Today's evangelical churches are now facing an issue that was relatively unheard of several decades ago: homosexuality within the congregation.
On May 29th, Pastor Danny Cortez of a small Southern Baptist Church in Mirada, California wrote a letter posted on Patheos.com, revealing that he "no longer believed in the traditional teachings regarding homosexuality."
Cortez writes that his 15 year old son, Drew, came out as gay shortly after his father's views shifted. When announcing this to his new position on the issue to his church, Cortez admitted that the "new position" was indicative of a "radical shift" that put him at odds with both the position of the church and the convictions of the denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.
He acknowledged that his new position violated the SBC's confession of faith, the Baptist Faith & Message, which states that "homosexuality is immoral" and that marriage is "the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime." However, Cortez said he hoped the congregation would "allow for grace in the midst of disagreement."
Because many in the church disagreed with the pastor's newfound views, the congregation held on vote on whether to terminate him. After a time of "consideration and prayer," the church decided to keep the pastor and adopt his ideologies, becoming a "Third Way church."
"So now, we will accept the LGBT community even though they may be in a relationship. We will choose to remain the body of Christ and not cast judgment," writes Cortez. "We will work towards graceful dialogue in the midst of theological differences. We see that this is possible in the same way that our church holds different positions on the issue of divorce and remarriage. In this issue we are able to not cast judgment in our disagreement."
However, in his article titled "There is No Third Way," Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, argues that there is no middle position for the church concerning the issue of homosexuality.
"[Cortez's] church did not unanimously 'agree to disagree,' for a significant portion of the church is leaving," he writes. "Many 'who voted to remain traditional' are now forced by conviction to leave the church."
"Why? Because there is no 'third way,'" Mohler continues. "Even if it is claimed that some continuing members of the church are in disagreement with the new policy and position, they will be members of a church that operates under that new policy. At the very least, their decision to remain in the congregation is a decision to stay within a church that affirms same-sex behaviors and relationships. That is not a middle position. It is not a 'third way.'"
Mohler notes that the Bible very clearly speaks against homosexuality, rendering the issue "completely binary."
"A church will recognize same-sex relationships, or it will not. A congregation will teach a biblical position on the sinfulness of same-sex acts, or it will affirm same-sex behaviors as morally acceptable. Ministers will perform same-sex ceremonies, or they will not," he writes.
"There is nothing but heartbreak in this situation [concerning Cortez]," he continues. "Here we face a church that has rejected the clear teachings of Scripture, the affirmations of its confession of faith, and two millennia of Christian moral wisdom and teaching."
Soon, Mohler warns, it won't just be the Southern Baptist denomination dealing with diversions from a Biblical view on homosexuality within the church.
He writes that "every congregation" in the United States will be "forced to declare itself openly on this issue."
"The moment of decision and public declaration will come to every Christian believer, individually. There will be no place to hide, and no place safe from eventual interrogation," he predicts. "The question will be asked, an invitation will be extended, a matter of policy must be decided, and there will be no refuge."
The Southern Baptist Convention will meet in Baltimore later this month to discuss the issue at hand. In the meantime, Mohler encourages congregations to remain vigilant and prepare for the inevitable battle ahead.
"Every single evangelical congregation, denomination, mission agency, school, and institution had better be ready to face the same challenge," he concludes, "for it will come quickly, and often from an unexpected source. Once it comes, there is no middle ground, and no 'third way.'"