We write often about Watermark, a large church visible from I-635 near Central that provides many services to Lake Highlands residents. The church-operated free clinic QuestCare is located in our neighborhood, for example. And it also involves itself in disaster relief and outreach at home and nationwide.
But Watermark is the subject of discussion — much of it heated — on social media. People are reacting to a letter shared by former church member Jason Thomas in which church elders inform him that he is “no longer a member of the body at Watermark.”
Their reason? His “participation in a same-sex relationship with another man,” which the leadership calls a “destructive pattern.”
The letter is dated October 2015; Jason shared it publicly over the weekend, noting that it was the one-year anniversary.
“It was exactly one year ago when you told me that I was no longer worthy to serve, be in a community group, and be a member of your church,” he writes in a sort-of open comment/letter to Watermark Church.
He also notes that he battled to change his sexual orientation and prayed for years that he could change. That’s confirmed in Watermark’s letter which notes, “at times you have heeded counsel and repented.”
The church sites Bible verses Matthew 18:15-18 and 1 Corinthians 5:11 as their reason to “treat you as we would anyone who is living out of fellowship with God … and we lovingly, but firmly, call you back to repentance.”
Watermark suggests Jason attend a support group called Re:Generation, a “Biblically-based 12-step discipleship for healing, recovery and freedom from any type of struggle,” to “target the above issue.”
So far some 1,000 Facebook users have reacted to and commented on and shared his post, which is to say it is well on its way to going viral.
One man shares that he was in a similar situation and, convinced that he was “fundamentally flawed,” became suicidal.
“I just wanted you to know that the actions against you … do not represent all Christians and offend many,” writes a woman.
“Reading this while reflecting on the person Jason is,” notes another, “I can’t help but to feel hurt and angry. At the same time, I also feel fortunate to work for a church that lives by the words ‘Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors’.”
Others defended the church’s actions and message.
“I feel this is a real fine line, but from the church’s point of view, how can you allow someone to intentionally disobey the ‘rules’ of the church? It seems by the letter they tried to help him but if they feel they couldn’t, they can’t allow that to be the precedence [sic],” notes one commenter.
“Watermark makes it clear in their yearly contracts [with official members] what they believe and expect from members,” notes one Watermark member. “Watermark has always stood by the idea that God intended sex for marriage and marriage is defined as a man and woman.”
When we reached Jason, who lives near Richland Community College, he explained that he posted the letter because he wanted to save others the pain he suffered.
“I hope that people will at least know what they are getting into if they decide to attend Watermark,” he says.
He has since attended both Church of Incarnation and LIFT Community Church, he says, “and they are both great.”
“But I’m still deeply wounded by this situation,” he adds.
We emailed and left a voicemail message with the communications director at Watermark this morning seeking a response to the recent flush of attention.
So far we have not heard back from them but will update this post if we do.
Watermark’s Caitlin Van Wagoner verified that the letter is genuine and sent a statement via email:
“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,” the statement reads.
“Watermark makes a distinction between attending our church 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,” it continues.
“An individual’s formal relationship with us as a member is only changed when someone no longer desires to resist sin and refuses our help, care, and encouragement. Even if someone’s formal membership status is removed, they are always welcome to attend Watermark and be reminded of the grace and truth of our savior Jesus Christ.”