Something happened to the church where I grew up, the United Methodist Church (UMC), which caused me to abandon it. I think Rev. Michael Tupper, minister of Parchment UMC in Parchment, Michigan knows exactly what I mean. This church of seven million members used to hover on the liberal edge of Protestant life, but its leaders have solidified it into a harsh, judgmental religion.
Tupper came face-to-face with this six years ago, when his daughter Sarah came out to him as a lesbian. She asked her father to officiate at her wedding to another woman, but preachers are not allowed to perform same-sex weddings in the Methodist Church. The hard-line is that ministers who perform these weddings can be put on trial within the church, even though 67 percent of the members support same-sex weddings.
Tupper went ahead and married his daughter in the only church he or she had ever known:
‘I chose to do that, and complaint was filed. All of a sudden it became so clear to me — the discrimination against LGBT people in the church.’
The Methodist Church defrocked Frank Schaefer for performing his son’s same-sex wedding in 2013. The church reinstated him a year later, but only on a technicality. One alternative that progressive Methodist bishops choose is to just refuse to take up the cases against ministers who perform same-sex weddings.
Other pro-LGBT ministers have protested the church’s official stance by performing LGBT weddings in large groups. Methodist minister Cynthia Meyer, in a church 12 miles from my church of origin, came out to her church during a sermon, making national news saying:
‘The Lord has led me here to share my whole truth with you.’
Tupper chose another form of protest. He vowed to sleep outside of the home of the Michigan man prosecuting his case for 175 days, as an expression of his support for LGBT people. This is a significant protest, since Michigan winters are fierce:
‘Most nights it gets into the 20s. It’s gotten down to 5 degrees. Yeah it’s cold. But I’ve managed.’
‘It’s to symbolize how our church — particularly the United Methodist Church — is pushing LGBT people outside. It symbolizes how we push LGBT people out of the church and into the cold.’
The church’s General Conference will be held in Portland, Oregon in May. At that time, the church will take up the issue of same-sex marriage. Other Protestant Christian denominations, such as the Presbyterian Church and the Episcopal Church, already embrace LGBT marriage and ordination.
Tupper intends to protest the General Conference in his tent:
‘I’m hoping to encourage those delegates to move towards more inclusion of LGBTQ people, and for them to be ordained as pastors.’
‘[The General Conference] is the only time when we can make policy change, and change isn’t going to happen unless we take it out from under the table to help people see what our policy is doing to people.’
‘It’s a very small sacrifice to pay compared to the experience that my daughter and other LGBTQ people have had in the church…the rejection they’ve experienced is so much more than my little physical discomfort. It’s a God thing…I’m willing to do it for my daughter.’
Tupper’s daughter asked him to marry her to another woman, whom she met while attending Wheaton College, a hardline conservative evangelical Christian school.
As far as my spiritual journey, I left the Methodist church for the Catholic Church, when Pope Francis came into office and embraced inclusive beliefs. Looks as if the Methodists are a few commandments short of a full Bible in the “Love your neighbor as yourself” department.
Featured Image: Rev. Michael Tupper