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Mobberly musician 'on pause' after officiating gay wedding

By Matthew Prosser
July 6, 2015 at 11:32 p.m.

Tonya Vargas nee Hayes, right, and Jessica Vargas with licensed minister Johnny Griffith Saturday, July, 4, 2015, at Synergy Park in Kilgore. The Vargases are believed to be the first same-sex couple wed in Gregg County. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

The morning after he officiated a same-sex wedding, Longview musician Johnny Griffith was told by Mobberly Baptist Church his services would not be needed that day.

Griffith, who has been a paid band musician in Mobberly's contemporary service since its inception about four years ago, said a staffer told him early Sunday that in light of his participation in a same-sex wedding ceremony, he would be on an "indefinite pause" as part of the church's paid worship team.

In a statement released Sunday night, Mobberly Baptist Church spokesman Mickey Seward said the church holds to Biblical authority for all beliefs and ministry actions and champions what it called Biblical marriage, "which is defined as marriage between one man and one woman."

"We invite anyone to worship with us, regardless of beliefs and values," he said. "However, upholding the core values of the church is an essential responsibility of men and women in leadership positions, whether full-time or part-time employees, contract workers or volunteers."

Griffith, who said he's been licensed to perform weddings for more than 20 years, officiated a Saturday morning ceremony for two women in Kilgore. They were among the first gay couples to be married in Gregg County since the U.S. Supreme Court late last month ruled same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marry.

Griffith said that although he understands Mobberly's point of view on the matter, he respectfully disagrees.

"(The church) has the right, as a private, religious organization, to exercise their freedoms as they see fit," he said. "I knew going into this that it would put me at odds with the position they have taken as an organization and that this could potentially be the outcome — thus putting my status as a paid musician for them in jeopardy — even though I did not in any way do this as a representative of Mobberly Baptist Church."

Seward said Monday the desire of the senior staff at Mobberly is to discuss with Griffith "his spiritual values and make sure they align with those of Mobberly Baptist Church."

"Any person who is in a leadership or prominent position at Mobberly is expected to uphold the core values of the church," he said. "That is a longstanding policy of Mobberly Baptist Church, just as it is in most churches, organizations and businesses."

Seward said that policy protects the church as well as an individual from having to uphold or defend a policy with which they do not agree.

"When we are confident that spiritual values line up, then we'll be able to discuss the possibility of future service with Mobberly," he said about Griffith's employment at the church.

Griffith said he acted out of what he believes to be "the best representation of the example Christ portrayed in the Gospels, portraying the spirit of love, light and peace."

"It's unfortunate that trying to do the right thing took money out of my family's budget," he said. "But I would make the same decision again tomorrow if asked."

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