Bishop Jack Tuell


United Methodist Bishop Jack Marvin Tuell was born on November 14, 1923 in Tacoma, Washington, the youngest of six sons of Harry Tuell and Ann Bertelsen Tuell. His father Harry was a mortician, and the family lived for a time in the Tuell Funeral Home. He served in the Army Air Forces during World War II. His last posting was at Lowry Field in Denver, Colorado.  At a young adult fellowship meeting at Trinity Methodist Church in Denver, he met Marjorie Beadles, a native of Tacoma like himself. They were married in June, 1946. In 1948 he graduated from the University of Washington with a law degree. He practiced law for two years in Edmonds, Washington. During this time he felt a call to ministry and headed off to Boston University School of Theology where he was awarded the Jacob Sleeper Fellowship and graduated summa cum laude. He was ordained as an elder in the Pacific Northwest Conference of The Methodist Church in 1958.

Tuell served as pastor of several local churches and as a district superintendent in Washington. He also served the national church as a delegate to the General Conferences of 1964-1972 and was an alternate member of the Judicial Council from 1964-68. This was a critical period of time with the preparations and immediate aftermath of the 1968 Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren merger that formed The United Methodist Church. In 1972 he was elected bishop by the Western Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church. Tuell served as the bishop of the Portland Episcopal Area for eight years and then moved to the Los Angeles Episcopal Area for the next twelve years where he was the top official for 195,000 members in more than 400 churches.

As the bishop in Los Angeles, Tuell inherited lawsuits demanding $366 million after the bankruptcy of the Pacific Homes retirement facilities in three states and was instrumental in negotiating a settlement of the complex litigation. He also advocated immigrant rights, signed a protest letter calling U.S. arms policy "idolatrous" and marshaled clergymen against a national lottery game show. But his stance on gay issues continued to reflect the official policy as stated in the Book of Discipline: "The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching," although gay people, like all others, have "sacred worth." He shuffled a gay clergyman to a non-pastoral job. He recalled later that in a conversation with another church leader he coined the phrase "fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness" which was adopted as official church policy to help filter out gay and lesbian candidates for ministry. 

Tuell was well-known as an expert on United Methodist polity and law. Beginning with the 1972 edition, he took on the role--from Bishop Nolan Harmon--of author of The Organization of The United Methodist Church. This book served as the standard polity textbook in seminaries for United Methodist pastors. The book was revised after each General Conference to include changes that assembly made to the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book. Tuell's last edition was published after the 2008 General Conference.

Tuell served as president of two United Methodist general agencies, the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns and the Board of Pension and Health Benefits. He delivered the episcopal address at the 1988 General Conference and served as president of the Council of Bishops from 1989 to 1990.

In 1992, Tuell retired from the episcopacy and moved with Marjorie back to the Seattle Area. In retirement he continued his work as legal advisor in the church. He regularly provided counsel to other bishops on matters of church law. He argued cases before the Judicial Council. He taught classes on United Methodist polity. He was asked by other bishops to preside, i.e. serve as judge, at church trials.

As Tuell later wrote, it was the seventh trial at which he presided that had a profound impact on his thinking on the church's stance on homosexuality. This was the 1999 trial of the Rev. Gregory Dell, a Chicago clergy accused of disobeying church law by performing a commitment service for two gay parishioners. Dell was convicted and suspended from the ministry for a year.

For months Tuell reflected on the conviction. Dell, a minister he described as "dedicated, energetic, compassionate, caring and able," had been ousted. Anguished friends had been telling him their gay and lesbian children didn't feel at home in the churches where they were raised. "Ecclesiastically speaking, the decision was correct," he later wrote. "As I understand the Spirit of God, it was wrong."

"Is it reasonable to believe that God would create some with an orientation toward the same gender, put them within the same strong drive of sexuality and love which is present in heterosexual persons, and then decree that such a drive is to be absolutely repressed and denied? This not only defies reason, but it is cruel, unfeeling and arbitrary …"

Tuell publicly expressed his change of heart during a guest sermon at his Des Moines, Washington church in February 2000. "I stated flatly that I was wrong and called on the church to prayerfully seek a new inclusiveness," he later wrote. "I was 76 years old." His change of heart was widely publicized.

Tuell actively advocated for the denomination to eliminate its ban on clergy officiating at same-sex unions and the prohibition against “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy. In 2004, Tuell appeared as a witness for the defense in the church trial of the Rev. Karen Dammann, a minister accused of violating church doctrine by living openly as a lesbian. She was acquitted. That year he also published From Law to Grace: An Autobiography. He even appeared in frail health at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Florida to protest church policy. Although he was not able to witness this change in policy, he was courteous but relentless in his efforts to build bridges that might allow this change to happen. 

Tuell received honorary degrees from Pacific School of Religion, Alaska Methodist University, and University of Puget Sound. A fund in honor of the Tuells was created at the School of Theology at Claremont to be used for future scholarships. The Pacific Northwest Conference established the Bishop Jack and Marjorie Tuell Center for Leadership Excellence, which aims to nurture clergy and lay members to lead congregations toward vitality.

Tuell died on January 14, 2014 survived by Marjorie, his wife of 67 years; three children, Jacqueline T. Joday, Cynthia D. Tuell, and James Knowles-Tuell; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

(This biographical statement written by Mark Bowman from obituaries published in The Los Angeles Times January 13, 2014 by Steven Chawkins; United Methodist News Service January 13, 2014 by Heather Hahn; and The United Methodist Reporter January 12, 2014—with additional information provided by Cynthia D. Tuell.)

Biography Date: February, 2014


Methodist (UMC, United Methodist Church) | Ally | Church Trials | Clergy Activist | Ordination/clergy


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