By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist pastor under fire from his denomination for reaching out to gays was invited to a White House reception June 30 celebrating LGBT Pride Month, according to blogs offering both condemnation and praise.
Friends of Danny Cortez, pastor of New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., raised $2,500 online to pay for travel and lodging for Cortez and his son to attend a June 30 reception at the White House.
President Obama welcomed a supportive crowd yesterday afternoon in the East Room of the White House at a reception marking Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.
Cortez, chastised last month by SBC leader Albert Mohler for leading his small congregation to adopt a Third Way position neither affirming nor condemning of homosexuality, did not respond to an email requesting details of the invitation.
Cortez said in a podcast of his sermon delivered June 22 that he isn’t giving interviews about the controversy that potentially could result in the church being kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention for violating a ban on congregations that “act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”
“Every day it seems like there’s another thing on the Internet about our church, like we really made a statement,” Cortez said. “You know we’re not giving interviews, but the die has been cast. The news continues to spread, and I am continually still getting emails saying that what you guys are doing is heresy.”
Cortez said he understands the Third Way, advocated by Vineyard Church Pastor Ken Wilson in a book titled A Letter to My Congregation, “is pretty scandalous to a lot of people.” He quoted German theologian Helmut Thielicke, who said that “he who speaks to this hour’s need and translates the message will always be skirting the edge of heresy” but “only he who risks heresies can gain the truth.”
“There needs to be a community of people that are willing to go and move toward the edge of heresy, in the same way Christ did, I believe,” Cortez said, “push the boundaries and make people question tradition.”
He returned to the controversy later in his message: “As we continue to be in the eye of the storm, I know that many of your family members are looking in and just wondering ‘What happened there at New Heart?’”
“We just need to come together and pray that God would give us wisdom,” Cortez said. “But I pray somehow that our posture would always be one of love. That we wouldn’t hate the people that are in disagreement with us, that we wouldn’t make snide remarks, that even though some of us might have been hurt, we would be careful not to hurt back.”
For himself, Cortez confessed he is being careful not to make the issue about himself by trying to defend his character but rather keeping the focus on the church and principle on which they stand.
“I have to allow people to believe whatever they want to believe about me,” he said. “That’s OK, because if I’m about trying to defend who I am, that’s all I’m going to do. I need to be focused on the Kingdom.”
“There’s a lot of times where you ask me, ‘Why aren’t you speaking up?’ I choose to remain silent, because it’s not about me; it’s not about us. It’s about us trying to figure out what the unity of the church looks like,” he said.
“At times the most loving thing to do is to be silent, and that’s where we’re at as a church,” he continued. “We’re remaining silent for a season, to get things back in order, to regroup, to heal, to invite people within our fellowship.
“But I really believe there’s something really weird going on. I think God is doing something, and we’re not doing it perfectly. I want to caution you if anyone feels like, ‘Yeah, we’re leading the way,’ no we’re not. We’re not doing things perfectly, but God is doing something, and we have to try to move towards God’s direction, in humility, in grace, in prayer.”
At the White House reception, President Obama enumerated advances in the past year going “further in protecting the rights of lesbian and gay and bisexual and transgender Americans than any administration in history.”
The president announced that he has directed his staff to prepare an executive order that prohibits discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and another protecting discrimination based on gender identify for federal employees.
“We’ve got a lot to be proud of, but obviously we can’t grow complacent,” Obama said. “We’ve got to defend the progress that we’ve made.”
The president also challenged LGBT activists to channel their energy and resources toward other injustices that exist, repeating the quote by Martin Luther King that an “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“That means fighting for poor kids, and it means fighting for workers to get a decent wage,” Obama said. “It means showing compassion for the undocumented worker who is contributing to our society and just wants a chance to come out of the shadows. It means fighting for equal pay for equal work. It means standing up against sexual violence wherever it occurs. It means trying to eliminate any vestige of racial or religious discrimination and anti-Semitism wherever it happens.”
“That’s how we continue our nation’s march towards justice and equality,” he concluded. “That’s how we build a more perfect union: a country where no matter what you look like, where you come from, what your last name is, who you love, you’ve got a chance to make it if you try.”