|Monty and Benjamin Hutchison, Ginny Mikita, Rev. Mike Tupper|
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
It may be hyperbole to call it an internet sensation, and it has not exactly “gone viral,” but it has a real following and a long tenure. I am referring to that wonderful internet reality show, “Methodists Behaving Badly.” It is not nearly as popular as its parent program, “Christians Behaving Badly,” which has been in the media (television, radio, and newspapers) since before we called them media.
The latest episode of Christians Behaving Badly, starring Kim Davis, can be seen anywhere and everywhere. The latest episode of Methodists Behaving Badly is harder to find. It’s really a sequel to an earlier episode in which the Rev. Benjamin Hutchison was removed from his church when he revealed to his District Superintendent that he was in a committed same-sex relationship. He was removed in spite of the fact that his congregation overwhelmingly supports him and by all accounts he was an excellent pastor.
Our newest episode begins with the happy news that Rev. Huthison has married his partner Monty in a ceremony attended by supportive local United Methodist clergy as well as by church members. But then it all goes south.
Three United Methodist clergy, from Texas, North Carolina and New Jersey, wrote to the United Methodist leaders in West Michigan, where the marriage took place, and asked that those who officiated as the wedding be punished.
The first casualty was Ginny Mikita, a Michigan attorney and candidate for ordination in the West Michigan Conference of the UMC. She officiated at the ceremony using credentials she obtained online through the Universal Life Church.
Ms. Mikita knew that she was placing her candidacy for ordination at risk, but she was surprised when her District Superintendent, Rev. Bill Haggard, informed her that not only was her candidacy being terminated, she was also no longer a member of the United Methodist Church. This is what we used to call excommunication. The rationale was that when she accepted the online credentials to officiate at the wedding she had united with another denomination and was, therefore, no longer a United Methodist.
Technically, according to our Book of Discipline, the District Superintendent may be correct. But that is really beside the point. This is stupid and mean and fundamentally unchristian.
If you have actually read the Discipline, (and before you start to make jokes about people with too much time on their hands, let me assure you that large parts of it are worth reading) you know that clergy violate the Book of Discipline all the time, almost always without consequence.
But there is another side to the story.
We could call this other side, “Christians Acting Like Christians,” or even “Methodists Acting Like Methodists.” It will never attract as much attention as the Behaving Badly series, but it is at least as real. And it matters. In the long run, I believe, it matters more.
If you are keeping score at home, it’s important to note that although the Bishop and the District Superintendent are the heavy hitters, there were more Methodists lined up on the side of inclusion than against it. Pastor Mark Thompson of Faith UMC in Grand Rapids joined Ms. Mikita in officiating. As he explained to a reporter for the Kalamazoo Gazette, "I believe that Benjamin and Monty are very much in love and they deserve to be married and to celebrate the gift of love that God gave them."
There were nine UM clergy who wanted to sign the marriage license as a show of their support, but only two were allowed, Ginny Mikita and Rev. Mike Tupper. "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."
Others delivered a protest to Bishop Deborah Kiesey.
As Ginny Mikita said, "I believe that there is a swell of support that already exists within the denomination” for Rev. Hutchison and for full inclusion of LGBTQ persons. "It only continues to grow, and I think it was evidenced here by the number of clergy that showed up not only from West Michigan congregations and conferences, but I met folks that came from the Detroit area and Illinois to be here today to demonstrate their support."
As far as we know there have been no efforts
to excommunicate her dog.