Nine Methodist pastors from western Michigan could be disciplined for participating in the same-sex wedding of a fellow pastor. Benjamin Hutchison, formerly the minister at Cassopolis United Methodist Church, was forced to resign last week after his superiors found out he was in a relationship with another man.
While members of Hutchison's congregation knew he is gay and didn't care, church leadership gave him the option of resigning or being fired, after the district bishop asked him if he had a partner. Hutchison had been the congregation's head pastor for three years and quadrupled membership and made the church financially solvent. Parishioners are rallying around him.
"I’ve never been shy about it, and I won’t hide from it," Hutchison told South Bend, Ind., television station WSBT. "Monty Hutchison is my life partner and that’s who he is to me. I consider him my partner, Lord willing, someday to be my husband." After he resigned, he went to the county clerk and applied for a marriage license. The two were married last Friday.
The wedding was officiated by Minister Michael Tupper and Ginny Mikita, a candidate for ordination as a Methodist minister. While other pastors wanted to sign the marriage license as a form of protest, only Tupper and Mikita were allowed by law to sign the certificate.
Now Tupper says he's been forced to hand over the names of nine other pastors who also pronounced the men "husband and husband." All of the minsters knew they were violating church doctrine by participating in the ceremony.
"Folks were aware that it violated the book of discipline by saying those words," Tupper told Michigan Live.
Tupper has a long history of advocating for LGBT rights inside the Methodist church. He was the subject of a complaint last fall for signing the marriage license of his daughter and her wife. After a lengthy process, Tupper reached a settlement with the church leadership and was allowed to keep his position. He is also active in the local chapter of the Reconciling Ministries Network; the group advocates for a more inclusive church body.
"I want to highlight the injustice, at the same time to witness to our inclusive God who does welcome all people and welcomes them whether they are gay or straight," Tupper said. "It's just another opportunity to celebrate and witness to our inclusive God."
The ministers could face a church trial over the incident. If found guilty, they would have their credentials revoked.
A similar case was recently sent to trial for a different minister who officiated a same-sex wedding. He lost his trial, but the verdict was later overturned on a technicality.
Tupper says that he doesn't see the church changing its policies on same-sex weddings and gay ministers any time in the near future.
"There's definitely more push on both sides, both the conservative side as well as the progressive side, to fight over this and possibly to split over this," Tupper said. "I'm hopeful that we can at least agree to disagree. In our denomination now we can't even agree to disagree on it."
But, Tupper added, "I'm realistic [enough] to think maybe change isn't going to happen in our denomination in 2016."