Openly Gay Pastor Resigns from West Michigan UM Church

By Walter Fenton

The Rev. Benjamin David Hutchison, an openly gay minister, recently resigned as the pastor of the Cassopolis UM Church in Cassopolis, Michigan, rather than face immediate dismissal.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 11.02.11 AMAppointed to serve the small congregation in January 2013, Hutchison, an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME Church), was aware of the UM Church’s policy prohibiting the appointment of openly gay clergy, but he accepted the appointment anyway.

Hutchison’s district superintendent, the Rev. John Boley, notified him that a complaint had recently been filed against him, and that he must either resign or face immediate dismissal. As an AME Church pastor under special appointment, Hutchison would not have been allowed to contest his dismissal.

According to various news reports, it was widely known in the church and community of Cassopolis that Hutchison was living in a partnered relationship. Shortly after accepting his appointment he changed his last name to his partner’s last name.

During his two years at the Cassopolis UM Church its average worship attendance rose from around 25 to over 90. According to local news reports, members of the congregation were saddened to learn of his departure. Many believed he preached well, reached out to the community, and ably served the congregation.

Of course district superintendents and bishops could cite many instances where pastors have served with distinction in a local church, but for one reason or another strayed well beyond the lines of the covenants that bind clergy together in the denomination.

The issue in this case, as in several others, is the issue of integrity. Many United Methodists are bewildered by a clergyperson who not only accepted an appointment to a UM church knowing full well he not only disagreed with its teaching, but also planned to live in violation of it from day one.

Hutchison, who is Caucasian, is unlikely to find a congregation to serve in his home denomination, one he said he fell in love with and was received into with open arms. The AME Church, a predominantly African-American faith community, opposes same sex marriage and does not appoint openly gay pastors to serve its local churches.

Hutchison resigned from his appointment at Cassopolis on Monday, July 13, and just four days later, on the steps of the Cass County courthouse, he married his partner, Mr. Monty Hutchison.

A number of UM clergy attended the ceremony to show their support for Hutchison.  The Rev. Ginny Mitka, a candidate for ordination in the UM Church, officiated at the service, and the Rev. Mike Tupper, an ordained UM pastor, also signed the marriage license.

Mitka was quickly ordained by the Universal Life Church, which offers immediate online ordination for a nominal fee, so she could officiate at the hastily arranged ceremony.

This is the second same-sex wedding Tupper has presided at. He recently resolved a complaint filed against him with Michigan Area Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey regarding his first infraction. The resolution allowed him to continue serving in the church without any meaningful penalty.

Nine of the pastors who participated in the wedding service have had complaints filed against them.

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and an analyst for Good News.


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