Rev. Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan as president, effective July 1.

Dr. Kuan, who succeeds the Rev. Jerry D. Campbell, will be coming from Drew University Theological School in New Jersey, where he has been dean. He’s a specialist in the Hebrew Bible and in Asian and Asian-American hermeneutics.

“Jeffrey is a distinguished educator, scholar and minister who is deeply committed to the vibrant future of theological education,” said the Rev. David Richardson, Claremont’s board chair.

Dr. Kuan’s appointment leaves Drew, also a UM seminary, without a leader.

Drew University’s president, Vivian Bull, will name an interim dean by June 30, said spokesman Dave Uha.

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Jun 07 2013

The United Methodist Reporter: General Conference 2016 cost projected to exceed $10 million

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Whatever else may be said about General Conference, it doesn’t come cheap.

A recent UMC report projects that the next General Conference, set for May 10-20, 2016, in Portland, Ore., will cost nearly $10.8 million.

That’s up more than $2 million from General Conference 2012 in Tampa, Fla., which, despite unfailing hospitality by local UM volunteers, got its share of bad reviews.

The nearly 1,000 delegates to General Conference 2012, in Tampa, Fla., worked through legislation first in committee, then in plenary, such as this session. UNITED METHODIST NEWS SERVICE PHOTO BY MIKE DUBOSE

The Portland gathering is nearly three years off, but Lonnie Chafin is steamed already about the price tag.

“It’s an abomination,” said Mr. Chafin, treasurer of the Northern Illinois Conference and a delegate in Tampa. “I don’t think we have $10 million of value from General Conference.”

General Conference is the quadrennial UMC gathering in which about 1,000 delegates from around the world settle questions of church law, finances and social policy.

Many in the UMC, such as Mr. Chafin, remain blue about General Conference 2012.

Considerable time and money went into crafting the Call to Action agenda aimed at reversing the decades-long UMC membership slide in the United States.

Some of that legislation went down in committee. Other key measures—such as agency reorganization and ending guaranteed appointment for ordained elders—passed, only to be overturned by Judicial Council.

Meanwhile, General Conference again saw failed efforts to change the church’s position on homosexuality, leading to gay rights demonstrations that briefly shut down plenary action.

The Rev. Rebekah Miles, a Perkins School of Theology professor and Arkansas Conference delegate, calls it the “do-nothing General Conference.” (Click here to read her commentary.)

The Rev. Andy Langford, a Western North Carolina Conference delegate, agrees, but emphasizes the price tag.

“We spent $8 million to do nothing,” he said. “You want me to keep giving money to do that?”

Up and up

The General Council on Finance and Administration recently delivered a report on General Conference costs to the Commission on the General Conference.

The report puts General Conference 2012 expenses at $8,449,757. That’s about $300,000 under projections.

“I have to give a great deal of credit to Alan Morrison (business manager for General Conference 2012) who managed things superbly,” said the Rev. L. Fitzgerald “Gere” Reist II, secretary of General Conference.

But the Tampa gathering still cost nearly $1.4 million more than General Conference 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas, which cost $1.7 million more than General Conference 2004 in Pittsburgh.

And, those close to the process agree, the final reported costs don’t really cover everything.

The big number includes direct expenses—such as travel, housing and per diem for delegates. But it doesn’t cover, say, what a church agency might spend on sending staff to monitor legislation.

“You’ll never get to the dollar cost of all that,” said Mr. Langford, a longtime advocate for streamlining agencies. “It’s not just money. How much does it cost for the bishops to sit there for two weeks and do nothing?” (Bishops take turns presiding at General Conference plenary sessions, but don’t vote or join in plenary debate.)

Airfares, translators

One clear reason for the mounting cost of General Conference is the increasing worldwide nature of the church.

As the UMC has shrunk in the United States, it has grown in Africa. That has meant, with each recent quadrennium, fewer U.S. delegates and more from the Central Conferences.

Legislative committee work, such as at this session, dominated the early going at General Conference 2012 in Tampa, Fla. UNITED METHODIST NEWS SERVICE PHOTO BY PAUL JEFFREY

In Tampa, for example, more than a third of the delegates were from Central Conferences. About one in four were from Africa.

The cost of flying in more delegates from abroad has helped swell General Conference costs. Even more dramatic is the rise in cost for translators.

That line item for General Conference 2004 was $847,947. For General Conference 2012, translation costs had grown to $1,312,676.

And at General Conference 2012, delegates added Kiswahili to the languages which the Daily Christian Advocate, the comprehensive report on General Conference, is translated into.

That will help bump translation costs for General Conference 2016 to about $2.3 million, according to GCFA.

Indeed, GCFA projects that all expense categories will climb for Portland, including one titled “General Conference Commissions & Committees.” Its anticipated rise of nearly $300,000 owes, in part, to General Conference 2012 deciding to go from three to 10 Central Conference representatives on the Commission on the General Conference.

Already, the Commission’s twice-yearly meetings are involving farther flights, said Judi Kenaston, Commission chair. She added that the Commission now has its meetings translated into two languages—Portuguese and French—rather than one. That too is an additional expense.

Economy options

In considering ways to trim General Conference costs, the obvious first place to look is number of delegates. The Book of Discipline says there must be at least 600, and no more than 1,000.

“We ought to be looking at the size of General Conference, within the parameters the Discipline gives, with a mind to what is a manageable and inclusive body to do that kind of work,” said Bishop Gregory Palmer of the West Ohio Conference.

Ms. Kenaston noted considerable pushback to past efforts to reduce the delegate count. The Commission gets to make the call (that’s a change from the past, when the secretary of General Conference decided) and debated the question at its recent meeting.

“We had a very thorough discussion,” Ms. Kenaston said. “I would say we don’t have a consensus at this point.”

Some General Conference 2012 delegates lamented the use of fancy downtown hotels and the Tampa Convention Center, and suggested a shift in the future to a large, Methodist-related college, to save.

But that would likely require meeting in summer, when a campus could spare dorm and meeting room space. Currently, the church constitution requires that General Conference meet in April or May.

In Tampa, delegates passed a constitutional amendment to change that, but to take effect the measure must be approved in the conferences.  The Commission will decide on a General Conference 2020 location (in the North Central Conference, according to rotation) at its fall meeting, before the amendment process is likely to be completed.

So even if the will were there to try a college campus, the earliest chance would likely be 2024.

Ms. Kenaston understands the desire but questions the practicality.

“I have never seen a college campus that could accommodate this type of meeting,” she said.

Mr. Chafin believes cutting costs is important, and supports serious consideration of bringing the delegate count down.

But he doesn’t want the cost issue to divert from what he sees as the existential issues facing the UMC.

“I could support getting smaller for cheaper,” he said. “But if you’re going in the wrong direction, it doesn’t matter how big or small the boat is.”

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May 31 2013

The United Methodist Reporter: Book collects sermons by UM pastor Stephen F. Dill

Original post at

The Poetry of Faith: Sermons Preached in a Southern Church, by the Rev. Stephen F. Dill, has been published by NewSouth Books in Montgomery, Ala. The collection’s publication is timed to the 100th anniversary of Dauphin Way UMC, where Dr. Dill was senior minister from 1972 to 1990, and remains pastor emeritus. Frye Gaillard, a Mobile author, edited the book and wrote the introduction, noting Dr. Dill’s eloquence and commitment to civil rights during 40 years of active ministry.

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May 23 2013

The United Methodist Reporter: Costs are in, implications still debated, in Bishop Bledsoe controversy

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The arguments go on about whether the victim in the failed effort to oust Bishop Earl Bledsoe was accountability for bishops or Bishop Bledsoe himself.

Bishop Earl Bledsoe, now leading Northwest Texas and New Mexico Conferences, speaks at a clergy retreat earlier this year.

What’s beyond dispute is that the episode came at a cost, including financial.

The South Central Jurisdiction recently paid nearly $100,000 to cover legal fees and other expenses of Bishop Bledsoe, as ordered by the UMC’s Judicial Council, which reinstated him last November.

That money comes from apportionment payments—in other words, from people in the pews across the South Central Jurisdiction.

Highland Park UMC in Dallas contributed another $75,000 for Bishop Bledsoe’s legal defense, from a benevolence fund.

The South Central Jurisdiction episcopacy committee, which sought to retire Bishop Bledsoe for ineffectiveness, went about $14,000 over budget due to extra meetings over his status.

“It is what it is,” Bishop Bledsoe said by phone recently. “Obviously that money could have been used for other things. I’m not so sure, given the realities of the situation, it could have been any different.”

The UMC encourages amicable resolutions of church conflicts, but this one went the opposite direction, even including, at one point, a private investigator.

That may represent another first for the UMC in an episode all agree was unprecedented, one that continues to reverberate with accusations of conflict of interest and warnings of dangerous precedents established by how things played out.


The Bishop Bledsoe saga is painfully familiar to many, but here’s a refresher.

Delegates to the 2008 South Central Jurisdictional Conference elected him to the episcopacy, and he was assigned to lead the North Texas Conference, at the request of delegates from there. He was the third consecutive African American to lead the conference.

Bishop Bledsoe would earn admirers, including pastors at Highland Park UMC, one of the denomination’s largest churches. They saw him as a change agent, willing to take flak for instituting long-overdue organizational reforms, and willing to support creative approaches to ministry—including their own.

But deep tensions developed between Bishop Bledsoe and other North Texas clergy over his reorganization of the conference, choice of district superintendents and handling of clergy evaluations and appointments. It didn’t help that he was in Liberia on a mission trip when a scandal broke at St. Luke “Community” UMC in Dallas, and went days before releasing a statement.

Don House

The South Central Jurisdiction episcopacy committee was led—still is—by Don House, a Ph.D. economist in Bryan, Texas. His oft-stated argument is that the long steady decline of the UMC in the United States means ineffective clergy, including bishops, can no longer be indulged.

Under Dr. House, the committee last spring used a three-part system for evaluating bishops of the jurisdiction. Bishop Bledsoe got the lowest scores, and went into a May 24, 2012 meeting with the committee knowing that, Dr. House said.

That meeting, according to Dr. House, did not go well.

“We wanted from him an acknowledgement that there were weaknesses, and we wanted to know what his plans were for improving,” Dr. House said. “His answers were way below par.”

After meeting with Bishop Bledsoe, no committee members wanted him to lead their conference, Dr. House said. He added that the committee decided it would be willing to hold a hearing on involuntary retirement, if it came to that.

Next, Dr. House and another committee member met with Bishop Bledsoe, giving him the option of retiring voluntarily or facing an involuntary retirement hearing.

The process had been private to this point, and Dr. House said the committee hoped to spare Bishop Bledsoe the embarrassment of a public airing of the poor evaluation. The committee also wanted to find him another church position, possibly as a bishop-in-residence, that would better use his talents and keep him at the same pay level.

On May 31, 2012, Bishop Bledsoe told the North Texas Conference by video that he would be taking voluntary retirement. He smiled as he said it, but gave no reason.

Some black clergy (as well as others) began to question what was happening, and at the North Texas Conference’s annual gathering they formally asked Bishop Bledsoe to reconsider.

In closing remarks of that meeting, on June 5, 2012, Bishop Bledsoe dramatically reversed course, saying he’d been evaluated unfairly and promising to “fight like the devil” to keep his job. He noted the North Texas Conference had begun to see improvement in worship attendance and other key statistics. He also reported his pain at hearing that someone in the conference had said, “When are we going to get a white bishop?”

Later, Bishop Bledsoe would write that he did not consider the effort to retire him to be racially motivated.

The episcopacy committee followed through, holding a marathon closed-door hearing in Oklahoma City on July 16-17, just before the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. Bishop Bledsoe was accompanied by clergy advocates.

Outside the hearing room, he had working on his behalf a Dallas lawyer, Jonathan Wilson, who specializes in employment disputes. Mr. Wilson provided the committee videotape depositions of North Texas Conference clergy speaking for Bishop Bledsoe, and submitted documents attacking the fairness of the committee’s evaluation and questioning whether the committee had followed church law.

Bishop Bledsoe would lose in Oklahoma City. The committee voted to retire him involuntarily (24 in favor, four against and two abstaining), and delegates to the full Jurisdictional Conference affirmed the decision by an 82 percent margin.

Dr. House had appeared before the larger group, choking back tears as he described how hard the process had been, but also reiterating the committee’s conclusion that Bishop Bledsoe was an ineffective administrator. He added that the committee had, through its dealings with him, come to question Bishop Bledsoe’s trustworthiness.

Bishop Bledsoe also took the microphone, again raising the fairness question and angrily defending his integrity against what he described as Dr. House’s “zingers.”


In retiring Bishop Bledsoe, the committee had used paragraph 408.3(a) of the Book of Discipline, the UMC’s law book. The paragraph says an episcopacy committee can retire a bishop “for performance,” if it’s in the interest of the church. But it doesn’t define an unacceptable standard of performance or give many details for how a committee should proceed in doing an involuntary retirement.

Jon Gray

While Bishop Bledsoe wasn’t the first bishop quietly encouraged to retire, he was the first to be subject to a 408.3(a) forced retirement. In Oklahoma City, Dr. House said an appeal of the committee’s action would at least provide clarity from the Judicial Council on how episcopacy committees can use the provision.

Bishop Bledsoe obliged by promptly appealing. Jon Gray—a Kansas City, Mo., attorney, former state court judge and former member of the Judicial Council—took over as counsel, filing a brief challenging the committee’s action generally, and specifically arguing that 408.3(a) violated other parts of the church constitution.By late summer, Bishop Bledsoe and his wife, Leslie, had moved out of their episcopal residency into temporary housing in Dallas, and awaited his day in court.




The first key Judicial Council action came in October. The Council had been asked by South Central Jurisdiction bishops to decide the constitutionality of 408.3(a). The Council ruled tersely that “the requisite number of votes needed for establishing unconstitutionality of 408.3(a) was not obtained.”

The paragraph remained constitutional. But the absence of affirmative language did not bode well for the South Central Jurisdiction episcopacy committee.

The Judicial Council heard Bishop Bledsoe’s appeal in November, in Phoenix, with Mr. Gray arguing for him and Dr. House defending the episcopacy committee. Within a couple of days, the Judicial Council ruled that the committee had committed “numerous violations” of fair process against Bishop Bledsoe, and had failed to follow specific requirements of 408.3(a). The Council ordered him reinstated as an active bishop, given an area to oversee and “made whole” financially.At the same Oklahoma City gathering where Bishop Bledsoe had been voted out, delegates had elected new bishops, and the episcopacy committee had made bishop assignments for all conferences. But one spot was left open—the episcopal area encompassing the Northwest Texas and New Mexico Conferences.

Early this year, Bishop Bledsoe and his wife moved to Albuquerque, headquarters for that episcopal area, and he began his new assignment.


Once reinstated, Bishop Bledsoe got back pay and benefits through the General Council for Finance and Administration, which handles bishops’ pay. The amount was reduced by donations Bishop Bledsoe received for living expenses while awaiting his Judicial Council hearing.

But the South Central Jurisdiction also recently wrote checks totaling $98,930.68, to cover Bishop Bledsoe’s legal fees and other expenses, said the Rev. David Severe, executive director of the jurisdiction.

They include $58,542.53 to Shook, Hardy & Bacon, Mr. Gray’s law firm; and $15,895 to the law firm Haynes and Boone, for the part of the defense overseen by Mr. Wilson. (He has since moved to another firm.)

A check for $12,596.25 went to GCFA. That’s to cover Bishop Bledsoe’s move from the North Texas episcopal residency to temporary housing as he awaited appeal. GCFA picked that up, but insisted on reimbursement from the South Central Jurisdiction once the Judicial Council had ruled against the episcopacy committee, Mr. Severe said.

The South Central Jurisdiction also paid Bishop Bledsoe $9,625.92 directly, for other expenses incurred, and paid travel expenses for the Rev. Zan Holmes ($847.73) who accompanied Bishop Bledsoe in the Oklahoma City hearing and the Rev. Larry Pickens ($1,423.25) who joined in strategy development and arguments for the  Judicial Council hearing in October on 408.3a.

That totals $98,930.68, and represents about a third of the reserves the South Central Jurisdiction keeps in case it has to have an emergency meeting, Dr. Severe said.

He noted that the controversy’s costs include the episcopacy committee going $14,000 over its budget.

Dr. Severe and the Rev. Jim Welch, who heads the Mission Council of the South Central Jurisdiction—the group responsible for decision-making between quadrennial jurisdictional conferences—agreed to the Reporter’s request to see billing records for the $98.930.68. They said that since apportionment dollars were involved, the records should be open.

The records show Mr. Gray charged $400 an hour for some work. Other services were not broken down by hour.

Mr. Gray said by phone that confidentiality requirements would keep him from sharing how much he charged.

“I think I’m OK to say that a significant reduction from my standard rate was offered,” he said.


Mr. Wilson is a member of Highland Park UMC, and met Bishop Bledsoe through the Rev. Paul Rasmussen, associate pastor at the church. With last summer’s drama unfolding, Mr. Rasmussen said he got a call from Bishop Bledsoe, asking for help in finding a lawyer with expertise in employment disputes.

Mr. Rasmussen would give a videotape deposition for Bishop Bledsoe, strongly defending the bishop’s work in North Texas. So did the Rev. Mark Craig, senior pastor, who complained that the episcopacy committee had not sought his input as leader of one of the denomination’s largest churches.

Mr. Craig and Mr. Rasmussen said in a recent interview that they did not commit early on to helping underwrite Bishop Bledsoe’s defense. But by August, they had learned from Mr. Wilson of mounting expenses. On Aug. 21, Highland Park UMC sent a $75,000 check to Haynes and Boone.

“I said, ‘You know, he’s going to need a defense fund,’” Mr. Craig recalled. “The bishop didn’t ask us. . . . It was just a good faith gesture to a person we thought was abused.”

Mr. Craig said the money came from a fund for the needy that he controlled as senior pastor.

“We felt the bishop was needy,” he said.

Mr. Craig emphasized that the fund comes from a single donor.

“That did not touch our budget,” he said of the $75,000. “It did not cost our congregation a dime.”


In describing his efforts for Bishop Bledsoe, Mr. Wilson shared with the Reporter that he had used a private investigator. He would not name the investigator, and said the cost was under $5,000.

The investigator looked into Dr. House’s professional background and found he had collaborated on church-related research projects with the Rev. Lovett Weems, director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary, in Washington, D.C.

That interested Mr. Wilson, because Dr. House had enlisted Dr. Weems to help the episcopacy committee. At Dr. House’s request, Dr. Weems studied a questionnaire the committee used in getting input on bishops’ performance from clergy and laity in their conferences. Dr. Weems ranked the questions he thought were most important in episcopal leadership.

The episcopacy committee report detailing Bishop Bledsoe’s poor evaluation included his scores as calculated under Dr. Weems’ ranking.

On June 29, Mr. Wilson wrote the UMC’s Judicial Council, arguing that by bringing his associate Dr. Weems into the process, Dr. House had created “an inherent conflict of interest,” and tainted the evaluation of Bishop Bledsoe.

Dr. Weems, reached for this article, said he was only asked to help with the questionnaire, which was used with all bishops. He said he did not look at Bishop Bledsoe’s scores or advise the committee on Bishop Bledsoe.

“All that Don and I have done is public,” he added when told about the private investigator. “All they had to do is ask.”

Mr. Wilson said the cost of the private investigator was ultimately covered by the donation from Highland Park UMC. He said he made the decision to hire the investigator, and didn’t tell the Highland Park pastors or Bishop Bledsoe about it.

Bishop Bledsoe confirmed that he had not known an investigator was part of his defense team. He said he might not have taken all the steps Mr. Wilson did, but praised his work generally. 

“I think Jonathan was trying his best to find the truth and defend me in terms of that,” he said. “He’s a great attorney, and he was concerned about justice.”

When asked recently about Highland Park UMC having paid, unwittingly, for a private investigator, Mr. Craig said he was not upset, given that the investigation focused on possible conflicts of interest and not personal matters.

Mr. Craig continues to feel deeply that the episcopacy committee stacked the decks against Bishop Bledsoe. And if Bishop Bledsoe has backed away from race as a factor, Mr. Craig has not.

“This never would have happened to a white bishop,” he said.


Meanwhile, from the episcopacy committee side, there have been allegations of a conflict of interest involving Mr. Gray.

Dr. House and Jay Brim, another committee member, raised the question in a recent, unsuccessful petition for reconsideration of the Judicial Council decision reinstating Bishop Bledsoe. (They weren’t seeking to re-retire him, but rather to challenge other parts of the ruling.)

In their petition, they said that Mr. Gray had, with another former Judicial Council member, been paid to help lead a training session for the newly elected Judicial Council late last July. This was just after Mr. Gray had filed an appeal to the Judicial Council for Bishop Bledsoe.

Letting Mr. Gray do that training while he had a case before the Judicial Council “constitutes a clear and obvious conflict of interest, by implying an unmistakable bias toward that attorney and the party represented by him,” Dr. House and Mr. Brim wrote.

The Rev. William Lawrence, dean of Perkins School of Theology and president of the Judicial Council, confirmed that he arranged for Mr. Gray to help with the training and did not ask him to withdraw after the Bishop Bledsoe appeal was filed. He said Mr. Gray volunteered his time, though his expenses were covered. He noted that the training was all theoretical, not grounded in real cases.

Otherwise, Dr. Lawrence declined to comment on the conflict of interest charge.

Mr. Gray disputed it. He said Judicial Council members have an obligation to recuse if they feel themselves to be biased for whatever reason. And he noted that it’s not uncommon for Judicial Council members and parties who come before them to know each other.

“It doesn’t honor our process to suggest that members of the Judicial Council would fudge, based on who they knew,” he said.


Dr. House would not elaborate on his and Mr. Brim’s allegation of conflict of interest. But he was eager to talk about what he sees as the dangerous implication of the Judicial Council’s awarding of legal fees to Bishop Bledsoe.

That move encourages bringing lawyers into the church legal process, he said, and will create a chilling effect on episcopacy committees, causing them to avoid trying to retire ineffective bishops for fear of incurring large legal fees.

“The episcopacy committees are paralyzed,” he said.

Mr. Brim, a lawyer himself, foresees a legal “arms race,” and other committee members, such as the Rev. Don Underwood, worry aloud that lawyers will take Judicial Council cases on a contingency basis.

Part of the buzz about legal fees owes to a letter Mr. Gray wrote to U.S. bishops on May 14, 2012, offering his legal services on a “cost effective” basis. In the letter (a copy of which the Reporter obtained) he notes his Judicial Council background. He says he can help bishops “survive Judicial Council review” in answering questions of church law and can help them meet Book of Discipline requirements in processing complaints against clergy.

Mr. Gray confirmed by phone that he did write the letter seeking for-pay work from bishops, and considers the effort a ministry to the church.

“We would have far fewer problems if more bishops took advantage of sound legal advice,” he said.

Mr. Gray emphasized that when he wrote the letter, he did not anticipate he would get hired by Bishop Bledsoe. And in fact, he wrote it before Bishop Bledsoe’s fateful May 24, 2012 meeting with the episcopacy committee.

As for the Bledsoe case, Mr. Gray argues that the episcopacy committee bears the blame for a deeply flawed effort. It’s inconsistent with United Methodist polity and values, he said, for the same group to investigate, evaluate and decide the fate of a bishop.

“If he had robbed GCFA at gunpoint, he would have had more rights,” Mr. Gray said.

Nearly a year out, strong feelings and rhetoric are still the rule in the Bishop Bledsoe matter.

The calmest voice may be his.

“We’re just ready to put that behind us and do ministry,” Bishop Bledsoe said. “Sorry it happened.”

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May 20 2013

The United Methodist Reporter: Ogletree: Change UM church law regarding homosexuality

Original post at

Rev. Thomas Ogletree

By Thomas Ogletree, Special Contributor…

As a lifelong United Methodist, an ordained elder in the New York Conference, and a scholar specializing in theological and social ethics, I am profoundly grateful for the efforts of Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), their affiliate Methodists in New Directions (MIND), and similar organizations, to foster marriage equality for LGBT persons within United Methodist practices. Such equality is fully congruent with the inclusive vision of the “Mission and Ministry” of the United Methodist Church (cf. Part III, Sec. VI of the Book of Discipline), though same-sex civil unions and marriages are currently prohibited by Disciplinary rules.

Throughout most of my career I have served as a professor in theological schools and university-based divinity schools, which included terms as dean at Drew Theological Seminary and Yale University Divinity School. In these various roles I was a strong advocate for inclusive visions of the Christian mission, embracing issues of race, gender, class, national origin and sexual orientation. Given the academic focus of my ministry, I was rarely asked to conduct marriage ceremonies, so I gave little attention to Disciplinary rules that prohibited pastors from celebrating same-sex civil unions or from presiding over same-sex marriage ceremonies in states where they were legal.

However, when my son Thomas Rimbey Ogletree asked me to preside over his wedding to Nicholas William Haddad, I was deeply honored. There was no way that I could with integrity have declined his request, even though my action was designated as a “chargeable offense” by the United Methodist Discipline (cf. ¶2702). Tom and Nick are men of maturity, wisdom and integrity, and their exceptional bonds with each other have enhanced their commitments to foster a more just and inclusive society that serves the well-being of all people. Performing their wedding was one of the most significant ritual acts of my life as a pastor!

I fully embrace the basic theological commitments that undergird the mission of the United Methodist Church. Indeed, I had the honor to play a role in drafting the section on “Our Theological Task” (¶104, Part II of the Discipline, “Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task”). Drawing upon John Wesley’s teachings, this section emphasizes the priority of biblical authority, and it underscores the indispensable roles of tradition, reason and experience in informing our efforts to comprehend and appropriate the biblical witness. These principles are clearly incompatible with attempts to settle complex theological and ethical issues by “proof texting,” i.e., the citation of carefully selected biblical texts that allegedly provide definitive resolutions of particular issues. The self-conscious inclusion of tradition, reason and experience in our critical engagements with biblical resources actually deepens our discernment of the profound, life-transforming promises of the gospel message.

I am deeply grateful, moreover, for the opening section of the Book of Discipline, which reminds us of serious flaws and shortcomings manifest in the larger history of Methodism. Shortcomings specifically listed include our previous accommodation of racial segregation by establishing a race-based Central Jurisdiction, and our extended denial of ordination rights and prominent leadership roles for women. These unjust practices were by no means easily addressed or overcome. Indeed, the struggles to eliminate them generated serious conflicts within the church, conflicts that were only resolved by persistent efforts to press for more just and inclusive church practices.

Equally important is the Disciplinary discussion of human rights as central to the “Social Principles” of the United Methodist Church (Part IV). This text strongly endorses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with emphasis on respect for the inherent dignity of all persons. Explicitly cited are the full rights of racial, ethnic and religious minorities; and the rights of children, young people, the aging, women, men, immigrants and persons with disabilities. The list concludes by declaring the full human rights of all persons without regard to their sexual orientations, a reference that suggests rational and experiential grounds for endorsing the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

It is in the context of these traditions that we must address current shortcomings in United Methodist polity, in particular, 41 years of prejudicial language portraying the life practices of gay and lesbian persons as “incompatible with Christian teaching,” a standard that has excluded them from ordination, from marriage and in some cases even from church membership (Judicial Council Ruling 1032). These exclusionary principles are prominent components of the “chargeable offenses” assigned to the “Judicial Administration” (Chapter 7, ¶2702). Such unjust rules, combined with the prosecution of clergy who refuse to uphold them, are themselves incompatible with United Methodist visions of inclusiveness, which call for “Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors.”

To move past the crisis caused by the blemish of bigotry in our denomination, we need to give far more weight to reason and experience in our conscientious reflections on the import of the biblical message. We also need to uphold with integrity the inclusive vision that undergirds the United Methodist mission. Reason dictates that we take account of the evolution of scientific and legal understandings, which now recognize that variations in sexual orientation are a natural feature of human life. The denial of civil rights, including marriage rights, to gays and lesbians is, therefore, a violation of the U.S. Constitution. While we await the Supreme Court’s ruling on these rights, we should acknowledge as United Methodists that unprecedented numbers of leaders from other religious communities, along with significant portions of our major political parties, and virtually all of the nation’s largest corporations now embrace marriage equality. Experience teaches us, moreover, that people with gay and lesbian orientations are as fully capable of living mature and socially responsible human lives as heterosexuals. Given these realities the United Methodist vision obligates us to foster more inclusive communities, both within the church itself and the larger society as well. Such inclusiveness requires a full recognition of same-sex marriages, including an appreciation for the role such marriages can play both in fostering larger and more inclusive family networks and in undergirding a stable, just and well-ordered society.

Thus, I contend that same-sex unions and marriages are fully compatible with Christian teachings, and that we have an obligation to incorporate these understandings into United Methodist practices, even though such efforts are in conflict with the church’s existing judicial standards. For the sake of justice, therefore, I was obliged to commit an act of ecclesial disobedience, even though I now face judicial charges for acting in faithful devotion to our church’s inclusive vision.

The Rev. Ogletree is a retired UM pastor and Yale Divinity School dean. An essay answering his, by the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, is elsewhere on our webpage.

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May 16 2013

The United Methodist Reporter: UMR Communications, including United Methodist Reporter, to close

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Board members and staff of UMR Communications hold communion after closure vote. UMR photo by Sam Hodges

Finding no viable plan for reversing financial losses of recent months, UMR Communications will cease operations on May 31.

UMR Communications (UMRC) publishes the United Methodist Reporter in print and digital formats and online, and provides printing and communication services to churches and other nonprofits.

The final print Reporter will carry the date June 7, but will be mailed and printed by May 31.

The UMRC board reluctantly but unanimously voted this morning to close during a tearful meeting at the nonprofit’s Dallas office.

“At one time, our ministry produced nearly 300 separate editions of the newspaper which integrated content created by our news staff with content provided by church and conference partners,” said Tom Palmer, board chair.  “That number has decreased over the past 10-15 years due to changes in publishing technology. The financial crisis of 2008 had a significant impact on both individuals and institutions. Local church and conference finances were also severely affected. As a result, a growing number of churches and conferences either ceased publishing Reporter editions or changed their publishing frequency. We now no longer receive enough revenue from our publishing and printing operations to sustain the overhead needed to maintain the ministry.”

Closure will cost the jobs of the 26 remaining employees, including some with more than 40 years of service. Thirteen others were laid off near the end of 2012.

Alan Heath, CEO since August 2011, said the ministry had struggled financially for several years. But the late 2012 loss of a major contract – for printing, as well as for warehousing and shipping curriculum materials – reduced revenue by about 40 percent.

Reporter editions have declined to 45, though UMRC has continued to print other newspapers, as well as doing a variety of specialty printing.

Since the beginning of the year, efforts to cut costs while seeking new income could not keep the ministry in the black. Mr. Heath noted that UMRC has operated as a fee-for-service ministry, with no strong donor base and no direct support from the United Methodist Church.

In recent days, various organizational alternatives were explored internally and with friends of the ministry, Mr. Heath said, but closure became the only realistic step.

“There was no solution that didn’t involve red ink,” he told board members.

Mr. Heath added, “This decision obviously affects not only our newspaper customers, but other customers that have relied on us for printing and mailing services for many other products. We are sorry to leave our partners in ministry who have been so faithful to continue their relationship with us. We will do our best to help these ministries find a new print provider.”

Customers with questions are encouraged to contact the following:

Debbie Christian, Director of Production,

Kay Fielder, Sales and Customer Service,

Cherrie Graham, Ad Sales and Customer Service,

Wendy Campbell, Sales and Customer Service,

For departing employees, severance and vacation pay will not be available in the short term, for lack of funds, Mr. Heath said. He added that after liquidation of assets, any remaining funds will be used to pay former employees  proportionally.

The Reporter has its origins in pre-Civil War Methodist papers in Texas, and was long the main vehicle for news about Methodists in Texas and across the Southwest.

In recent decades, it has covered the full United Methodist Church, offering independent news coverage, features and commentaries. Staff members have regularly won religious press awards.

Mr. Heath said an appropriate home will be sought for the newspaper’s print and online archives.

The UMRC board celebrated communion at the end of this morning’s meeting, led by the Rev. Arthur McClanahan, a board member and director of communications for the Iowa Conference.

Before doing so, he said: “Many of us standing around these ordinary tables have received the gift of grace of people of the UMR family – the grace of an extra day, or days, or more when we’ve needed to send our copy for a paper, the grace of converting stick-figure ideas into beautiful designs, the grace of telling stories, offering commentaries, helping us to see beyond our own horizons. And we are the better for the gift that the UMR team is.”

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