A Baptist church in Southern California has done the unthinkable: Its members have voted to welcome the gay community, going against the Southern Baptist Convention’s strict views on homosexuality.
“We will accept the LGBT community even though they may be in a relationship,” pastor Danny Cortez recently wrote in a letter to Patheos blogger and founder of Unfundamentalist Christians, John Shore. “We will choose to remain the body of Christ and not cast judgement. We will work towards graceful dialogue in the midst of theological differences.”
Cortez is the pastor at New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, CA. Earlier this year, he told members of his congregation that he did not believe homosexuality was a sin, and pleaded with them to consider changing their views as well.
“I pray that the church will no longer be segregated,” he added. “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 why the sudden change?
Well, it turns out the change wasn’t all that sudden. In his letter to Shore, Cortez writes that it took him 15 years to reach the decision.
“I recently became gay affirming after a 15-year journey of having multiple people in my congregation come out to me every year,” Cortez explains. “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.”
But what finally did it was Cortez’s 15-year-old son, Drew, who came out to Cortez last August. In his letter, Cortez writes:
In August of 2013, on a sunny day at the beach, I realized I no longer believed in the traditional teachings regarding homosexuality.
As I was trying to figure out what to tell my church, I was driving in the car with my 15-year-old son Drew when a song on the radio came on. I asked Drew who sang it, and he said, “Mackelmore.” And then he asked me why I was interested in it. I told him that I liked the song. He was startled and he asked me if I knew that the song’s message was gay affirming. I told him that I did know and that’s why I liked the song. I also told him that I no longer believed what I used to believe.
As we got out of the car, I could tell he was puzzled. so I asked him what he was thinking. In the parking lot, he told me in a nervous voice, “Dad, I’m gay.” 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.
Though the majority of New Heart Community Church members voted to change their official views, many have refused to accept the decision, and plan to separate from the church on June 8.
The church is also at risk of being excluded from the Southern Baptist Convention being held in Baltimore later this week. According to the official Baptist Faith and Message adopted by the convention in 2000, “Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.”
“It has been a very tiring and difficult process,” Cortez writes. But, he adds, he is “thankful” to everyone who has supported him and helped him to come around on the issue. “This is a huge step for a Southern Baptist Church!!”