By Bob Allen
The Southern Baptist Convention has kicked out a California church that voted in May to agree to disagree about whether the Bible teaches that homosexual behavior is always a sin.
Acting on behalf of the convention between annual meetings, the SBC Executive Committee voted unanimously Sept. 23 that New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., does not presently meet the definition of a “cooperating church” under an article of the SBC constitution banning congregations which “act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”
The ouster vote by the full Executive Committee was unanimous and without discussion. New Heart Pastor Danny Cortez met with the subcommittee that brought the recommendation to the floor, but those sessions are open to the media only under background reporting rules, which prohibit direct quotation or attribution.
After the vote, Cortez said he wasn’t giving media interviews, but the congregation might issue a statement in the days ahead.
Cortez, a self-described conservative, preached a sermon in May posted on YouTube titled “Why I Changed My Mind on Homosexuality.” The message divided the fellowship and prompted a vote scheduled for March 9 about whether to terminate him as pastor.
Instead of firing Cortez, the congregation voted for a period of prayer, study and discernment until May 18. In the end a majority voted to become a “Third Way” congregation, neither endorsing nor condemning homosexuality but viewing it as a matter about which sincere Christians can honestly disagree in the same way Christians differ in their understanding of the Bible’s teaching about divorce and remarriage in a 21st-century context.
The decision reached a wider audience May 29, when Cortez told the story in a guest post on a Patheos blog, describing the vote to not make homosexuality a test of fellowship as “a huge step for a Southern Baptist church.”
The Executive Committee’s administrative subcommittee, which includes a bylaws work group, said information provided by New Heart Community Church amounted to “clear evidence of the church’s affirmation and approval of homosexual behavior.”
The Executive Committee said the convention should not receive “messengers” from New Heart qualified to vote at SBC annual meetings “until such time as the convention determines that the church has unambiguously demonstrated its friendly cooperation with the convention” as defined by the SBC constitution.
The nation’s largest faith group after Roman Catholics amended its constitution in the early 1990s to exclude gay-friendly congregations, after two affiliated churches in North Carolina made headlines for blessing a same-sex union and licensing an openly gay person to the ministry.
The anti-gay amendment was last invoked in 2009, when the convention in session approved an Executive Committee recommendation to sever ties with Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, for membership policies allowing unrepentant gays to serve in leadership roles on church committees.
The vote by the national denomination comes on the heels of similar action Sept. 11 by the executive board of the California Southern Baptist Convention, a statewide-SBC affiliate that, like local churches, is governed autonomously.
The 175-church Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association is scheduled to vote Oct. 11 on a motion not to seat messengers from New Heart or any church that disagrees with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. The statement of consensus Southern Baptist beliefs first adopted in 1925 and revised in 1963 was updated in 2000 to include opposition to “all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality and pornography.”