By Bob Allen
The 175-church Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association is expected to vote this fall on whether to expel a member church for embracing a “third way” besides discrimination against or unqualified endorsement of people who identify as gay.
According to Baptist Press, the association will consider at its annual meeting Oct. 11 an executive board recommendation to not seat messengers from congregations that disagree with the Baptist Faith and Message.
The statement, a consensus set of doctrines last updated by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000, includes a section that reads: “In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality and pornography.”
The motion is directed at New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., a congregation that recently split after voting not to fire a pastor who told the congregation in February that after a 15-year journey and his own son’s coming out he changed his mind about what the Bible says about homosexuality.
The pastor, Danny Cortez, attracted nationwide attention in a Patheos blog announcing that on May 18 the church voted not to dismiss him but instead become a Third Way church, agreeing to disagree on homosexuality without casting judgment on those holding another view. He called it “a huge step for a Southern Baptist church.”
“So now, we will accept the LGBT community even though they may be in a relationship,” Cortez explained. “We will choose to remain the body of Christ and not cast judgment. We will work towards graceful dialogue in the midst of theological differences.”
“We see that this is possible in the same way that our church holds different positions on the issue of divorce and remarriage,” he explained. “In this issue we are able to not cast judgment in our disagreement.”
The downside, Cortez said, is that many church members who voted to retain traditional views that homosexual activity is sinful were separating from the church.
Cortez isn’t giving media interviews, but he said in his July 27 sermon posted in audio format on the church website that the congregation is using the summer for a “soft start” to rebuild a fractured and still-hurting fellowship.
“It’s been a good summer,” Cortez said. “It’s been hard. We’ve been grieving. We’ve been struggling through loss, and we continue to interact with some of our old friends and try to work through it, and that’s been difficult.”
“At the same time, there have been some beautiful things,” he said. “It seems like every week there are people from the community coming into the church, and some people that haven’t been in church in over 10 years are coming.”
The pastor who offered the original motion to the association’s executive board to “remove the right hand of fellowship” from New Heart Community Church said his intent was not to convey hatred or to hurt people who experience same-sex attraction but rather to “speak the truth in love” to those who don’t want to hear the message that homosexuality is a sin.
“All of us are sinners who need forgiveness for our sins,” P.J. Tibayan, pastor of Crossview Church Los Angeles, said in a blog. “Just like heterosexual lust and activity outside of marriage, same-gender sexuality is also sinful before God. We were all invited to trust in Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose from the dead, and so part of truly trusting him is repenting from sin in general and all of our particular sins as God defines sin in the Bible.”
In the Bible, Tibayan said, “same-gender sexuality is one of at least six sexually immoral sins.”
A vote by the association would have no bearing on New Heart Community Church’s membership in the California Southern Baptist Convention or the Southern Baptist Convention, which are interrelated but autonomous. The state convention could take similar action, however, when it meets in annual session Oct. 21-24 in Clovis, Calif.
The SBC Executive Committee, which makes recommendations during the SBC annual meeting and is authorized in certain cases to act between convention gatherings on the denomination’s behalf, could also take up the matter when it meets Sept. 22-23 in Nashville, Tenn.