By Daniel R. Gangler*
INDIANAPOLIS – Pitching his tent at the entrance of the office building that houses the Indiana United Methodist Conference Center here in Indianapolis, West Michigan United Methodist pastor, the Rev. Mike Tupper, took his plea for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) equality within The United Methodist Church beyond Michigan in expanding his two-month-old protest. He serves as pastor of the Parchment United Methodist Church near Kalamazoo.
“I’m sleeping outside because The United Methodist Church’s doors aren’t open to everyone,” Tupper proclaimed in words and a sign next to his small tent.
Once Tupper had set up his tent in the snow with 20-degree temperatures for a Friday-Saturday overnight January 22-23, a manager of the office complex told him to remove it or he would call the police. Tupper then moved his tent at noon out to the street in front of the three-building office complex.
He first camped for three days in early December at the Marquette District Office, which is housed at First United Methodist Church in Marquette, Mich. The church he serves is in that district. He planned to be there until the complaint against him moved a step closer to a church trial. After three days, he moved his tent home because he said he was receiving email threats against him.
He came to Indiana to expand his protest to “other centers of power within the United Methodist Church,” he said. “Indianapolis is my first protest away from Michigan. It was the closest annual conference office outside of Michigan.”
Tupper also hopes to camp at other United Methodist conference centers in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio.
Sitting in a folding cloth chair, he said, “I am sleeping outside simply because God is asking me to do it. I am trying to be faithful to God’s call on my life.
“In addition, I hope God can use this action to effect change in The United Methodist Church. Our General Conference is the legislative group that sets church policy. I pray that the delegates at General Conference vote to end the war against gays in our church. I pray that LGBTQ persons will be allowed to have equal status and included fully in our church’s ministry.”
Continuing, he said, “I’ve slept in the tent outside for the past 54 days. Most of the time it’s been in front of my house.” He lives in Lawrence. He said he agreed with church and conference leaders not to preach about the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church.
Currently, Tupper faces official complaints against him for performing a same-gender wedding ceremony this past year. According to United Methodist church law, clergy cannot perform same-gender weddings nor can United Methodist churches house such ceremonies.
Tupper wants the Rev. Elbert P. Dulworth, the Marquette District Superintendent and the appointed counsel for the West Michigan Conference in the case, to move the complaint to a committee on investigation. So far, Tupper said that hasn’t happened. Once the complaint goes to a conference committee on investigation, the committee decides whether the case goes to trial. He explained that since the denomination’s discipline (church law) doesn’t specify any time limit on the process at this point, the case could sit unresolved.
The complaint against him for performing a same-gender wedding ceremony is at a standstill. Tupper is one of nine United Methodist pastors under complaint for helping officiate at the July 17 wedding of the Rev. Benjamin David and Monty Hutchison. In the previous year, Tupper reached a resolution without trial in a complaint against him for officiating at his daughter’s same-gender wedding. He said he discerns God leading him in a different direction this time.
Tupper, who has been in ministry for 35 years, plans to retire at the end of his appointment year this coming summer regardless of what happens. But as long as he has clergy credentials, he can officiate at rites of the church, including sacraments, funerals, and weddings. He also has hopes of serving as a part-time pastor during his retirement.
Coincidently, Tupper came to Indianapolis to camp the same weekend organizations backing legislation to add civil rights for LGBT Hoosiers to the state’s civil rights statutes also were advocating for more inclusion during a rally Saturday afternoon, Jan. 23 on the snow-covered south lawn of the Indiana Statehouse downtown. Tupper attended that rally before returning to Michigan.
The Reconciling Ministries Network of United Methodists in Indiana is working with organizations and legislators to add the four words – “sexual orientation, gender identity” – to the state’s protective civil rights statute. RMN of Indiana also will join day-long activities of the Freedom Indiana, a pro-LGBT civil rights coalition, Wednesday, Jan. 27 at the Statehouse to promote the civil rights legislation. This is the same day the State Senate will hold its first hearings on legislation dealing with LGBT civil rights and religious freedom in Indiana.
The Indiana Conference delegation to General Conference met on Sunday, Jan. 24. During part of that meeting, they heard delegate-led presentations about the issue of homosexuality within The United Methodist Church in preparing for the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church in Portland, Ore. this spring.
(United Methodist News Service stories were used in preparing this report.)
*Gangler serves as a retired United Methodist communicator who lives in Indianapolis.