After being forced by authorities of the West Michigan Annual Conference to resign as pastor of Cassopolis UMC, Rev. Benjamin Hutchison married his partner, Monty Hutchison, on July 17, 2015. Among the United Methodist clergy present to celebrate the couples’ love and commitment was Ginny Mikita, a practicing Michigan attorney as well as candidate for ordination as a deacon in the West Michigan Conference of The UMC. As an expression of her commitment to Rev. Hutchison, her longtime friend, and in order to protect other UM clergy gathered to bless Benjamin and Monty’s love, Ginny performed the marriage ceremony using credentials secured through the Universal Life Church. Such easily-acquired credentials grant many persons the legal privilege of celebrating same-sex weddings at a time when many United Methodist clergy feel forced to deny the right of marriage to same-sex couples due to the denomination’s prohibition.
While Ginny knowingly placed her future ordination at risk in this act of Biblical Obedience, Ginny could not have imagined that her membership in The UMC would be threatened as well. However, on August 27, Ginny’s District Superintendent, Rev. Bill Haggard, informed her that her candidacy for ordination and her membership in The UMC were revoked weeks ago as a result of a letter penned by three United Methodist clergy in other states demanding that such disciplinary action be taken against her. The stated-rationale for such action insists that Ginny was excommunicated when she acquired an online designation necessary for the legal pronouncement of marriage.
Ginny shared her shock at this anemic understanding of church membership: “Membership, as we stress in The UMC, is not simply about signing up and calling one’s self a member. It has meaning. My membership in The UMC represented my sacred and holy commitment, made by public profession of faith during worship, to remain loyal to Christ through The UMC and to do all in my power to strengthen its ministries by my prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. My commitment has not changed.”
Reconciling Ministries Network is aghast at the bureaucratic action undertaken not only by Rev. Bill Haggard, Bishop Deborah Kiesey, and the West Michigan Conference, but also by the pharisaic efforts of clergy from North Carolina, Texas and New Jersey whose commitment to the letter of the law has outstripped what used to be known as a “religion of the heart.” We wish this were simply a matter of poor leadership, a lack of nerve, or failed compassion on the part of a few, but what we know is that a denomination that enshrines discrimination and sin into its own policies and practices must bear the weight of this extraordinary injustice. The UMC is so committed to the exclusion and oppression of queer people, that in this instance, mere affiliation with the delivery of a gospel blessing upon the relationship of a gay pastor and his loving husband resulted in a modern-day excommunication.
It isn’t only that we lost yet another talented and faithful servant of the gospel, but we must also fully concede and internalize the reality that we have sorely misinterpreted scripture, drastically distorted the mission of the church, and failed to behold the gospel in its most obvious and plain meaning. We join Ginny in this time of pain, acknowledging with hope in the words of Annie Dillard, “that the sleeping God may wake someday and take offense, or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return. ”
As we draw closer to General Conference, let us pray: “may it be so.”
Director of Communications
Reconciling Methodist Network