BY AJ TRAGER
PARCHMENT, Mich. — Every evening Rev. Mike Tupper puts on a thick hat, a pair of gloves and insulated pants and crawls into two sleeping bags nestled inside a winter tent. He’s been sleeping outside in the Michigan cold since Nov. 30 in protest of how the United Methodist Church treats LGBT individuals.
“Individual local churches are going to let anybody come and worship and are going to encourage people to come and worship. But in their books — in the policy of the church — they will not allow any same-sex weddings to happen in the church, they will not let pastors do same-sex weddings, they will not ordain LGBTQ people. They have in their books that homosexuality is not compatible with Christianity,” Tupper told BTL.
By the time he reaches his final destination, Tupper will have spent 175 days sleeping outside in various cities around the country. He’s traveled to Indianapolis, Des Moines, Lansing, Marquette and will travel to Raleigh, Baltimore and Topeka. His final stop will be at the General Conference in Portland, Oregon on May 10. The General Conference meets every four years and is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church. Tupper hopes that his protest will make a difference and influence church policy to broaden inclusion to all LGBT people.
Tupper became an ordained pastor 35 years ago and has preached around the country. He worked on a mission in Kentucky helping the poor in Appalachia by starting his own school and house-church and eventually landed in Parchment where he has been a pastor for four and a half years.
Tupper has plans to finally retire in June. However, he is experiencing significant backlash from his church due to some actions he has taken in support of LGBT unions.
A lot of things changed for Tupper seven years ago when his daughter, Sarah, came out to him and his wife, Lori. Sarah provided them with a book of her experiences living as a lesbian in today’s world.
“I knew about the LGBT life,” he told BTL. “But I finally saw it through the LGBT lens. Sarah’s lens.”
Tupper married Sarah and her wife, Ali, on Aug. 17, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland.
“I’m not an advocate type of guy. I have never done any of this type of thing before. I’ve been a local church pastor all my life. I’ve been real low key and not wanted to stir up any trouble or that type of thing,” Tupper explained. “But when my daughter told me that she and Ali were going to get married, she said, ‘Dad, you’re going to have to think about whether you are going to participate in this or not and recognize that if you do, there are going to be consequences.’ And I prayed about it, and I felt like the Lord wanted me to help.”
The day after signing his daughter’s marriage license and officiating her wedding, a complaint was filed within the church. “I felt like I needed to do this for my daughter,” he said.
It was then that he began to understand the implications of the church policies and how they intimately affect LGBT United Methodists. He continued to advocate for LGBT inclusion on the west side of the state, in specifics the West Michigan Conference, throughout the next year.
“When I first got started in advocacy, a year and a half ago, as I thought about Sarah’s wedding, I thought about the scripture that I was focused on. It was about this time of year. We are in the season of Lent, which is all about preparation, but a lot of the Lent focuses on the cross and Jesus going to the cross, type of thing. For me, that scripture is Jesus saying, ‘I must go to the cross and I invite you as followers to carry your own cross.’ And for me it meant that I needed to sacrifice in some way. And I needed to be willing. And the cross meant that I need to be willing to give up my ministry of credentials if that’s what they ask for,” he explained.
After being forced to resign as a pastor in July 2015, Tupper’s friend Rev. Benjamin David Hutchison of Cassopolis finally married his longtime-partner Monty Hutchison. Tupper was one of 30 pastors that came out in support of their union and was one of nine pastors to receive a formal complaint, which was officially his second offense.
The first complaint was thrown out because it was his first offense; however, it will not be as easy to dismiss the second, Tupper told BTL. The bishop passed the complaint on to Rev. Elbert Dulworth, a sort of prosecutor for the church, on Oct. 15 2015. The case is still pending. Tupper has a very real chance of losing his license to practice.
Tupper’s camping journey started in Marquette. Driving to the northern city was the scariest experience of his entire life, Tupper says. He anticipated getting arrested, as he placed his tent on someone else’s property.
“You just invite God to speak, and then you just wait and you let God give you visions, symbols or give you direction,” he said.
But it’s not the loss of his license that Tupper fears most — it’s that his gesture, his “sacrifice,” his symbol of devotion, has the possibility to not make any change within the church policy.
“I am just never sure if I am ever going to make a difference. I sleep out there every night and wonder if this is going to really help anybody, ya know?” Tupper asked.
To find out more information about Tupper, visit his website at http://www.opendoorsumc.com.