The Southern Baptist Convention withdrew from membership a California church that voted in May to agree to disagree about whether the Bible teaches that homosexual behavior is always a sin.
New Heart Community Church of La Mirada was removed SBC's Executive Committee by a unanimous vote, reports the Baptist Press. The decision was made after New Heart's pastor Danny Cortez and some of its members declared that homosexual unions could be looked upon favorably by God.
The SBC decided that New Heart does not presently meet the definition of a "cooperating church" under an article of the SBC constitution banning congregations which "act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior."
Roger S. Oldham, spokesman for the SBC, explained:
"In Southern Baptist church polity, each church is autonomous - self-governing and self-supporting. The Convention has no authority over any church," said Oldham.
"The result of the decision is that the church no longer qualifies to send messengers to the SBC annual meeting or identify itself as a Southern Baptist congregation until such time as the church unambiguously demonstrates its friendly cooperation with the Convention as defined in the Convention's constitution."
The controversy started several months ago when Pastor Danny Cortez revealed that he changed his position on homosexuality after his son came out as gay.
"I recently became gay affirming after a 15-year journey of having multiple people in my congregation come out to me every year," wrote Cortez. "[My] eyes became open to the injustice that the church has wrought [and I] realized I no longer believed in the traditional teachings regarding homosexuality."
After the announcement, Cortez began advocating the "third way," a ministry style which accepts LGBT individuals and their lifestyles while acknowledging different views on the matter.
At the time, Cortez's decision was not entirely backed by the New Heart community, and voting on the matter of either leaving SBC or maintaining a traditional view on homosexuality was put up for vote.
"On the first round of balloting, 40 percent voted to maintain the traditional position and 56 percent voted for a third way. On the second round of balloting, there was a 60-40 split, with the majority favoring a third way,"noted the Baptist Press.
Because New Heart needed to get a two-thirds majority in their balloting to go on with their new approach, the congregation split. The estimated 50 individuals who sided with Cortez kept the name "New Heart Community Church' and plans to rent properties in the future in which to worship.
Oldham of SBC emphasized the ousting New Heart from their former denomination was "not an act of punishment" but rather "a preservation of the Convention's biblical identity."
"This case is similar to other separations in that it was the church, not the Convention, which changed its stance. This case differs from those other separations in that the church expressed its wish to continue its relationship with the Convention despite its shift in doctrine," said Oldham.
"Such a situation has only occurred four times in the last several decades. In each of those four instances, the Convention (or its Executive Committee acting on behalf of the Convention) has withdrawn fellowship from the church."