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Pastor’s shift on sexuality confronts SBC

NASHVILLE (BP) — A Los Angeles-area Southern Baptist pastor has said he believes homosexual acts are not always sinful, leading to a split in his church and leaving some Southern Baptists wondering whether the Southern Baptist Convention will withdraw fellowship from the congregation.

“I recently revealed to the elders that I have changed my stance on homosexuality,” Danny Cortez, pastor of New Heart Community Church said in a Feb. 9 sermon posted on YouTube that gained national attention through a blog post at patheos.com on May 29 and one by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. on June 2.

Cortez acknowledged that his endorsement of homosexuality “is a radical shift from the longstanding belief of our church. This is a radical shift from our statement of faith, aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Article III of the SBC Constitution states, “Among churches not in friendly cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.” The SBC Executive Committee is monitoring developments in the New Heart situation and could consider the matter during its September or February meetings. Depending on how the facts unfold, the EC could also make a recommendation regarding New Heart to the 2015 annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio.

One complicating factor in a potential withdrawal of fellowship is that New Heart is classified as a “mission” rather than as an independent church in Southern Baptists’ Annual Church Profile database. But that classification was apparently reported years ago, making it difficult to ascertain whether New Heart ever formally constituted as a church. Even if it turns out that New Heart is still a mission, Fermin Whittaker, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention told Religion News Service that “the parent church had no knowledge of the changes happening.”

New Heart did not respond to Baptist Press’ request for comments.

Some New Heart members believed Cortez’s position is unbiblical and thought he should be terminated, a letter from Cortez posted at patheos.com said. According to Cortez, the congregation voted May 18 not to dismiss him. Instead it opted to become a “Third Way” church that will “agree to disagree and not cast judgment on one another,” Cortez wrote.

Earlier this month, a group of church members who believe homosexuality is unbiblical reportedly separated from New Heart.

In his sermon, Cortez argued that Romans 1 does not condemn all homosexual acts but only those committed in a spirit of violence or unbridled lust. He said modern homosexual relationships are different from the grotesque forms of homosexuality Paul was referencing. Cortez said he learned about ancient homosexuality by immersing himself in “homoerotic literature.”

Cortez also explained that his son is gay and said his own change of mind led to the “most meaningful moment” he has ever had with his son.

At the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore, New Heart was mentioned twice. On one occasion, messenger Wiley Drake of Buena Park, Calif., moved that the SBC’s newly elected officers lead the convention to discipline Cortez and New Heart. The motion was ruled out of order because it directed officers to act outside the scope of their duties as established by Article IV of the SBC constitution, which says, “While independent and sovereign in its own sphere, the Convention does not claim and will never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church, auxiliary organizations, associations, or convention.”

During the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary report, Drake asked President Daniel Akin how the SBC can discipline New Heart. Akin replied that local churches are responsible for their own discipline.

Though the SBC cannot discipline a church, it can withdraw fellowship from a congregation and has done so on three occasions — all in response to churches’ affirmations of homosexuality.

— In 1992 the convention withdrew fellowship from two North Carolina churches: Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, which voted to bless the “union” of two homosexual men, and Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, which licensed a homosexual to the ministry.

— In 2009, the convention ceased its relationship with Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, which had five openly homosexual members at the time, including some serving on church committees.

The process by which the SBC can “withdraw fellowship” from a church (an action tantamount to removing a church from participation in the SBC’s annual meeting, terminating receipt of benefits that come from inclusion and prohibiting further identification with the convention) can take various paths.

The starting points for those paths include motions on the floor of the convention, complaints reported or actions taken by cooperating state conventions or local Baptist associations and even notice of press accounts. Consideration of those reports or motions by appropriate committees including the SBC’s Credentials Committee and/or the Executive Committee happens along the way, with final determination usually made by the messengers of the convention, frequently in a vote to approve a recommendation after a study of the facts and an opportunity for both sides of the issue to be presented.
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).