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California Baptists drop church after homosexual tilt

Cortez

FRESNO, Calif. (BP and local reports)

The California Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC) Executive Board voted Sept. 11 to withdraw fellowship from a church whose pastor has publicly stated he believes homosexual acts are not always sinful.

In a unanimous vote of the 35 members present (six were absent), the board voted to withdraw fellowship from New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Ca., for holding beliefs contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message.

Article XVIII of the BF&M defines marriage as “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.” Article XV states, “Christians should oppose... all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.”

Board chairman Montia Setzler sent word to Cortez of the board’s decision on Sept. 12.

Setzler, pastor of Magnolia Church in Riverside, Calif., said the board was acting as the “convention ad interim” in taking the action. Article VI, Section 1 of the CSBC Constitution gives the Executive Board the “authority to act for the Convention between its sessions.”

This is the first time in 74 years of existence that the convention has withdrawn fellowship from a church, Setzler said. He added that the CSBC once opted not to receive Cooperative Program gifts from a church.

New Heart first made headlines when pastor Danny 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 46,000 times.

Cortez, who changed his position after his 15-year-old son went public with his (the son’s) homosexuality, was subsequently invited to a White House reception by U.S. President Barack Obama.

In a letter to a prominent gay blogger last spring, Cortez wrote, “The church just voted two Sundays ago, on May 18, 2014, to not dismiss me, and to instead become a Third Way church (agree to disagree and not cast judgement [sic] on one another ...). This is a huge step for a Southern Baptist Church!!”

A former elder at New Heart told Baptist Press that the church in reality never adopted any position on the issue and split into two groups in early June amid unresolvable deadlock.

Following Cortez’s controversial sermon, the congregation voted on four possible options and stipulated that it would separate peacefully if it did not achieve a two-thirds majority. According to the former elder, the four options presented were:

Terminate Cortez as pastor and maintain the traditional Christian view that homosexuality is sinful.

Take more time to consider the issue.

Establish New Heart as a “third way” church, neither affirming nor condemning homosexuality but “agreeing to disagree.”

Become a fully gay-affirming church.

Failure to achieve a two-thirds majority led to the previously agreed upon separation. The faction that went with Cortez retained the name, “New Heart Community Church,” and the articles of incorporation. The faction that went with Cortez was the subject of the CSBC’s action.

Setzler told board members he and CSBC Executive Director Fermín A. Whittaker along with D. August Boto, executive vice president and general counsel for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, met with Cortez and a member of his church on Sept. 3 in the Los Angeles area.

The “best thing for convention leadership was to actually hear from” Cortez, Setzler said. “It’s easy to be misquoted and misunderstood... so we wanted to actually hear from him. It was a cordial meeting.”

Setzler added, “We came away believing that Cortez still believed what he had written to the blogger.”

Cortez was given an opportunity to attend the CSBC Executive Board meeting on Sept. 11 and speak, Setzler said, but “he did not choose to do that.” According to Setzler, Cortez affirmed during the Sept. 3 meeting with convention leaders that New Heart “still would like to be a Southern Baptist church.”

The Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association’s executive board recommended in July that the association not seat messengers from New Heart at its Oct. 11 meeting. If the board’s recommendation is adopted, the association will not receive any New Heart contributions, director of missions Mark Hammond told Baptist Press.

Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee chairman Mike Routt told BP he thought it likely that the EC would consider the same issues the California convention did and perhaps act on the matter during its meeting Sept. 22-23 in Nashville.

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