Beliefs Culture Ethics Institutions Jonathan Merritt: On Faith and Culture Opinion

Southern Baptists not expected to address gay-affirming congregation

Thousands of Southern Baptist Convention delegates met in Baltimore on June 10, 2014, for their annual conference. Photo by Van Payne via Baptist Press
Thousands of Southern Baptist Convention delegates met in Baltimore on June 10, 2014, for their annual conference. Photo by Van Payne via Baptist Press

Thousands of Southern Baptist Convention delegates met in Baltimore on June 10, 2014, for their annual conference. Photo by Van Payne via Baptist Press

Pastor Danny Cortez of New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, California created a media frenzy when he announced that he no longer believes homosexual behavior is sinful. The decision came on the heels of Cortez’s son’s announcement that he was gay. The church decided not to remove Cortez from leadership even though it is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), a denomination that condemns homosexual behavior.

Sources within the SBC say they do not expect the denomination to respond to, reprimand, or remove New Heart from fellowship during their annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland this week.

Fermin Whittaker, Executive Director of the California Southern Baptist Convention, told me that media outlets haven’t accurately reported all the facts on the matter. New Heart is a Pilipino church, not a Spanish one. They are not actively involved in the SBC and, according to Whittaker, have only given $80 per month to the denomination’s Cooperative Program. But more significantly, he does not consider it a traditional congregation.

“This is a mission church, we think,” Whittaker said. “It is not an organized congregation, and the parent church had no knowledge of the changes happening there.”

He says that Baptist polity does not allow him or the California arm of the SBC he leads to revoke a congregation’s membership. Unless the denomination acts at their national gathering this week, New Heart will remain a participating Southern Baptist congregation until at least next Summer.

Whittaker added that there has been no outcry from other California Baptist churches. The only phone calls he has received on the matter came from pastors in Mississippi and Arkansas. No members of the press have contacted him. But Whittaker shrugged off the idea that some Baptist churches in California, a more liberal state overall, might share Cortez’s views.

“Whenever someone says we are liberal in California, I say, ‘Where?’ I could say that there are racists in Georgia, but let’s not play that game,” he said. “Southern Baptist churches in California do not affirm homosexuality. Outsiders might believe we do, but I have never heard of a congregation that does.”

Calls to the church from RNS were not answered or returned. Whittaker says his attempts to contact leadership at New Heart have also been unsuccessful.

Whittaker said he believes Cortez’s decision to change his views on homosexuality may have spiritual roots.

“I checked the timing of this, and it was eight days before the Convention’s annual meeting. Why would the enemy do that? To get us off other issues,” he said.

The SBC messengers have passed several resolutions at their annual gathering so far, including one that affirms the supremacy of Scripture on matters of the afterlife–seen by some as a swipe at the popular “Heaven is For Real” film–and another to “oppose all cultural efforts to validate claims to transgender identity.”

Another proposed resolution to oppose the Washington Redskins’ name as racially offensive was voted down by messengers. A spokesperson for the resolutions committee said, “we did not feel like it was our place” to address the matter.

Some SBC leaders told me they wonder if Cortez’s decision to affirm gays and lesbians may be the first of many the denomination will face in the coming years. If that is the case, Southern Baptist leaders should proceed carefully as their handling of the matter will set a precedent for future incidents.

SEE ALSO: “What Southern Baptists must do to slow their decline” by Jonathan Merritt

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

ADVERTISEMENTs