May We Never See Another Day Like It: Talking about the Discipline, Accountability, Race and Repentance

May We Never See Another Day Like It: Talking about the Discipline, Accountability, Race and Repentance

Rebekah Miles, Clergy Delegate, Arkansas Conference, South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church

Please God, may we never see another day like yesterday. At the meeting of the South Central Jurisdiction we voted to affirm the decision of our episcopacy committee to call for the involuntary retirement of one of our Bishops. 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.

We tried yesterday and over recent 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 three 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 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.

18 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ginger Watson on July 20, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Thanks for this Becca. As always, your wisdom and compassionate heart help me see more clearly and move towards hope. Can I add one thing? Each of us, as individuals, must strive toward a sort of rigorous self-evaluation. We must learn to listen to the feedback we receive through all of its sources, empathize with ourselves (it’s always hard to hear criticisms) but then move as quickly as we can to looking at the issue with an eye toward finding the truth in it. Where is the truth in this feedback that I am disengaged? Or that I am getting a bit lazy? All hard to hear, but where can I find some truth in that? And then what can I do to move forward toward higher accountability for myself. Self reflection and appropriate action. It’s hard but vital.

    Reply

    • Thanks Ginger, for this important reminder. I agree. It’s easy to become defensive in the face of criticism and not be willing to face the truth behind it. It won’t make much difference for Bishops and other clergy to go talk to a colleague, if the colleague won’t listen. But still it’s essential to try. It is painful to be on either side of those truth-telling conversations.

      Reply

  2. Posted by Janet Bell Odom on July 20, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Amen, Dr. Miles…the time is now to begin to clean up what’s been hidden under the rug for far too long. These will not be easy conversations, however needed ones. There are many young people who are watching us to see what we will do next after yesterday. Let’s not disappoint them…let’s not disappoint each other.

    Reply

    • It’s been good to talk over the last few days, Janet. I agree that these conversations, however needed, are so hard. Thanks for reminding me that many people – including young people – are watching closely. That’s a sobering thought.

      Reply

  3. Posted by John Feagins on July 20, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Thank you for having the courage to address this issue. Racism is not a simple binary matter – effective or ineffective, move or stay, elect or reject. Today, the SCJ prayed for a rejected bishop to be healed of his desire to assert his own dignity as a leader. Today, the only Spanish-language conference in United Methodism was disbanded with a unanimous vote and applause. Today, facing a choice between two gifted servants the same age with near identical CV’s – the church chose the Anglo leader over the Hispanic. Today, the SCJ will feed 50,000 meals to persons who will never visit a United Methodist Church because they seek not only food, but a sense of dignity as human beings rather than paternalism.

    Reply

    • Thanks for reminding me of the complexity. I was thinking the same thing about the Rio Grande conference. This change, however needed, was both a cause for joy and sadness.

      Reply

  4. Posted by Pilgrim1 on July 20, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    And maybe, just maybe you should take a deep breath, and lay down your pen!

    We elect clergy and laity to serve on committees like the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee to do the work of the church. Then we trust them to do it.

    Boards of Ordained Ministry make decisions that many don’t like all the time, but we trust them to do the work of the church.

    We don’t get “all up in arms,” to change the system. We trust those who do what? … The work of the church!

    Stirring the pot, and suggestive innuendo is certainly not the route to a smoother experience!

    Reply

    • Well, my brother, the deep breath is a great recommendation. I’m stopping to do that right now. Thanks for the reminder.

      Also, I’ll own the high horse charge. I’ve not only been known to ride my high horse as well as my hobby horse but also, at moments, to embrace a close relative of the high horse – my own personal inner jack ass. I would like to take this moment to apologize to all of the many people who have met my inner jackass.

      The blog post was addressed primarily to leaders in our church who are here at jurisdictional conference or in other leadership roles. It’s not only our place to deal with and address these issues; it is our duty.

      The innuendo charge leaves me flummoxed. If anything, the blog post strikes me as extremely frank. I’m aware of no hidden message behind my stated message. I pretty much said everything I wanted to say.

      Again, the deep breath advice is fabulous. I’m following it right now. Thanks.

      Reply

  5. Posted by Melissa Booth on July 21, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Thank you.

    Reply

  6. Beka, you have touched on the delicate nerve that is often made sore in the process of accountability. In the Gospel, Jesus seems eager to teach, train and otherwise instill faith in his followers, but it is always within the context of an authentic, trusting, honest relationship. And the intended outcome of accountability is always restoration. I know, at some basic level, our leadership intends that, but I’m not sure I witnessed the utilization of systems that worked for reconciliation and restoration prior to the system that worked for separation that led to quickly divorcing ourselves from the person being held accountable. This may be unfair to those who feel like an effort was made, but among the clergy, we simply live with the reality that this is a denomination known for shooting its wounded. Thank you so much for your incredible insight.

    Reply

  7. Posted by J. Smith on July 23, 2012 at 9:11 am

    It is not only clergy (Elders, LLP, and BIshops) who need to be held accountable. It is also our Laity. We are the church, all of us, together. I have seen Laity elected to positions and then abuse those positions. There was no accountability. In several instances, of which I have first hand knowledge, when attempts were made by the Elder appointed to seek accountability, they, the Elder, was moved. The Laity situation was simply left for the next appointee to be confronted by.

    Reply

  8. Wow! I don’t know all the facts and cannot make an totally informed opinion – but we all answer to a higher power and I believe it’s the same God we all believe in and worship. I’m “just” a Local Pastor – I say that not because it matters to me, for I am a child of God just as everyone is and I serve to the best of my ability, just as everyone else does – but that is what many (not all, Praise God!) call me.
    Words hurt – I loved the illustration I read about in a devotional – I’d give credit but don’t remember who or where – The writer was explaining to the younger children in the church how when words are said, once they are out of our mouths, they cannot be retrieve. Then he had the older youth seated in the balcony blow thousands of bubbles out over the congregation and instructed them to catch the bubbles and put them back in the bottle. You can’t do it. When bubbles break in your hands they don’t hurt – but the words can and do. Let us be more like Jesus, who cared for all with compassion, kindness, and most importantly LOVE & FORGIVENESS and may we all receive God’s peace.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Dee Dowdy on July 23, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    II know this reply is not exactly in line with the conversation here-but I am a white elder in the south who has worked hard to build bridges with people of other races. I am deeply sadden when my African-American brothers and sisters tell me that they only have limited opportunities because not many “white” churches will accept a “black” pastor. I thought the Holy Spirit made us all one! Should churches in the UMC even be asked if they will take a pastor who is not like the ones they have lways had (especially white males).

    Reply

  10. Posted by James V. Lyles on July 23, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Thanks Dr. Miles, the S.C Jurisdiction, acting in the best interest of the United Methodist Church, destroyed the ministry of a Bishop, who happened to be black. Thanks Mr. Holmes and the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. May the flag of racism fly high from the pole of accountability.

    Reply

    • Dear Rev. Lyles, This has been so painful for so many UMs, people of many different backgrounds. The pain of many African American clergy and lay delegates of the SCJ has been palpable. I don’t know how we go about healing that kind of pain. (By the way, I believe you were among the first group of African American students to graduate from Perkins. Is that right? You may remember my father, John Miles, a little guy from Arkansas and Louisiana, who graduated in 54 or 54. Rev Cecil Williams, laughing, said of my old father, “That boy wasn’t just half crazy. He was all crazy.”)

      Reply

  11. Posted by George the Methodist 4 Life on July 24, 2012 at 7:02 am

    There needs to more than “gee, what a terrible day.” So, your (well intended) commentary falls short. Bishop Bledsoe behaved in many inappropriate ways. His removal is totally justified. I feel force fitting the race card in this, in particular, is way off base. Save the race baiting for more legitimate issues, please.

    Reply

    • Dear George,

      You are no doubt right that my “well-intended commentary falls short.” I’ll willingly and gladly own that. Just about everything I do falls short; that’s not only my condition but also the human condition (but especially mine).

      I don’t agree, however, with your charge of race-baiting. How easily the charge of “race baiting” can become an excuse to stick our Wesleyan heads in the sand.

      I was pretty careful to say (emphatically) that the decision itself was not racist. But because race is still an issue in our church, the controversy was much more painful and wounding than it might have been. That’s hardly a controversial point; I’m guessing that a super-majority of the delegates at the SCJ would agree.

      Changing the UM Book of Discipline, talking honestly about race, and repenting may not be nearly enough, but it beats the heck out of keeping our heads buried.

      Rebekah

      Reply

  12. Posted by cabot on July 25, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Gender is also still an issue. Women’s salaries and appointments are well below our brothers…consistently. I see little discussion about that.

    Reply

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