No church trial for pastor who sought one

A Michigan pastor who pushed for a church trial for his role in performing a same-sex wedding will not be getting a day in court.

The complaint against the Rev. Mike Tupper, a now-retired elder in the West Michigan Conference, has reached a resolution that will avoid a trial, Michigan Area Bishop David Bard announced Sept. 8

“I am grateful that we have been able to reach a just resolution with Rev. Tupper,” said Bard, who took office Sept. 1. “I am so appreciative of the faithful and respectful approach that allowed space for the Holy Spirit to be at work.”

Tupper did not immediately return requests for comment on what the denomination calls “a just resolution.”

The Michigan Area announcement did not provide details about the agreement beyond saying it “focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing.” Resolutions of complaints are confidential unless the parties involved agree to disclose the content.

Tupper faced a complaint under church law after he and eight other United Methodist clergy reported that they helped officiate at the July 2015 wedding of the Rev. Benjamin and Monty Hutchison.

The Rev. Hutchison, an African Methodist Episcopal elder, was forced to resign as pastor of a United Methodist congregation after he admitted to being in committed relationship with another man. The Hutchisons legally wed later that same week with nearly 30 United Methodist clergy in attendance. Tupper was among clergy who signed the wedding license.

The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, bans pastors from officiating at same-sex unions and prohibits “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy from serving United Methodist churches. Since 1972, the book has proclaimed that all people are of sacred worth but that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

In October, eight of the clergy reached a resolution with their district superintendents who filed the complaints. Essentially, conference leaders determined that the clergy’s role in the Hutchisons’ wedding did not rise to the level of officiating the ceremony.

However, Tupper declined an attempt to reach a resolution.

Instead, he announced he would plead guilty at a church trial, and he would not contest any penalty determined by a jury of his clergy peers. In a notarized letter, he also said he would not use an attorney and would waive his right to an appeal.

This was not Tupper’s first experience with the complaint process. In 2014, he reached a resolution in a complaint after officiating at his daughter’s same-sex wedding.

But in 2015, he said he wanted to take a different approach. He told United Methodist News Service he hoped a church trial would shine a spotlight on what he sees as an unjust church law. “The church is not hurting me,” he said. “Instead, I look forward to telling about people the church has been truly hurting.”

In late November, Tupper began what he called his “tent witness,” sleeping outside at United Methodist locations around the country as a sign of solidarity with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning individuals.

That witness culminated in May this year, when he brought his tent to sleep outside the Oregon Convention Center during the United Methodist General Conference. His hope then was to persuade delegates at the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly to eliminate restrictions on LGBTQ individuals.

General Conference did not change church policy but instead authorized United Methodist bishops to form a commission, with the aim of bridging the denomination’s deep divides on homosexuality.

Tupper, who had 35 years in ministry, retired from pastoral ministry in July. He had planned to retire even before the 2015 complaint was filed.

Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].

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