30 ministers defy church policy to attend wedding

by Gregory Tomlin, |
United Methodist Church minister Benjamin David Hutchison, known by his congregation in Cassapolis, Michigan, to be in a long-term homosexual relationship for years, was recently forced to resign his position as pastor by his superior. Hutchison then married his gay partner in a ceremony attended by 30 UMC ministers in defiance of the denomination's statement on homosexuality. | BENJAMIN DAVID HUTCHISON/Facebook

CASSAPOLIS, Mich. (Christians Examiner) – A United Methodist Church minister in Cassopolis, Mich., married his homosexual partner last week after being forced to resign because he is openly gay, the denomination's news service reported July 21.

According to the report, Rev. Benjamin Hutchison was called to a meeting with his superintendent after he received a complaint about Hutchison's long-term, openly-gay relationship with his partner, Monty.

When he was told he had to leave his pulpit because the denomination could not acknowledge same-sex relationships, Hutchinson married his partner at the Cass County courthouse with nearly 30 other UMC pastors present – in defiance the denomination's stated beliefs on homosexuality.

Nine of the ministers are now facing disciplinary action for violating the denomination's law book, or Book of Discipline, on homosexuality.

The law book says, "The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church." The statement has been there since 1972.

Elsewhere in its Book of Discipline, the UMC bans the ordination of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals," and forbids the performance of same-gender unions in the denomination's sanctuaries and by its clergy in any setting. That ruling has also not changed since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage nationwide in Obergefell v. Hodges in June.

Hutchison is white, but was ordained by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a largely black denomination. According to the denominational news service report, his licensure with the AME church means he can be removed from his church, but the denomination cannot revoke his ministerial credentials.

Hutchison said his congregation was saddened following the decision by the superintendent, John Boley of the Western Michigan Conference, to remove him.

"It's difficult because I was asked to come and help this church. I grew it. It became the love of my life," Hutchison said. "I love those people. ... It's also hard to watch the congregation weep."

Had Hutchison's decision to marry his partner come some number of years later, there may not have been the same response. The denomination is slowly but steadily drifting toward making accommodations for homosexuals – especially after the Supreme Court decision.

Rev. Michael Tupper, who signed Hutchison's wedding license and is among the ministers charged in a new complaint about their participation in the wedding, said he was happy to see Methodists beginning to debate homosexuality and marriage.

The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.

He said he believes the complaints create an opportunity "to witness to our inclusive God and protest the injustice found in our Discipline. We hope this will bring more light to this dark spot in the life of our church."

At the church's general conference in May in Tampa, Fla., a group of gay rights activists interpreted one of the plenary sessions. Protesters were then advocating for a "more inclusive" church with no bans on service for gay ministers. That idea met with some acceptance, but also with significant resistance.

In the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. Wesley UMC in Quarryville, Pa.,, has decided to leave the denomination primarily, according to reports on the conference website, because of the denomination's controversy over homosexuality and challenges to the Book of Discipline positions and policies.

The conference is in negotiations with Wesley over future ownership of all property and assets they hold in trust for the UMC.

According to another report from the denomination's news service, the UMC's Great Plains Conference, representing United Methodists from Kansas and Nebraska, voted to ask the 2016 General Conference to acknowledge there are "diverse beliefs regarding homosexuality."

Other conferences in Florida, Washington, D.C. New Jersey, Illinois, and the Desert Southwest are also seeking to modify church law following the decision of the Supreme Court in June.

Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey, who leads the West Michigan Conference where Cassopolis UMC is located, said no further information would be provided about Hutchison's departure. She said the conference was "holding the people of Cassopolis United Methodist Church in prayer as they navigate the transition of their pastor."

Hutchison had been the pastor of Cassopolis UMC since January 2013. According to one report, he changed his name, assuming the last name of his partner, just after his arrival at the 177-year-old church. Hutchison also reportedly told the congregation he was gay early on during his tenure.

Some of the 30 ministers who attended the gay wedding between Hutchison and his partner, in defiance of the denomination's stance on the matter, spoke about the ceremony.

Rev. Matt Weiler, of Sunnyside UMC in Kalamazoo, said he was present because he believed in "the full inclusion of our LBGTQ community. I'm also here because I believer that what we are doing today is an act of biblical obedience, even if it is considered disobedient of our Book of Discipline."

Tupper said "there are a couple of scriptures that are anti-gay, but the Scripture is clear about being accepting of all people."

The UMC will likely deal with the issue of homosexuality again at its next annual conference in May 2016.

CORRECTION: The Rev. Rob Schmutz was initially reported to be a "pro-gay" clergyman in the original story, posted on July 22. He has since clarified he was an "evangelical conservative United Methodist pastor." CE has adjusted the story by removing the paragraph mentioning Schmutz. We regret the error.