'Third way' church disfellowshipped from SBC

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Acting on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention, its Executive Committee has withdrawn fellowship from a California church where some members, including the pastor, believe that "same-sex marriage can be blessed by God."

Without opposition, the EC voted Tuesday (Sept. 23) to declare that New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., "does not presently meet the definition of a cooperating church under Article III [of the SBC Constitution], and that messengers from the church should not be seated until such time as the Convention determines that the church has unambiguously demonstrated its friendly cooperation with the Convention as defined in the Convention's constitution."

Article III of the SBC Constitution states, "Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior."

In a Sept. 20 letter to the EC, New Heart's deacons wrote, "Some 'members in our church' believe that same-sex marriage can be blessed by God, while other members in our church believe that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman." The deacons added that "while 'our church' remains without an official stance on same-sex marriage, our preaching pastor has officiated a same-sex marriage."

The pastor, Danny Cortez, has called New Heart a "third way" church in which its leaders can hold varying perspectives regarding same-sex marriage.

SBC President Ronnie Floyd told Baptist Press that the EC's action was a matter of conviction and did not reflect a lack of compassion for New Heart or homosexuals.

New Heart has "walked away from us as Southern Baptists," Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, said. "We have not walked away from them. So it is with compassion that I would appeal to them to reconsider their decision, mostly their position related to the Word of God on homosexuality."

The EC's action marked the first time the committee has withdrawn fellowship from a church on behalf of the convention. In 1992 the SBC declared two North Carolina churches that endorsed homosexuality not in friendly cooperation and withdrew fellowship from them. In 2009, the convention ceased its relationship with a Texas church that had five openly homosexual members at the time, including some serving on church committees.

New Heart first made headlines when Cortez told the congregation in a February sermon he had "changed [his] stance on homosexuality." The sermon, which Cortez posted on YouTube in March, has been viewed more than 47,000 times.

Cortez was present at the Sept. 22-23 EC meeting in Nashville and addressed both the bylaws workgroup and the administrative committee, but EC policy prohibits reporting direct statements from those meetings. Both groups prayed for Cortez and his church and approved unanimously the recommendation to withdraw fellowship from New Heart.

Cortez declined BP's request for an interview.

In his February sermon Cortez acknowledged his endorsement of homosexuality "is a radical shift from the longstanding belief of our church. This is a radical shift from our statement of faith, aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention."

Cortez argued that Romans 1 does not condemn all homosexual acts but only those committed in a spirit of violence or unbridled lust. He said modern homosexual relationships are different from the ancient forms of homosexuality Paul was referencing.

In a letter to a gay blogger last spring, Cortez wrote, "I recently became gay affirming after a 15-year journey of having multiple people in my congregation come out to me every year."

Shane Hall, chairman of the EC's administrative committee, told BP that EC officers first considered addressing the New Heart situation when Cortez's views became public through social media. The EC staff then researched the matter before the officers forwarded a recommendation to the bylaws workgroup.

"If we don't address the issue now with regard to one church, then we open up a Pandora's box as it relates to a whole host of issues with regard to maintaining a firm commitment to biblical authority," Hall, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church Del City in Oklahoma City, Okla., told BP. "Once we allow the undermining of Scripture in one area, then we open up a door to the undermining of Scripture in all areas. And once we undermine Scripture ... it also undermines our purpose and our mission."

Roger S. Oldham, EC vice president for convention communications and relations, agreed the EC stood on biblical truth with its action.

"Following the lead of pastor Danny Cortez, New Heart Community Church has walked away from the Southern Baptist Convention's clearly-expressed core biblical values," Oldham told BP. "It is deeply distressing and causes great sorrow when a fellow pastor or sister church departs from the teachings we believe the Bible clearly states. Just as this local church has chosen to establish its own framework of belief, the convention has chosen to set the parameters of what constitutes being in friendly cooperation with the SBC. In making this determination today, the SBC Executive Committee acted on its core convictions of biblical truth."

EC President Frank S. Page emphasized that Southern Baptists love homosexuals and want them to repent and trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

"This action does not reflect a lack of love for homosexuals," Page told BP. "We love all people, including homosexuals. But when you love someone, you tell them the truth about their actions. By its action on behalf of the convention, the Executive Committee is telling New Heart that its failure to condemn homosexuality breaks the heart of God. We're praying that the church will repent."

EC chairman Mike Routt said in a statement to Cortez that he also provided to BP that the stance of some New Heart members on homosexuality involves "reinterpreting Scripture."

"Mr. Cortez, the issue is not just about homosexuality," Routt, pastor of Circle Drive Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., wrote. "It is about the collision of our orthodox faith and your radical theology. We advocate Jude 3: Contend for the faith that was once entrusted to the saints. You advocate reinterpreting the faith that was once entrusted to the saints."

Earlier this month, the California Southern Baptist Convention's executive board voted to withdraw fellowship from New Heart. The Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association's executive board recommended in July that the body not seat messengers from New Heart at its fall meeting.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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