A viral storm has erupted around a Richardson man in the last few days. On Facebook, he posted a letter from Watermark, an evangelical church in Dallas. It said his membership was revoked. The reason: He’s gay and in a relationship.
Most Christian churches have doctrines regulating membership, though scholars say this kind of church discipline is rare.
Despite what’s happened, Jason Thomas still describes Watermark Church as the place he came to know God.
The Struggle To Change
“I became of member there, and joined a small group, I opened up to them about being gay, and with their help I was going to overcome this," he says.
And that’s what he tried to do. He attended a church 12-step program, he went to a local conversion ministry, he prayed desperately to wake up one day and feel different. He never did.
“At some point I realized that people don’t change, you can’t convert from gay to straight," he says. "So when I realized that, I decided I’d be single for the rest of my life.”
He moved in with a straight buddy and threw himself into his friendships. That worked until everyone started to pair off.
“Eventually they got married and I was all alone again.”
Finding His Place
Thomas felt empty and ashamed. He decided to join a gay volleyball league and was surprised by what he found there.
“I started meeting other gay people and they were not the evil, lustful, sick, disgusting people that I was led to believe," he says.
Eventually, Thomas started a relationship with another man. When he refused to break if off, the church removed him from membership.
Words From Watermark
The church’s pastor, Todd Wagner has talked about homosexuality in sermons. Here is a transcription of Wagner from part of a Watermark video series called ‘Real Truth, Real Quick.’
“God loves people struggling with homosexuality just like he loves people who struggle with heterosexual pornography, who struggle to make relationships successful inside of a marriage, or who gossip or shoplift. But just to surrender, and say it’s ok and that’s not going to affect us? If we say that marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is the same between a male and a woman, that’s not loving, that’s why we’re talking about it.”
The History Of Removing Members
Watermark Church is certainly not alone in taking a stance against homosexuality. Many churches won’t consider an openly gay man or woman for the clergy. Many won’t perform gay marriage ceremonies. And many have different rules about removing members, says Ted Campbell, professor of church history at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology.
“Most Christian communities historically have had a provision for that, it’s just very rare to actually practice it," he says.
He’s only seen one other letter like the one Thomas got. It came from a conservative Presbyterian church in the Dallas area.
“Somebody showed me a letter from that church where they indicated to a person who was divorced and remarried that they were not considered to be part of the fellowship anymore.”
Campbell clarifies churches that send letters like this don’t necessarily see it taking action against a member. They’re simply upholding what they stand for.
“And in some cases they make definitions that say if you do this, or if you do that, or if you even say this, then you’ve stepped outside the bounds of the promises that you made and we need to acknowledge that you’ve excluded yourself as a way of our being clear about who we are," he says.
Jason Thomas didn’t go to church for months after getting the letter. He visiting other churches now— though he’s not ready to become a member.
“My faith shattered and it’s coming back together and that’s really awesome but, I definitely hope to be a member of a church someday again," he says. "Soon! Maybe.”
In the meantime, he says, he’s redefining his relationship with God in a new setting. One Sunday at a time.
The letter Watermark sent Thomas
Read the full Watermark Church statement
Statement from Watermark Community Church:
Recently, one of our former members posted a letter they received from some close friends and the leadership of our church informing him that his membership status had been removed. We would like to take the opportunity to address this situation and offer clarity to those seeking answers and understanding.
As we’ve previously shared, following the example of Jesus, Watermark loves and welcomes people of all backgrounds, economic statuses, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and struggles. Also following His example, we encourage people to turn away from sin and to follow Jesus.
As directed by Scripture, Watermark makes a distinction between regularly attending and being a formal member of our church. We don’t remove someone’s formal status as a member for struggling with sin – whether that sin is pride, materialism, or sexual sin. Every member of Watermark needs God’s grace to stand firm in the midst of temptation and His forgiveness for the times we fall short.
An individual’s formal relationship with us as a member is only changed when someone no longer desires to resist sin and/or refuses our help, care, and encouragement. Even if someone’s formal membership status is removed, our desire is to continue to love and care for them, and they are always welcome to attend Watermark and be reminded of the grace and truth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
In regard to the specific letter currently on social media and the subsequent commentary on it, we would like to share a few things that have been misrepresented. Before he ever received this letter, some of his closest friends and then leaders at Watermark met face-to-face with him numerous times to understand how to best love and serve him.
In those meetings, it became increasingly clear that he no longer believed same-sex sexual activity was inappropriate for a follower of Jesus Christ, and he also made it clear that he no longer desired the help, care, and encouragement we were seeking to provide.
Like any member whose beliefs move away from the core commitments, biblical convictions, and values of Watermark, it became appropriate to formally change his membership status. However, we continue to express to him that he is loved and is always welcome to attend Watermark.
As he shared in his post, he received the formal communication from us a year ago. Only the few people who walked alongside him in this process and those who had a relationship with him were aware of the change in his membership status and the reason for it. While these instances are rare, we always endeavor to keep them confined to only the small group of people connected directly with them, with the goal of ultimately restoring relationships.
If you have any questions about this or would like to meet with a member of our staff to discuss, you can email email@example.com.