By Bob Allen
A pastor whose church was kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2014 for adopting a “third way” stance of neither affirming nor condemning homosexuality says despite talk of “hate the sin and love the sinner” there are very few churches where LGBT people can feel safe.
Danny Cortez, pastor of New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., said in a recent virtual summit on sex and spirituality that after his change in theology to the view that same-sex relationships aren’t necessarily sinful was reported in media, about half of the LGBT people who started coming to the church hadn’t attended worship in more than 10 years.
“These were people who were raised evangelical, raised in the Christian church, and yet they couldn’t find a safe place,” Cortez said.
“There are literally thousands and thousands of churches across the U.S., but unfortunately there are very few churches that are safe for LGBT people,” Cortez said. “As much as our churches like to say we love LGBT people, the proof isn’t there.”
“We think that it’s loving to continue to not only preach a certain theology, but our practice is very difficult to receive for LGBT peoples,” he said. “As much as we’d like to say it’s for your eternal salvation and things like that, the message that ends up being communicated to these people is there is something that is inherently wrong with them and that thing that is wrong with them is something so deeply fractured that it can’t be loved by God.”
“The way it’s played out is in the form of discrimination,” Cortez said. “A lot of these people are forced not to teach Sunday school any more. They’re forced to not take any leadership role. They’re kept away from children. They’re not invited over to all sorts of things.”
Cortez described it as “a practice I have found that is really harmful.”
Cortez was one of more than 15 speakers at a three-day virtual forum called the Imago Dei Summit. Organized by evangelical activist Brandan Robertson, the conference was billed as offering “an alternative Christian perspective on sexuality and gender identity” to the annual conference of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors held Oct. 5-7 in Louisville, Ky., on the theme Homosexuality: Compassion, Care and Counsel for Struggling People.
Robertson, founder and executive director of Nomad Partnerships, a faith-based nonprofit, said while he doesn’t question the sincerity or good intentions of the people behind the ACBC conference, the idea of discussing theology and pastoral care apart from clinical concerns adds up to “spiritual malpractice.”
“After spending the past year working at the intersections of evangelical Christianity and the LGBT community, I’ve heard tons of stories of LGBTQ individuals that are in these churches that go to their pastors and leaders and are given detrimental advice and direction based on the kind of teachings that are being promulgated from this conference,” Robertson said in a welcome video.
Cortez said “a remarkable thing” has happened at New Heart Community Church since a painful split resulted from the third-way decision. “I can’t say anything but good things have happened as a result of it,” he said.
Cortez said in talking to pastors about the issue he often hears things like “I have gay friends” and “I have gay people in my church.”
“There’s a difference between listening to a gay person in your church who adopts the same view as you, who is trying to take on the traditional approach,” he said. “It’s quite a different thing to listen to the stories of LGBT people who have actually left the church. That’s when you get a sense of the hurt and the harm.”