McHendry: Southern Baptists debate homosexuality

George McHendry

Enterprise Columnist

George McHendry Religion columnist

George McHendry Religion columnist

It’s no secret debate over homosexuality has divided many of the main denominations in the United States. Some denominations, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the ELCA Lutheran Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Episcopal Church have taken the liberal path, voting to allow gay men and women to serve as pastors and lay workers, as well as allowing same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 17 states, with more states expected to come on board in the coming months. In Colorado, same-sex civil unions have been approved, but same-sex marriage is still not yet legal.

One denomination that has stayed out of the fray has been the Southern Baptist Convention, the second-largest denomination in the United States, second only to the Catholics. That being said, recent statistics show that Southern Baptist membership is declining. In 2013, it was in its seventh year of decline, down to 15.7 million from 15.9 million the previous year. Weekly attendance also decreased by more than 2 percent, while the number of congregations increased to 46,125.

Thanks to a Southern Baptist church in California, the issue of homosexuality is about to become a matter of debate within the ranks of the churches. The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Church was last week in Baltimore, and it was expected that New Heart Community Church of La Mirada, California, would spark debate.

The SBC constitution and bylaws forbid churches “which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.” At the center of the storm is New Heart pastor Danny Cortez, who announced to church elders that he had changed his mind about homosexuality being a sin. He admitted in a sermon that “it was understood this was a radical shift from the longtime stance on our church” and it also was a “radical shift from our statement of faith for the congregation aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention.”

The leaders of the church agreed to keep their pastor after he came out in support of homosexual behavior. The congregation also was to be re-categorized as “Third Way,” meaning it would be more open on the issue of homosexuality and identified as neither liberal nor conservative.

That decision by Cortez’s church didn’t sit too well with Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who basically said no way, third way. He made it clear when he said “The convention’s constitution states explicitly that any congregation that endorses homosexual behavior is not in cooperation with the convention, and thus excluded from its membership.”

How Pastor Cortez reached his conclusions is interesting. He stated that shortly after the church began in 1997, church members started coming to him confessing in counseling they had feelings of same-sex attraction. He felt there was something “different” about those confessions than those from other parishioners. He stated that when he would talk about the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality, “it was more a mood of ˜dread and ˜basically me telling them for the rest of your life you can never fall in love.” Then came the final straw in August, when his his 15-year-old son told him he was gay.

The pastor’s church voted last month on whether or not to fire him, but instead the majority voted to become a “third way” church, agreeing to disagree on the morality of same-sex relationships and not cast judgment on one another. Cortez called it “a huge step for a Southern Baptist Church.”

I have no doubt the “third way” movement will become a topic of discussion in Southern Baptist churches across the country. It will be interesting to see how different churches will react to the issue that has been a source of conflict and controversy for hundreds of years, but much more so more recently.

Various sources were used to obtain material for this column, including christiannews.net , abpnews.com , christianpost.com and from the minutes of the Baltimore Southern Baptist Conference.

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The fact thatthe Southern Baptist Convention – the second largest Christian denomination in the United States – is currently ready to debate the phenomenon of homosexuality is a sign that most evangelical  Christians are no longer at odds with both the etiology and public recognition of the rights of homosexuals to be part of the Christian Church.

No longer are misogyny and homophobia welcomed in the lives of most Christian people, whose modern understanding of gender and sexuality has changed radically over the past two decades. Since the furore unleashed by the acceptance by The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States of homosexual clergy and bishops; other denominational churches have been forced to re-visit their own culture of resistance to open acceptance of gay people in ministry – largely as a direct result of the refusal of young people to accept the denial of the common human rights of LGBT people, who are no longer considered to be ‘agents of the devil’ and unworthy of church membership.

It took just one pastor of the conventional Southern Baptist Church to experience his own family crisis  – with the revelation of the fact that his own son was actually gay – to precipitate what has turned out to be a strong movement in the conventional churches of the Southern Baptist Union to re-examine the basis of its attitude towards homosexuality as a naturally occurring phenomenon among a small percentage of human beings.

If the Southern Baptists join with the other evangelical Churches in the U.S. in their acceptance of Gays in their community, this could be a very strong influence to protestant Christians to follow suit. This would be a sign of justice prevailing in an area of concern for many of us in the Church.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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4 Responses to McHendry: Southern Baptists debate homosexuality

  1. Michael Primrose says:

    Hi Father Ron,

    Perhaps, what is required is for more LGBT members, of the Anglican faith community, to stand up and bear vocal witness to the Truth as they see it, rather that suffering in discrete silence in the back of the pews. A lot of people do speak out, but it is far easier to sit in the silence and the shadows.

    It must have taken immense courage and love, for the son of Danny Cortez, to come out as being gay, to his Southern Baptist Pastor father. Coming-out to ones parents is never easy and is always fraught with fear and apprehension of what may happen. I was fortunate that when, after years of gay activism, I finally, formally came-out to my family, my Mother’s response was “Well, I am so glad you finally trust us enough to tell us!”

    But I was was very lucky and unfortunately a lot of the people I knew were not. It seemed such a pity, over the years, that the first time you ever got to meet your close friends’ family, was at their sons’ funeral. They only seemed to find out who they had lost, when I spoke the eulogy to them across the coffin.

    Danny Cortez should be really proud of his son and be very thankful that he can still be a part of his son’s life. His son may be the seed crystal that saves a generation of LGBT Southern Baptists.

    And what of the ACANZP’s stance on this vexing question. It probably could be summed up in the paraphrase

    “Don’t Ask! But Please, don’t rock the boat and tell us anything! Please!”

    There seems to be the hope that, we will accept the compromise of Motion 30, and be quiet, polite and frightfully Anglican about it, and above all, we will be grateful for the crumbs of Recognition. Quiet communication between lay and cleric is being called for; a peaceful pastoral closet. What is being feared is LGBT members of the faith community bearing public witness, asking awkward questions and being an embarrassing nuisance in both private and public.

    One is reminded of the words of George Fox in 1652

    “You will say, Christ saith this and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?”

    Time to bear witness again, however uncomfortable the staid in spirit might find it!

    Michael Primrose, Christchurch

  2. kiwianglo says:

    Dear Michael. I agree with everything you say. However, the Church has continued to pander to the nay-sayers for so long, it gets more and more difficult for all but the most extrovert to take the risk of coming out publicly. Clergy, particularly, are in an invidious situation in ACANZP. It is only very recently that I have noticed that former teachers of mine at Saint John’s College – since their retirement – have managed to speak up about homophobia in our Church, and do what they can, in a limited way, to speak against it.

    What is at stake for employed clergy is the still-looming possibility of loss of employment status if they dared to speak out. Also, there is always the spectre of being shunned by one’s friends among the clergy who, themselves, are still convinced that to be gay is to a willful departure from Gospel authenticity. I agree that the climate needs to change, and I think it is beginning to. This new departure in the Southern Baptist convention will, hopefully, convince religious rigorists of the need for removal of the climate of fear from the minds and hearts of Christians on this issue.

    Please keep blogging on Anglican Down Under. We need authenticity to prevail against the present system of hypocrisy and ignorance in this important areas of a significant minority of people’s lives.

    Agape, Fr. Ron

  3. Michael Primrose says:

    Hi Fr. Ron,

    It is often far easier to be upfront and vocal, about a cause, when you don’t have any “hostages to fortune” to offer. Family, friends and employment are extremely valid hostages and we would all prefer to save them intact and unscathed from the vituperation that can flow in these debates. Fortunately, I managed to secure both family and friends fairly early on in my “career” as a political activist, which left me reasonably free to say in public, and in the media, the things that others could not.

    It is very empowering to know that your family will support you in what you do, just so long as you are true to yourself and what you believe in, and that your friends will be your most trenchant critics, if you, for a moment, fall below the high standards they have of you.

    Employment, or continuing employment is always a difficult issue. I seem to have spent my time being a “gay” scientist, what ever that means, for most of my professional life. Fortunately, with the changes in societal perception, this is shifting from a “gay” scientist towards a scientist, who happens to be gay. This is certainly a far more comfortable and preferable positions for all concerned, however, I do want to retain the professional insight that came from being “gay”.

    I can understand why clerics, who also happen to members of the LGBT community, would not speak out publicly. It saddens me though reading your comment that, they may be shunned by clerical friends, if they speak out about their sexuality or in support of the rights of the LGBT community. I had not realised how perfect were all those who rush to judgement.

    Those who do step forward, argue the case and bear personal witness to their love and their sexuality deserve all the encouragement and support that we can give them.

    As a member of the laity, in a protestant church, I am more than willing to criticise the Church, if I think it is less than it claims to be. Some, in the Church, may wish to keep the debates and disagreements under dustcloths, but it is not my way. I burnt the doors of my closet decades ago and I’m not about to put on replacements to avoid the making of a fuss.

    Having been granted talents and certain advantages, for whatever reason, I intend to keep on using them for the good of my community. Fortunately, respectful silence was never one of my better virtues.

    Michael Primrose, Christchurch

  4. kiwianglo says:

    God bless you, Michael. You are exerting what Scripture is wont to call ‘The priesthood of the Laity’. Keep it up. Agape, Fr. Ron

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