LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — A demonstration was held in Lansing on Tuesday afternoon in support of a United Methodist pastor who was forced to resign because he is gay.
Protesters called for the removal of rules in the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline that prohibit gay pastors, saying the stance is discriminatory.
Clergy and church members created a pledge to “Stop The Harm” against gay church members and leaders. Protesters taped copies of the pledge to the United Methodist bishop’s door to show their disapproval of the language in the Book of Discipline.
“There’s tangible harm done to LGBTQ folks because they believed they don’t matter to God. We’re here to say they do matter to God. God loves everybody,” Rev. Lois McCullen Parr said.
The protest comes after the forced resignation of Rev. Benjamin Hutchison from his post as pastor of the Cassopolis United Methodist Church earlier this month.
Hutchison, a Grand Rapids native, told 24 Hour News 8 he had been pastor there for two years and never tried to hide his sexuality. But earlier this month, church leaders summoned him to a meeting and asked him about it. He told them the truth: that he had been in a committed relationship with his partner for some time.
But the United Methodist Church doesn’t allow its pastors to be gay. Hutchison said he had to resign or he would have been fired. Many parishioners were upset, and 24 Hour News 8 was told some were leaving the church for good because Hutchison had been ousted.
At Tuesday’s protest, Hutchison told our sister station WOOD TV8 that the Book of Discipline harms more than just church leaders.
“The disciplines need to change so our queer youth realize they are invited to the Lord’s table, and are permitted to be ordained and they our beloved children of God,” Hutchison said.
Hutchison married his partner, Monty, the next week at the Cass County Courthouse. Several United Methodist ministers who support Hutchison participated in the ceremony, declaring the couple “husband and husband.” For that, nine pastors face discipline from the United Methodist Church.
Some of those same pastors were at Tuesday’s protest.
Rev. Michael Tupper, a United Methodist pastor who signed Hutchison’s marriage license, said the church’s current views on gay leaders conflict with the teachings of Jesus.
“I would stand with Jesus reaching out to outsiders and people who were excluded by his society, reaching out and including those and being in a very parallel situation for gay folks who are excluded from our society and our church right now,” Tupper said. “Jesus would want to love all people and include all people.”
Tupper — who officiated his gay daughter’s wedding last year — said he’s willing to lose his ministerial credentials to fight for what he believes in.
“I’m willing to because it’s the right thing to do. I hope to be a United Methodist pastor my whole life, but I feel so strongly about this,” Tupper said.
“I’m fearful that it’s going to break the church. That it’s going to split. That some people will say, ‘No, no we can’t change the discipline, we cannot have that.’ But I’m fearful of those lives that are going to be killed, or those children that are going to kill themselves because the church is not willing to change,” Hutchison said.
A pastor who was at the demonstration told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday night that the pledges were torn down sometime after the protest. It was unclear who removed them.
Michigan Area Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey provided this statement on Tuesday:
As Episcopal leader for the Michigan Area, I grieve for this painful place in which we currently find ourselves in The United Methodist Church. As we have done in the past, I trust that with God’s help, we will find our way through these difficult times. I ask for your prayers for people on all sides of these issues.”
The United Methodist General Conference is scheduled for May 2016 in Oregon. The issue of gay church leaders will be discussed. The Book of Discipline can be reviewed and revised at that conference.