Recently, a small church in Michigan, Cassopolis United Methodist, had their church Pastor, Rev. Benjamin Hutchison, taken away from them. Was it because of poor attendance, hardly, he had quadrupled the membership since being appointed. He saved the church from dying according to many members. His crime, he was in a long-term committed relationship with another man. Just after that, nearly 30 United Methodist pastors joined in a celebrating a wedding ceremony for Rev. Hutchison and his husband, and now, to further hammer home her distaste for love, Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey has picked out nine of them for prosecution under church law. Here’s my letter to Bishop Kiesey:
Dear Bishop Kiesey:
I’ve been Methodist my entire life (56 years now)…or at least I was up until this year. I took a week off, and served at General Conference when it was here in Tampa in 2012, and nearly 10 years I taught (first part-time, then full-time) an adult Sunday School class of my elders here at Palma Ceia United Methodist. But can now count me a “done.”
One of the things we studied were the Social Principals of the Methodist Church. I learned that the very first Principal from the very first creed adopted by the Methodist Episcopal Church at the 1908 General Conference was, “For equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life.” We took time to discuss each. Later, a large group (including everyone on that class, some of whom were founding members) went to the Church Council to get the Church to adopt a statement of welcome. A rather inviting one had been composed, but the Church Council wanted it to include the exact language from the Discipline, so it read, “We affirm that worship and membership at Palma Ceia United Methodist Church is open to all who seek to know Christ and share His love, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or economic status, and we welcome and respect all members of our community without regard to these characteristics.”
It was placed on our website and on printed materials. Then, a few years ago we got a new minister, Bruce Toms (you should recruit him…he seems to be about as bigoted as you, and loves to use the Discipline to justify it). Toms, unilaterally decided the statement (cut and pasted from the Discipline) was actually a violation of the Discipline…go figure. He had it removed from everything, and then when I showed up at the Church Council meeting, he made a big presentation, PowerPoint’s and everything, where he made a number of false representations, but then refused to give anyone a copy of the PowerPoint. As bad as all that was, the one thing I will never ever in all my life forget is a statement that he made in a personal meeting between the two of us. He said (and I wrote it down at the time and repeated it back to him for certainty), “I understand this may have been passed in the spirit of love, but Church Polity has to be maintained.”
Now you know, I’ve read my Bible, and those people in that Sunday School class, a couple of them at least, could hang with most ministers I know, and a few Bible Scholars, so I had to be pretty well prepared. The class included some Doctors and lawyers, one of Tampa’s leading architects, the retired head of Planning and Community develop, even a retired minister. And in all my reading and study, I didn’t find a single “Great Commandment” which said anything about church polity.
And let’s be clear about something, when you make a statement like this, “I am committed to upholding the Book of Discipline, and, although there are many ways of interpreting that Discipline, I believe these guidelines offer a way to live together in ministry with all people.” You effectively said the same thing. Now, maybe, on that great day, God might give you a few points for upholding Discipline, but I suspect he may take away even more for not caring for his people…all of them. But please don’t make the mistake of believing that the Discipline has anything to do with being able to “live together in ministry with all people.” You’re going to someday be left with a church made up of Mark Tooley, Eddie Fox, and the members in Africa.
You see, in regards to that appointment at Cassopolis, you not only harmed Rev. Hutchinson, but that entire congregation…and for nothing more than the purpose of upholding Church Polity. But, I’m going to speak frankly, I’m not surprised…I’ve been witness to only a very few Bishops with any courage. You issue statements about how there are two sides to (insert issue here), and there are good people on both sides, and you’re praying for them all. What balderdash. There is right and wrong, and you’ve done wrong in the name of a book that is not even holy.
I was in the General Conference Session when a delegate from Africa got up and compared homosexuality to bestiality, and he was not called out-of-order by the presiding Bishop, but when a gay stood, and asked those other delegates who felt bullied to stand with him…Oh my, that was out-of-order. How does it feel to be part of a group of cowards like that? I know I’m being harsh, but I’m done. The last few months have exposed the very worst aspects of Christianity, and the leaders of the Methodist Church have done next to nothing to repudiate and condemn the hateful words and actions of (admittedly a minority) the loudest of these kooks claiming the cloak of Christianity and religiosity. (But you need to understand that, while they may be a minority, they are shouting the loudest, and if there is no countervailing argument, their’s is the voice of Christianity.
So enough…it is time for leaders to be courageous, just as Rev. Hutchison was in his faith. He did what God called him to, in the face of the institutionalized hate of this church…he went bravely into his community to bring people to Christ through his church…and you threw him out.
This situation leaves me thinking about the story of the pilgrim in Acts 8. The servant of the Queen of Ethiopia, becoming captivated by the tomes which spoke of the God of the Israelites, traveling the long hard journey to the great temple in Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice, and to learn about this amazing God. Yet the priest, because of the eunuch’s characteristics of being different, barred his way…made it clear that he and his offerings were not welcome.
However, God intervened, by sending one skilled at restoring those rejected by others. Philip begins to jog alongside the Ethiopian’s carriage, and starting with Isaiah 53, teaches the Ethiopian about the crucifixion of Christ, the new covenant, and the Gospels. By the end of the 55th chapter, the carriage stops, and Philip baptizes the eunuch.
I suspect that after Philip had gone, and the Ethiopian returned to his carriage; it would be logical for him to continue his reading from where he left off. If that’s what he does, he would have resumed in chapter 56, and in verses 3-7 would have found this:
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant, these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
And just so you know, I advanced a complaint for just resolution to Bishop Carter here in Florida. He ultimately agreed that the state of welcome was appropriate, and not a violation of the Discipline, he also agreed that a local Pastor cannot unilaterally rescind “legal” actions by the Church Council, but in his cowardly way, he decided to not do anything to required Toms to restore the statement. Of course, I was told by several Methodist minister friends what to expect…that he would first do whatever had to do to protect the institution, then the pastor, and then everyone else would come at the end. You didn’t even do that…you sought to only protect the institution.
I know it’s a long letter, but I will no longer sit idly by for these injustices in the name of church polity. You…yes you…here you stand, you can do no other. You get to choose right here and now, love and the Great Commandment, or Church Polity…those are your choices. Choose wisely, there will be an exam.