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SBC not ‘third way’ on divorce

NASHVILLE (BP) — It is not inconsistent for a church to accept divorced and remarried members with “mercy and grace” but require homosexuals to leave their gay lifestyle before joining the congregation, Southern Baptists’ lead ethicist said in response to arguments posed by the pastor of a church that was disfellowshipped from the Southern Baptist Convention because of its stance on homosexuality.

Charging Southern Baptists with hypocrisy is valid in some respects because “the divorce culture” in churches is an indication that Baptists have embraced “elements of the sexual revolution,” Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote in a blog post. “But divorce and remarriage is not, beyond that, applicable to the same-sex marriage debate.”

Moore’s post answered arguments made in an Oct. 21 Huffington Post article by Danny Cortez, pastor of New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif. Acting on behalf of the SBC, its Executive Committee voted Sept. 23 to withdraw fellowship from New Heart, where some members including Cortez believe “same-sex marriage can be blessed by God.”

Cortez has called New Heart a “third way” church in which members can hold varying perspectives regarding same-sex marriage.

In his article, Cortez recounted attending EC meetings and telling the group’s Administrative Committee the SBC already practices the “third way” regarding divorce and remarriage because people with varying views are given “space to disagree” within the same church. Additionally, pastors who perform weddings for people who have been divorced for unbiblical reasons violate the Baptist Faith and Message’s prohibition of sanctioning adultery, but their churches are not disfellowshipped from the SBC, Cortez wrote, recounting his statements to the Administrative Committee.

Moore was present at the Sept. 23 Administrative Committee meeting and published his blog article the next day. He did not reference Cortez by name or attribute statements to him because EC policy prohibits reporting direct statements from committee and workgroup meetings. But he addressed Cortez’s arguments.

First, most evangelicals believe the Bible permits divorce in cases of adultery or abandonment by one spouse, Moore wrote, noting that remarriage after a permitted divorce is not sin. But even when Christians divorce for illegitimate reasons and then remarry, repentance does not require them to end their new marriages, he wrote.

“Suppose [an illegitimately divorced and remarried] couple repents of their sin and asks to be received, or welcomed back, into the church. What does repentance look like for them?” Moore wrote. “They have, in this scenario, committed an adulterous act (Matt. 5:32-33). Do they repent of this adultery by doing the same sinful action again, abandoning and divorcing one another? No. In most cases, the church recognizes that they should acknowledge their past sin and resolve to be faithful from now on to one another. Why is this the case? It’s because their marriages may have been sinfully entered into, but they are, in fact, marriages.”

Same-sex marriages on the other hand do not fit the biblical definition of marriage and must be abandoned by any person wishing to repent of their sin, Moore wrote. No church can remain biblical while allowing some of its members to affirm homosexual acts, he noted.

Christians must recapture “a vision of marriage defined by the Gospel, embodied in local congregations,” he wrote. “This means preaching with both truth and grace, with accountability for entering marriages and, by the discipline of the church, for keeping those vows. We don’t remedy our past sins by adding new ones.”

Cortez claimed in his article that failure to grant homosexual couples membership in local churches while receiving divorced and remarried couples “is to grant straight privilege. It is to say that in our Baptist practice we will agree to disagree on straight issues but not on LGBT ones.”

In his article, Cortez said he told the EC’s Administrative Committee “that we all knew pastors who were officiating remarriages in our denomination that were the result of non-permitted divorces.”

A LifeWay Research survey published in 2011 found that 29 percent of evangelical pastors will perform a wedding for a divorced person “regardless of the reason” for the divorce. The survey did not examine the specific percentage among Southern Baptists.

Cortez also wrote he did not want his church to become fully gay affirming even though he has “become affirming of same-sex relationships” himself. A church should have unity despite “deep disagreements” in fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that His people would be one, Cortez noted.

“Each Sunday our churches are segregated by our theological and verbal disputes,” Cortez wrote. “And each Sunday, Christians are excluded from the [Lord’s Supper] table because of our disagreements.”

The SBC, the California Southern Baptist Convention and the Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association each disagreed with the claim that unity requires granting church membership to persons who affirm homosexual behavior. In September the California Southern Baptist Convention’s executive board voted to withdraw fellowship from New Heart. The Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association’s executive board recommended in July that the body not seat messengers from New Heart at its fall meeting.