• BTL Photo: Roxanne Frith

For Love and Faith

Jason A. Michael
By | 2019-04-04T14:16:40-04:00 April 3rd, 2019|Michigan, News|

A United Methodist Church minister in Lansing has declared he will perform same-sex weddings despite a recent denominational decision continuing the prohibition of gay marriage. At the church’s annual conference, which took place last month in St. Louis, delegates voted 438-384 in favor of what was called the Traditional Plan. The Plan continues the church’s ban on the ordination of LGBTQ clergy and the performing of same-sex weddings.
But Mark Thompson, pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Lansing, who himself came out as gay about a decade ago, has said he will follow his conscience rather than church rules and officiate at same-sex weddings. Thompson said he came to his decision after actually telling a Grand Rapids reporter that he would not officiate at such ceremonies. After seeing the interview broadcast, the compassionate pastor said he had a restless night’s sleep and shed a great many tears. By morning, he had had a change of heart.
“I found myself grieving that I had again let down my people,” said Thompson, who called the reporter back to retract his previous statements. “I wanted her and others to know that I will conduct such ceremonies after appropriate premarital pastoral counseling.
“What right do I have to not offer unconditional love in every way that I can?” Thompson went on. “An amazing part of a wedding ceremony of a couple, who are deeply in love with each other, is to offer a divine blessing. I want to be a part of such gifting of love for couples. Doing such might bring about charges, yet I need to follow my calling to be a pastor to the community in which I am called to serve as a United Methodist pastor.”
Thompson, who was once married to a woman and is the father of three children, said his coming out process was a slow one.
“For the most part, I found support,” he said. “There were others who wished me back in the closet or away from the role of a clergyperson. It has not been an easy ride.”
Ten years later and Thompson said he still struggles.
“I find myself still stifled, for I am part of an organization that wants me to live a single celibate life. I am part of a church that sees my role as a clergyperson inferior to straight people. I am left wondering who has my back and who is ready to stab me in the back.”
Thompson said he is planning to retire next year and hopes to pursue a relationship of his own then. Still, he was hoping to not have to wait to live fully as his authentic self. Then came the conference. There, delegates debated between the Traditional Plan and the One Church Plan, which would have changed the definition of marriage from “one man and one woman” to “two adults” in church bylaws. It also would have deleted the current passage that reads, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”
“I was actually trusting that the One Church Plan would pass,” Thompson said. “Such trust was built on the strong support for it from the majority of bishops, as well as those for and against the plan. My spirit was at peace and I went as an observer that greeted delegates from all over the world, knowing that some of them might have never been greeted by an old, gay, queer, clergyperson. I proudly wore my rainbow stole and carried a sign that stated that I was a gay clergy. I was looking forward to a future of freedom to date, marry, celebrate acceptance that was long overdue for me and my siblings who are LGBT in the UMC.”
Sadly, for Thompson, the One Church Plan did not make it out of legislative committee. Then the Traditional Plan passed.
“I felt a part of my spirit die, go numb,” he said, recalling that day at the conference. “I had lost hope in the future of my church. I packed my car and drove through the night from St. Louis to Lansing. I don’t recall speaking to anyone for the next 12 hours.”
Now, Thompson said he feels compelled to speak out.
“The God that I worship is one that is a part of all creation, one in whose image all humanity is fashioned after, one whose name is unconditional love,” he said. “I long for more places where that kind of God is taught about, worshipped and loved. It brings me great peace to know that once in a while I can bask in gatherings that proclaim such a God.”
Thompson said he realizes that if he actually performs a same-sex wedding, he will be subject to discipline by the church.
“A United Methodist pastor can have charges brought against him/her/them for conducting a same-gender wedding ceremony,” he said. “This has been the UMC law for a long time. Typically, a person would enter into a ‘Just Resolution’ process and, thereby, be able to use the situation to advocate for LGBT rights and justice. If the Traditional Plan, as voted through, takes effect Jan. 1, 2020, the option of a ‘Just Resolution’ would be taken off the table.”
Despite it all, Thompson said he still believes in the UMC and its message.
“It is one of love for all of creation,” he said. “It, in its better moments, sides with the disenfranchised, the poor, the homeless, the vulnerable. I want to be a part of that movement called UMC that truly lives out the ideals of ‘open hearts, open minds, open doors’ so that we can be a part of making this world a place that is transformed into a home of peace, justice and love for all of creation.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.