When I met Pastor Danny Cortez at last year’s Gay Christian Network Conference, I knew he was going to make an impact. Out of the 700 attendees somehow Danny and I were able to connect at a workshop put on by Wendy Gritter of New Directions. I came up to Danny after his comments on his experience interacting with LGBT members of his church and with his newly out gay son—comments which brought nearly everyone in the room to tears.
He told us a story of a lesbian woman who came out to him and the arguments they had over theology. “Her most powerful apologetic was her love and grace for us. She left the church and she challenged me to wrestle with to my faith,” he said the regret and pain evident in his face. He said he was planning to tell his church his theology had changed.
Since our encounter, my friend Danny Cortez has come out as theologically affirming of same-sex relationships, his church adopted a Third Way Theology to the LGBT community, and as a result, the Southern Baptist Church officially dismissed them.
EC: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. What made you decide to publicly state your theological shift on same-sex relationships?
DC: It was turning on my heart before GCN but GCN really cemented it. Having conversations with you and others, it was really powerful. It became apparent I was a part of the problem and I didn’t want to be part of the problem. I told everyone at the GCN Saturday night story sharing that I was going to go home and tell the church. So I went home and told the church and at first I thought I was going to be fired [nervous laughter]. The elders were pretty set but some in the church pushed back on the elders and I think that caught some by surprise. The church body said we know Danny. We’ve been with him throughout the years. We know he’s been teaching us to love all people. So let’s listen to what he has to say.
EC: There’s a lot of ideas and questions of what “Third Way” is. To your definition, what is Third Way and why did you and your church decide to adopt this sort of approach?
DC: Our church realized that the only way we could practice unity and maintain fellowship in this place of disagreement is to give space to one another regarding our theological convictions. So [tweetable]our hope is that each one of us will be respected and not be denied full participation in the body of Christ.[/tweetable] How that works practically is that we won’t deny a person who is in a same sex relationship the ability to hold leadership in the church. On the flip side, where this distinguishes us from some gay affirming churches, is that we won’t deny leadership to someone who is non gay affirming in theology as well. So it works both ways. For a transgender person, we will accept and respect their chosen identity and also allow full participation. We realize that we are in process and we humbly admit we may be wrong. We also are attempting to learn how to dialogue peaceably about any issue while holding onto what unites us. Our focus of unity becomes more about the creeds which are inviting in nature rather than statements of faith which divide. Our belief is that it is more important to learn how to love well and uphold Jesus’ high priestly prayer than it is to demand agreement. And through this, [tweetable]we can worship and celebrate the Lord’s table without discrimination.[/tweetable]
EC: After you came out as theologically affirming, and your church adopted a third way theology, there was a very public back and forth between you and Albert Mohler. Everyone pretty much assumed the decision was going to be dismissal of the church– What you made you want to go meet with them in Nashville?
DC: Being dismissed was pretty much a done deal in my mind. We felt it was honoring of the relationship to hear personally from us because a lot of what they heard was coming from the internet. Albert Mohler and I had an internet conversation and I wanted to have a one on one conversation to humanize the relationship. I wanted them to see this wasn’t some worldly Los Angeles church allowing promiscuity or whatever. I wanted them to see this wasn’t about being loose on sin but instead it was about the Great commission, about trying to reach people for Christ, about struggling towards what it means to love an LGBT person. The wonderful thing is they gave me the opportunity to explain myself over two days before two committees made up of the national executive directors. I’m glad I had that opportunity. Right before the final vote, I told the executive directors, [tweetable]“No matter what happens with the vote, even though you probably will vote to dismiss us, God still sees us as one church. And because of that, I will always hold you guys as my brothers and sisters in Christ.”[/tweetable]
EC: What are your thoughts about the ethics and religious liberty’s conference on sexuality and the SBC?
DC: I’m so glad that it happened and I’m so glad that they had meetings with Justin Lee and a group of LGBT advocates. That to me was remarkable. The fact they were trying to change their tone is a step forward. Dr. Moore denounced reparative therapy and Albert Mohler admitted that he was wrong on his beliefs regarding orientation and repented on it. That to me was amazing. Those are baby steps and those are necessary steps. I applaud them for their public admission.
EC: There’s a common theme of evangelical Christians coming out in support of LGBT people after they have a close family member who has come out. We see this with Brian Mclaren, James Brownson, and Frank Schaefer to name a few. What do you have to say to people that say it’s because you have a gay son?
DC: I shifted my theology before my son came out to me. However, even though it might not have been because of my son where I had to wrestle with the dissonance, it was still because of people that I loved. Maybe it wasn’t a relative but it was definitely people I loved who identified as lesbian or gay that forced me to figure out why the spirit of God wasn’t present in our traditional understanding of scripture.
[tweetable]I think too often we look at the LGBT people as an issue. We look at our theology from a petri dish trying to analyze them and fix them.[/tweetable] So what I’ve told people is that we have to make a distinction between the scientist and the medical doctor, which is analogous to the theologian and the pastor. As a doctor, the theologian’s kept telling me “keep giving this medicine.” But this one application of scripture is literally killing people and you keep telling me to give it. As a doctor, I’m telling you it’s not working. You guys might know the “Science” but when you bring it to real life practical situations—it doesn’t work. It isn’t bearing good fruit. Because of this, [tweetable]our interpretation needs to be recalled and re-evaluated until it no longer does harm,[/tweetable] because that is the end of the commandment.
Watch Danny’s Sermon “Why I Changed My Mind On Homosexuality”