Pastor marries partner days after forced resignation

Published 8:40 am Monday, July 20, 2015

Rev. Benjamin Hutchison and his husband, Monty, were married in front of a large crowd of ministers and community members on the steps of the Cass County courthouse Friday. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Rev. Benjamin Hutchison and his husband, Monty, were married in front of a large crowd of ministers and community members on the steps of the Cass County courthouse Friday. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,” rang out clearly across downtown Cassopolis Friday as dozens of clergy men and women harmonized the words to a hymn that took on an even greater meaning for those in attendance.

Ordained with rainbow stoles, bright smiles and their Sunday best, dozens rallied around the steps at the historic Cass County courthouse to witness a moment that will forever mark history in the rural southwest Michigan county and the entire state.

The guests, traveling from all over the country to witness the special day, were proving their belief in the hymnal lyric as they gathered to show their support for an openly gay Cassopolis minsister and his partner as he wed Friday.

Just a few days earlier, the Rev. Benjamin Hutchison was given the choice to either resign or be fired, after officials with the United Methodist Church was made aware of the fact that Hutchison is a practicing homosexual.

At promptly 12:30 Friday afternoon, the reverend and his partner, Monty Hutchison, made their way through a crowd full of emotions with a chorus of cheers and lighthearted hymns to welcome them.

The reverend, dressed in a slate grey suit with a purple tie and lavender pocket square, grinned ear to ear, holding tight to the hand of his soon-to-be husband, who visibly fought back tears of joy. As the crowd quieted, the couple stood facing the officiants performing the ceremony, as well as more than 30 brothers and sisters in Christ, who traveled to Cassopolis to show their support.

With hands still grasped tight, the crowd was silent as the Rev. Mark Thompson, of Grand Rapids Faith United Methodist Church, opened the ceremony.

“I’m a firm believer in rainbows,” said Thompson, who led the ceremony alongside the Rev. Ginny Mikita. “But what I’ve learned about rainbows is that in order to show their full spectrum, they have to follow storms.”

Mikita continued the ceremony, breaking the tradition of signing the wedding license after the union so that the supporters could sign the iconic document in front of the people who came to show their support. Mikita described Hutchison as her “gay angel,” and said she felt beyond blessed to take part in the couple’s special day.

When Thompson asked who was present to pass their blessing on the marriage, a resounding, booming, “We do” rang through the crowd. And when Hutchison and his partner sealed the deal with a kiss, an uproar of applause and “amens” filled the air, as many witnessing the moment were moved to tears.

The short ceremony uniting the former reverend of Cassopolis United Methodist Church was a complete contrast to the more difficult events earlier in the week — the rainbow following the storm, so to speak. There were no protestors or grey clouds, simply congregants and people from all over the Midwest lining up to show their support for a pastor who they felt had been wronged.

Throughout his life, Hutchison said he had experienced his share of hardships, including being forced to choose between his partner, whose last name he took a few years ago, and his own family.

On Friday, though, spirits were high, and the reverend said he felt 100 percent supported, despite the events earlier in the week.

But that does not mean that the couple does not know what they’re up against. Hutchison realizes that, like many of the pastors who chose to stand up for what they believe is a legitimate Christian union, he is at risk of losing his ordination.

There were two rows of pastors who Hutchison referred to as “the choir.”

“It’s heart-wrenching,” he said in an interview the day after the wedding. “Some of them I’ve never met. We’ve never been in contact…. They were able to travel — some came from Chicago, I know there were people from St. Louis, people from Detroit, who all rushed to get here.”

The front row had made the decision to go against their bishops and verbally announce their support for the union. The second row did not speak out at the ceremony, and were therefore not in violation.

“They did not risk their jobs by being present,” Hutchison said. “The two clergy that signed the document, they are in violation directly of their bishop.”

Hutchison said he told the officiant to tell clergy members if they did not want to risk losing their jobs, they should not speak their support out loud when asked to do so during the ceremony.

“It was one of those things that I would have done the same thing for them,” Hutchison said. “I lose my job and still feel open that I could lose my ordination, but if we’re going to march at Selma, we’re going to march.”

As for those who do not understand how a man of God can also be a homosexual, Hutchison said he refuses to argue with them.

“I would say, ‘I pray you never feel or understand the discrimination, agony, psychological damage and distress I have had to feel in my life,” he said. “I would never get into theological arguments with them… That would be like them throwing apples, and me throwing oranges.”

Hutchison said he would never be able to lead a church service in the Cass United Methodist Church building again, even if he were permitted to return.

“There’s too much emotional, spiritual and psychological damage now to that physical building,” Hutchison said. “Now those congregation members, they are ashamed to be members of the Cass United Methodist Church. They don’t even like telling people they’re members. They’re struggling with the community to let them know they had nothing to do with this. It was the hierarchy. And they’re mad.”

The majority of the congregation knew Hutchison was gay but strongly supported him because of how he conducted himself and what he had been able to accomplish including growing membership and strengthening the financial foundation of the church.

Hutchison said several congregants have said it feels like the Holy Spirit has left the building.

“After 177 years, the denomination has broken the church,” Huchison said sadly.

Moving forward though, Hutchison said the country has come a long way since he changed his last name to his partner’s three years ago, but it still has a long way to go.

“It’s phenomenal how far we’ve come, not only from a civil rights standpoint, but also to show support for the well-being of our youth, for their stability, for queer youth in general,” he said. “As a psychotherapist I think we’ve come a long in decreasing the suicide rate among queer youth, just knowing that they will be permitted to be married.”

Hutchison said he would like to move to the east side of the state with his husband to use his masters degrees in theology and social work to work in a hospital, earn his PhD, become a professor of theology or social work or focus on mental health issues that come as a result of religious terrorism.

Katy Furman, a Kalamazoo resident who traveled with her mother, her children and her pastor to show support for the reverend, said she prays that one day soon, the leaders of the Methodist Church will reconsider their views on homosexual ministers being permitted to marry.

“I love the United Methodist church, and I’m angry with the United Methodist Church,” she said. “I don’t want my children to grow up hating the church because their friends are alienated.”

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