Michigan bishop laments next step

By Walter Fenton

In a passionate email to the people of the Michigan Episcopal Area, Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey writes that her “heart is broken” regarding the potential “next steps” she will have to take in the case of the West Michigan Annual Conference pastor, the Rev. Mike Tupper.

Kiesey’s letter came after Tupper informed her he would not agree to a “just resolution” regarding his performance of a wedding for the Rev. Benjamin Hutchison and his partner this past July. It was the second time in as many years that Tupper had violated the church’s prohibiting clergy from presiding at same-sex weddings.

In August of 2014 Tupper presided at his daughter’s same-sex marriage. A “just resolution” was reached in that case. However, in the terms of that resolution Kiesey failed to hold him accountable in any meaningful way for his actions. She did not even require him to agree to refrain from presiding at same-sex weddings in the future. She surely knew the resolution had no value in terms of deterrence.

So it is a little odd to read Kiesey’s lament about the difficult situation she finds herself in now that Tupper has presided at another same-sex service, and this time refuses to enter into a just resolution. “This impasse has forced me into the position of having to choose between two options…. Dismiss the complaint, or hand over everything to the Counsel for the Church for a possible church trial…. Unfortunately, someone will be harmed by either of these two options available to me.”

But this all seems somewhat overblown given the facts in the case. Tupper recently wrote that he believes the UM Church might change its position on same-sex marriage if just ten pastors were willing, as he put it, to serve as “martyrs” for the cause.

In a brief note to Kiesey he wrote, “I acknowledge that I am guilty of violating one of the chargeable offenses in the Book of Discipline (Par. 2702.1b).” He went on to add that he would forfeit the use of an attorney, and waive his right to appeal following the verdict and any penalty.

In the event Kiesey hands the case over to the Counsel for the Church, such a move does not automatically mean Tupper will be tried. Nor does a guilty verdict require the penalty of defrocking. In a worst-case scenario Tupper, who is near retirement age, would retain his church pension, and of course be free to travel the country sharing his story, and perhaps even writing a book about it. This is hardly martyrdom, and certainly not worth all the fretting Kiesey writes of in her letter

Would even a brief trial be a circus and draw unwanted negative attention to the Michigan Episcopal Area? Probably. But no one forced Kiesey to be a bishop. And no one forced her to sign-off on a “so-called” just resolution that winked at a clergy person’s willful disregard of his covenantal vows. At least in part, the situation is of her own making.

Finally, Kiesey writes, “no number of letters, or complaints, or trials, or protests in the Michigan Area can ever change the fact that these important matters can only be addressed at General Conference in Portland, Oregon in May 2016.” That may or may not be true, but it certainly does not absolve her of the responsibility to “lead and oversee the spiritual and temporal affairs of The United Methodist Church,” including holding clergy members accountable to the Book of Discipline that is in effect now.

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

Comments

  1. In even a secular organization, Kiesey would either do her duty, resign, or violate the organization’s policies and be fired.

    • Rev. Russ Clunan says

      Amen William. I am really sick of this Bishop whose “heart is broken” Bishop Deb…..get over it and DO YOUR JOB. It is part of your duty and episcopal responsibility!!!!

  2. Licensed Local Pastor says

    Bishop Kiesey’s heart should not be broken. Rev. Tupper never intended to keep his part of the “Just Resolution” If anything it is Rev. Tupper and his supporters from Reconciling Ministries that are at fault. It is obvious that Rev. Tupper was disingenuous when he agreed to a “Just Resolution” with Bishop Kiesey and has in fact showed that he cannot be trusted at his word.

    If Bishop Kiesey does nothing then the outcome will likely be ordained elders violating what ever part of the Book of Discipline they don’t like. Then any form of connection we might have will be gone.

    If Bishop Kiesey takes action then Bishop Kiesey will undoubtedly be vilified in name by Reconciling Ministries, as Reconciling Ministries has made it clear that they will disrupt and disregard what ever they do not agree with in the Book of Discipline or the scriptures for that matter.

  3. Mike Tupper says

    Walter,
    I agree with your article. I have two prayers. Someday The United Methodist Church will not discriminate against or harm my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Someday the war in the The United Methodist Church will end so we can refocus on sharing God’s love with a lost world. I hope that I can assist with these prayers.

  4. Licensed Local Pastor says

    An update to this issue from MI connect:
    LANSING MI…Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey announced that an impasse had been reached in the complaint against Pastor Michael Tupper of the West Michigan Annual Conference.

    As a result, the matter has been referred to the Counsel for the Church to determine if the complaint is to be dismissed, or if warranted, a judicial complaint filed. Bishop Kiesey has designated Rev. Elbert Dulworth to serve as the Counsel for the Church. Rev. Dulworth currently serves as the District Superintendent of the Marquette District….The committee is comprised of four West Michigan Annual Conference clergy in full connection, three professing members, and six alternate members, three of whom shall be clergy in full connection and three of whom shall be professing members. This committee would then have 60 days to convene a hearing to determine whether reasonable grounds exist to bring a bill of charges and specifications to trial. If the Committee on Investigation concludes that there is not enough evidence to bring a bill of charges and specifications to trial, they can dismiss the matter. Otherwise, the charges would be forwarded to another bishop appointed to act as the presiding officer of a trial court. At any time during these procedures, a just resolution can be reached which would resolve this matter without further judicial process.

    We will see what happens with this “process”.

  5. Licensed Local Pastor says

    Here’s a link to the UM Reporter with an interview with Rev. Tupper http://unitedmethodistreporter.com/2015/10/21/an-interview-with-mike-tupper/

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