Thursday, November 20, 2014

Make Our Light Shine!

            Is it time for church leaders to ‘make our light shine’? We’ve been living under the clay pot of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”. Maybe now is the time to place our lamps on a lampstand where it can give light to everyone in our church. God might be calling us to tell our stories of celebrating same gender weddings and other stories of ministry with and hospitality toward all people.   
Tom Robinson, a Detroit pastor, shared a powerful story at our Signing Celebration on November 12th. The story was about Moseli, an African American with a tremendous voice who worked as a nanny for a prestigious white family. She would take the children to church every Sunday at the white church.
            One Sunday she asked the pastor if she could sing at their Christmas Party.  The pastor would have said “no” except for the fact that the man Moseli worked for was an important leader in the church.
            Just before Moseli got up to sing, the ushers carried a screen to the front of the sanctuary. They escorted Moseli behind the screen from where she sang, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy”. At the end of the story, Tom’s father said to Tom, “Today we’re behind the screen. But tomorrow we’ll be in front of the screen.”
            This analogy applies to so many of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who are kept behind the screen by their church. It also applies to so many in our churches who are expressing God’s inclusive love for all, but are doing their good works behind the screen.
            Jesus said, “You are like light for the whole world. A city built on top of a hill cannot be hidden, and no one would light a lamp and put it under a clay pot. A lamp is placed on a lampstand, where it can give light to everyone in the house. Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven.”
            Is it time for church leaders to ‘make our light shine’? Our church has placed us behind the screen and under a clay pot with the threat of a church trial and removing our ministerial credentials. But maybe now is the time to “make our light shine.”
I felt God calling me to do that after my daughter told me she was getting married. I’ve kept my light under the clay pot and behind the screen for years. I didn’t want to upset people in the churches I served. But this Lent when I reflected on Jesus’ decision to go to Jerusalem, I heard the call to make my light shine. That decision was confirmed when I heard our Bishop at Annual Conference preach about the courage of the midwives in the face of the Pharaoh. I knew I was not only supposed to officiate at Sarah’s wedding, but also tell my District Superintendent and others what I did. I was supposed to place my lamp on a lampstand.

            Maybe now is the time for you to “make your light shine.” One way you might do that is to write your story of ministry to all people, especially our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Then share that story with others. One way to share the story is through this blog. I’m willing to post your story on this blog site. Send them to me via my e-mail at michaeljamestupper at 

Monday, November 17, 2014

The "Good News" Perspective - Looking at the UMC from the Other Side

When Is Accountability of No Account?

A trend is developing in the way that some United Methodist bishops are handling complaints against pastors who perform same-sex weddings or unions. Instead of bringing accountability, the complaint process is being turned on its head and used to promote the very behavior that is the subject of the complaint!
This trend began with the Amy DeLong trial in 2011. As the penalty for performing a same-sex union, Rev. DeLong was “sentenced” to write a paper during a 20-day suspension on the meaning of covenant and to help lead discussions among Wisconsin Conference clergy on how to live together in covenant, given our disagreement over same-sex marriage.
This strategy was refined in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, where two pastors charged with performing same-sex weddings were given a one-day suspension, and the bishop committed to holding clergy conversations on how clergy can live and work together in covenant, given our disagreement.
A high-profile example took place in the New York Annual Conference, where a retired seminary dean was charged with performing a same-sex wedding. The complaint was dropped with no penalty, and the dean was asked to help lead a clergy conference on living together in covenant with our disagreement.
Bishop Melvin Talbert performed a high-profile same-sex union service in Alabama, against the wishes of the resident bishop of the area, as well as against the wishes of the Council of Bishops Executive Committee. At the Council of Bishops meeting, it was reported that the Talbert complaint process “had been followed.” As of yet, there has been no public statement about the Talbert complaint process. Nevertheless, Bishop Talbert was asked to speak as part of a panel of bishops addressing the issue of how the church should resolve our disagreement over same-sex marriage.
Finally, just this week, two clergy persons in Michigan had their complaints resolved over charges that they performed same-sex weddings. There is no acknowledgement that what they did was wrong, nor is there any promise not to repeat the violation of our covenant. Instead, the offending pastors are invited to be part of a design team to plan a state-wide series of events “at which LGBTQ and other interested United Methodists can have a safe place to tell their stories.” The goal of the events is to “reduce our church’s harmful rhetoric and actions toward LGBTQ persons.”
I could give additional examples of such complaint “resolutions.”
In other words, those who have violated our covenant are invited to help instruct us on how to change our covenant (or at least the way we act under our covenant) to permit the very actions that they were charged with. Rather than consequences for disobedience, we have here the promotion of more disobedience. Only the hope here is that it won’t be disobedience anymore because the church will change its rules.
I don’t think every pastor who performs a same-sex wedding ought to lose his/her credentials. On the other hand, I do believe that there should be some consequence for intentionally and knowingly violating our clergy covenant. To have no consequence means that such violations are permitted and even encouraged. Part of the power of civil disobedience is the willingness to live with the consequences of breaking what one perceives to be an unjust law. But here, practitioners of “ecclesiastical disobedience” have figured out a way to disobey what they perceive to be an unjust church law and not experience any negative consequences at all. In fact, the consequences are to instead undermine the church law and the integrity of the covenant itself.
Umpire-School-6-1This situation reminds me of the neighborhood baseball games I played with my friends as a kid. There were times when one of the players violated a rule of the game, but wouldn’t accept the consequences of being ruled “out” in that inning. Because there was no impartial umpire to enforce the rules, the disagreement would sometimes degenerate into an argument. When we all couldn’t agree on the enforcement of the rules, the game would usually break up and the players would head home.
In The United Methodist Church, we now have a number of annual conferences (maybe a dozen?) where it is permitted to break the “rules of the game.” Despite what the Book of Discipline says, pastors are permitted to perform same-sex unions or marriages. Most are performed quietly, under the radar. When a complaint is filed, an agreement is reached that involves no apology or recognition of wrong-doing, simply a plan for guided discussions of covenant. This Orwellian approach hopes that by continuing the endless discussions and allowing violations to occur unpunished, the opposition to same-sex marriage will weaken and disappear.
Why do we need to pass the Hamilton/Slaughter “local option?” We already have local option in at least a dozen annual conferences, no matter what the Discipline says.
One can forgive evangelicals for becoming cynical at this point in believing that progressives are determined to get their way in the church by any means possible. It appears that in many places there are no longer any umpires interested in ensuring that the rules of the game are being followed. Certainly, the disagreement has degenerated into an argument. All that remains to be seen is whether the players break up the game and head for home.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"It's About Community"

            The story I share about officiating at my daughter’s wedding starts out with a conversation I have with Sarah about where she and her partner Ali will stand. Sarah tells me they will not be sitting together during the wedding. I’m incredulous. I ask her, “Why would you do such a thing. This service is all about the two of you.”
            Sarah says to me, “It’s not about us, Dad. It’s about the community.”
            I experienced community at Sarah’s wedding that special August day in the pavilion at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore. Over sixty people spoke in the service. Dozens of people helped with the physical work of setting up chairs for the wedding and adding tables for the potluck that followed. Most of the local people brought food for the potluck. The evening was concluded with an ‘open mic’ where people shared stories and music and some of their talents. The wedding was truly about ‘the community’.  
I also experienced community the past few weeks.
I was thankful for community when I met the Bishop for the third time on October 30th. The advocate who has gone with me to meet the Bishop each previous time was not able to make it. Len Shoenherr’s father was in the hospital so Len couldn’t go with me. Fortunately, Matt Weiler was willing to step in at the last minute. He was helpful as I processed many last minute negotiating that needed to happen. In addition, there were people praying for me before and during that meeting in a nearby room. I couldn’t have gone through this process without the community of pray-ers (in person and from a distance) over the past six weeks. Thanks to all of you!
I also experienced community the morning of October 30th. We held the first Michigan Area Reconciling Ministry Network meeting in recent history. Reconciling Ministry Network (RMN) is the United Methodist organization that advocates for and with LGBTQ persons. In Michigan, we have some local churches, some Wesley Foundations, some groups, and some individuals who have been affiliated with RMN. It was good to gather together as one group from both Conferences on October 29th.
We came together that morning as a community with a passion to make a difference in our Conferences, in our churches and in our communities. We talked about the work of our Marriage Equality Task Force and the hundred and ten pastors who have signed that they would be willing to officiate at a same gender wedding. We talked about the Supervisory Response process for Ed Rowe and myself and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was coming out of those meetings. We had a frank discussion of “Holy Conferencing”. We concluded by talking about potential legislation for 2015 Annual Conference. We set our next meeting for January 14th at 10:30 at University Church, East Lansing.
I experienced community the following Sunday night at Nardin Park UMC in Farmington Hills where the Dedicated Reconciling United Methodists (A Detroit area group) had their Annual Potluck. The speaker was Matt Berryman, the executive director of RMN. He talked about how we interact with a baby – we’re willing to act a bit crazy. This is the same type of hospitality and love we’re invited to show to all people. It was good that evening to be in the midst of this wonderful community of folks who understand what this means and live it out daily.
Finally, I experienced community this past Wednesday as about fifty people gathered together at University Church to celebrate the signing of the “just resolutions”. Ed Rowe, Detroit pastor, signed at the same time as myself. Ed is passionate about setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission where LGBTQ persons can share their stories. Part of our event on Wednesday was live streamed by RMN to people around the country. It was also covered by some church news sources. We gave thanks to our Bishop for choosing to follow Jesus’ law of love and inclusion in both of our just resolutions.
Martin Luther King Junior referred to God’s kingdom as the ‘beloved community’. He said:
“But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
from “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” 1956

I’m thankful for that ‘beloved community’!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Just Resolution

Proposal for a Just Resolution
Rev. Michael Tupper and Rev. John Boley

                This Just Resolution agreement results from a complaint submitted by Rev. John Boley against the Rev. Michael Tupper for conducting a same-gender wedding ceremony on August 17, 2014. After receiving this complaint Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey conducted a supervisory response in this matter under the provisions of the Book of Discipline 2012 (¶363).

                As a result of the Supervisory Response process conducted by Bishop Kiesey, the persons signing this document have entered into the following Just Resolution agreement:

1)      Rev. Tupper acknowledges that he knowingly and intentionally violated two sections of the 2012 Book of Discipline, as an act of personal faith and conscience, and acknowledges that others may have felt hurt by his action.

2)      Rev. Tupper, who desires to remain a part of the clergy covenant in the West Michigan Conference, will work with his clergy colleagues by using the proper channels toward changing the discriminatory language and provisions in our Book of Discipline, while continuing to advocate for the LGBTQ community within the United Methodist Church and providing pastoral care to all people under his appointment.

3)      Rev. Tupper will work with the Michigan Area Episcopal Office and Ed Rowe to form a design team with clergy and lay persons from across the Michigan Area, including LGBTQ persons. The team is charged with planning, implementing and resourcing an area-wide series of events using a “Truth and Reconciliation” model at which LGBTQ and other interested United Methodists can have a safe place to tell their stories. These events will have the stated goal of reducing our church’s harmful rhetoric and actions toward LGBTQ persons. These events will be planned to occur over the next 18 months.

4)      Rev. Tupper will develop a written theological statement which accurately presents the several existing theological positions within the context of the West Michigan Conference and includes his personal theological conclusions about the position he has chosen for himself.

5)      Rev. Tupper will avail himself of every opportunity presented to him to tell the story of his spiritual journey as an act of witness, and will offer his services as a resource to help our churches be more welcoming and inclusive.

6)       Each of the parties to this Just Resolution Agreement agree that the terms of this resolution may be shared with the public as needed. Further, they agree that they will not disclose the content of any other conversations which may have taken place during the Supervisory Response Process or speak on behalf of any other party to the agreement.

7)      This Just Resolution, having been agreed to by all parties, shall be a final disposition of the complaint in this matter.

Rev. Michael Tupper

Rev. John Boley

Bishop Deborah L. Kiesey

                                                                Date:     Nov 11, 2014