By Bob Allen
A Religion News Service columnist and son of a former Southern Baptist Convention president says a Baptist state convention’s expulsion of a California church is a warning to other congregations considering the affirmation of lesbians and gays.
The California Southern Baptist Convention executive board voted Sept. 11 to expel New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., finding the congregation’s “third way” approach of neither condemning nor endorsing homosexuality contrary to the convention’s articles of faith.
Jonathan Merritt, a faith and culture writer and son of former SBC President James Merritt, noted in an RNS column Sept. 17 that it is only the second time the statewide Southern Baptist Convention affiliate has withdrawn fellowship from a church in its 74-year history.
The first was in 1988, when the state convention refused to accept $800 in contributions from Dolores Street Church in San Francisco over its stance of welcoming members regardless of their sexual orientation. The church severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention in 1993, after the national body kicked out two North Carolina churches for acting “to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.”
“New Heart’s expulsion serves as a warning to other Southern Baptist congregations that may also be considering affirming gays and lesbians,” Merritt said. “If such a policy is unacceptable among California Baptists, it certainly would be among state conventions in the more conservative Southeast or Midwest.”
“So while Americans in general and even some evangelicals may be creeping left on homosexuality, the Southern Baptist Convention’s feet seem firmly planted in traditional thinking,” he continued. “Don’t expect them to budge any time soon.”
Merritt’s father, Atlanta-area megachurch pastor James Merritt, served as SBC president in 2001-2002. After he refused to meet with representatives of Soulforce, 12 members of the pro-gay protest group entered the meeting hall at the 2002 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis and were arrested for trespassing.
In his most recent book, Jonathan Merritt revealed that he has experienced same-sex attraction but does not self-identify as gay. In February he and Fox News analyst Kirsten Powers feuded in dueling columns with SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission head Russell Moore about whether it is hypocritical for Christians to boycott same-sex marriages as “unbiblical,” while affirming others that violate the Bible’s teaching against remarriage after a divorce.