By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist Convention leader says failure to discipline a pastor and congregation at the recent SBC annual meeting doesn’t mean the nation’s second-largest faith group is wavering in its rejection of churches which “act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said in a June 19 blog he is “frustrated” that messengers to the 2014 SBC did not withdraw fellowship from a California congregation led by a pastor who said recently he is no longer convinced the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, but he understands why no action was taken.
“The issues erupted just days before the convention met, and there was no time for the convention to come to a clear understanding of New Heart Community Church’s actual relationship, if any, to the Southern Baptist Convention,” Mohler said.
Mohler predicted just days before the June 10-11 annual gathering in Baltimore that the convention “will act in accordance with its own convictions, confession of faith and constitution” in response to the congregation embracing a “third way” response to the issue of homosexuality in the church, located near Biola University in La Mirada, Calif.
The view, advocated by Vineyard Church Pastor Ken Wilson in a book titled A Letter to My Congregation, challenges the traditional consensus that churches must either accept homosexuality or fight it.
Wilson explained in a recent Huffington Post article that his proposal is not a middle way between the two, but instead suggests the narrow question of “does the Bible address the relationships that modern day same-sex covenanted couples enter into?” is one on which Christians might agree to disagree.
New Heart Community Church Pastor Danny Cortez cited Wilson’s book in a letter published May 29 by Patheos blogger John Shore describing his personal 15-year journey to change his mind on what the Bible says about homosexuality and the congregation’s decision to keep him as pastor and become a “Third Way” church.
“This is a huge step for a Southern Baptist church!” Cortez exclaimed.
Mohler said by its action New Heart Community Church had effectively declared itself not “in friendly cooperation” with the SBC, but that does not absolve the convention of its responsibility to abide by its constitution.
Mohler said the convention did just that in 1992, when messengers voted to withdraw fellowship from Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., and Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in neighboring Chapel Hill for taking actions that endorsed homosexuality. It took similar action in 2009, when the convention acted to remove fellowship from Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, for the same reason.
Fermin Whittaker, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention, told Religion News Service that his impression was that the congregation, which has given $80 a month to convention causes, is a church-type mission and the sponsoring “mother” church was unaware of the controversy until it got picked up by the media.
“If so, that issue needs to be clarified immediately and the ‘mother’ church must act decisively to discipline the mission, assert its own leadership and demand confessional integrity,” Mohler said. “If the mission continues in its revolt, that parent church must either repudiate the mission and sever fellowship, or it will violate its own confessional integrity and effectively remove itself from ‘friendly cooperation’ with the SBC.”
Mohler said the whole matter turned into “a lesson in Baptist polity,” and that each autonomous Baptist body related to New Heart Community Church now bears a responsibility to act.
“I am confident that the Southern Baptist Convention will act rightly,” Mohler said. “I am hopeful that the Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association and the California Southern Baptist Convention will act with equal clarity and resolution.”
Mohler said there is always sadness when it becomes necessary to withdraw fellowship from a church, but failure to do so in this instance “will be nothing less than a tragic abdication of responsibility and a violation of theological integrity.”