The Southern Baptist Convention has one less affiliate after a church in California began welcoming LGBT members without judgment.
According to a letter published on the blog Christianity With Humanity, the pastor of New Heart Community Church, Danny Cortez, found that “after a 15-year journey of having multiple people in my congregation come out to me every year,” he became “gay affirming.”
He told the blog’s owner, John Shore, “I scoured through your whole website and read everything I could. And it was especially the testimony of my gay friends that helped me to see how they have been marginalized that my eyes became open to the injustice that the church has wrought.”
While he was still trying to figure out how to tell his church about his change of heart, it all became even more personal in August 2013, when the simple act of telling his fifteen-year-old son, Drew, that he liked the song “Same Love,” because it was gay affirming, led to his son coming out to him as gay.
Cortez wrote, “My heart skipped a beat and I turned towards him and we gave one another the biggest and longest hug as we cried. And all I could tell him was that I loved him so much and that I accepted him just as he is.
“I couldn’t help but think that my 15 year journey was in preparation for that moment. If it wasn’t for this 15 year journey and my change in theology, I may have destroyed my son…”
It wasn’t until February 2014 that either acted, but from there, things happened fast. On February 7, Drew made a coming out video and posted it on Facebook. On February 9, Cortez told his congregation about his new stance on the LGBT community: “I expressed that my goal wasn’t about trying to convince everyone what I believe, but that we should allow room for grace in the midst of disagreement. I shared that the body of Christ is segregated every Sunday between gay affirming and non-gay affirming and that there must be unity and love.” (Watch it below.)
Not everyone took the news well, and some wanted to vote to terminate Cortez’s position with the church altogether. After a long period of “prayer, study and discernment,” in which they heard from people on both sides of the debate, the congregation of New Heart Community Church held a vote. On May 18, they elected to keep Cortez and become a “Third Way church,” meaning they would “agree to disagree and not cast judgment on one another,” meaning that they will “accept the LGBT community even though they may be in a relationship…[and]work towards graceful dialogue in the midst of theological differences.”
Cortez wrote, “This is a huge step for a Southern Baptist Church!!”
However, the decision was not a unanimous one, and some plan to “peacefully” separate from the church. Moreover, the decision not to judge disqualifies New Heart from membership in the Southern Baptist Convention.
In 2000, the group declared that under “the official Baptist Faith and Message,” all members of the Baptist church “should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.”
Additionally, according to its constitution, “churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.”
Cortez wrote, “I am now in conversation with other pastors who are now wondering what in the world we are doing. I’m thankful for these opportunities. I pray that the church will no longer be segregated. I pray that those who have been marginalized would feel safe in our churches. I pray that we as the church would set aside our difference and learn what it means to be the body of Christ. So please keep us in your prayers as the road ahead promises to be filled with difficulty. Thank you again for helping me through my journey.”
John Shore wrote in response, “Bless you, pastor Cortez. And bless you, young Drew. You guys make me proud to call myself a Christian.”