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

12 Comments

  1. “claims to transgender identity” – I hope they defined that phrase because otherwise their resolution to “oppose all cultural efforts to validate” such “claims” is rather meaningless. Even if they did define the terms, of course, their resolution might still be wrong, but at least we’d know what they mean by it.

    One thing these types of resolutions do is come across as dismissive. “You may claim to be transgender but we reject your ability to claim any such identity.” That doesn’t do much for the person herself or himself. It only serves to relegate them to the margins of the church, if not push them out the door.

    Perhaps the SBC resolution addressed these points as well, though. Do you have more information on that, Jonathan?

    Thanks,
    Tim

    P.S. On another note from your report, was Whittaker calling Cortez and his congregation the enemy or at least Satan’s pawns?

  2. I’m surprised the SBC is not addressing New Heart. From my reading of your post, it seems that SBC is ignoring New Heart on the grounds that they are inactive and don’t give enough financially. Correct me if I am wrong.

    Btw, “New Hope” in paragraph 5 should be New Heart.

    • The fact that the executive director of the state convention does not even know about New Heart’s official status is telling. If it were an official mission (SBC’s term for a new church plant supported by the convention), he would know of its existence. This might be a church plant supported by another church, which is somewhat more likely. Thinking ahead to the probability of more similar issues, my guess is that the Committee on Resolutions decided against any action since the issue is a fairly recent development and the facts are not entirely clear.

      With regards to the mention of money, I believe that at one time membership in the SBC was tied to giving to the Cooperative Program. As it currently stands, the only significance of money given to the CP is that each church is able to send an additional messenger to the annual meeting for every $250 given per year (up to 10 messengers total).

  3. If it’s not the Convention’s place to discipline this Church which has turned it’s back on Scripture, then they should apologize to Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth. That is such a cop out and I am ashamed of many things the Convention compromised about this year. I hope this trend is reversed soon and we have another conservative resurgence or else the Convention will begin to see many Conservatives leave and they will drift into irrelevance
    as other denominations like the PCUSA has.

    • I agree with the need for consistency, but I wonder if this is because Broadway’s issues were well known and had been going on for a while? The story on New Heart only came out a few days before the annual meeting. I can see where there would be a desire to get all of the facts (e.g. is this even an official church plant? Did the supporting church know about the issues? Is it considered a campus of the mother church?) The answers to these questions might even indicate that action should be taken against the mother church depending on church records, etc. The hard reality is that the SBC will have to triage these types of situations moving forward, only taking action where the facts are well documented. I would suspect that there will be some situations where churches will be able to conceal the issues and keep quiet and the SBC will be unable to take action.

    • I think you’re missing a key piece of information. The convention passed an amendment to the SBC’s Constitution. The amendment has to pass once more, next year, before it goes into effect. The amendment affects Article III, which governs the affiliation of churches with the convention.

      So, at this point it makes very little sense to take action to exclude a church while this amendment is pending. Once the amendment has been adopted, churches like New Heart that are not closely identified in their faith and practice with the BF&M will be much easier to disfellowship. The wise thing to do is to finalize the passage of this amendment first.

  4. NHCC is not really SBC, just kinda.
    Not organized.
    “Just” a mission work.
    Not under authority of the planting church.
    SBC has no procedure to discipline a church?
    Is it even an SBC?
    ________________________________
    They give to the CP, so it’s all good.

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