The Southern Baptist Convention withdrew a California church known for its "third way" on gay unions and homosexuality from its church membership, officials announced Tuesday.
New Heart Community Church of La Mirada was removed SBC's Executive Committee by a unanimous vote.
SBC made the move after New Heart's pastor Danny Cortez and some of its members declared that homosexual unions could be blessed by God.
Roger S. Oldham, spokesman for the SBC, told The Christian Post what it means for the California congregation to have its fellowship withdrawn.
"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."
New Heart pastor Danny Cortez stated months ago that he changed his position on homosexuality in part 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."
Cortez became a champion of what has been called the "third way," which involves being more accepting of LGBT individuals and relationships while acknowledging different views on the matter.
Cortez's conversion was not wholly accepted by the New Heart congregation, as voting on the matter of either leaving SBC or maintaining a traditional view on homosexuality was put to the church ballot.
"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.
To officially approve the third way approach, however, New Heart needed to get a two-thirds majority in their balloting. Due to a close result, a separation took place among the congregation.
"The faction that went with Cortez retained the name 'New Heart Community Church' and the articles of incorporation," noted Baptist Press in June. "That group will meet in two private residences over the summer and plans to rent property in the future. The group includes an estimated 50 people, with some gay-affirming families joining since the split …"
Oldham of SBC emphasized to CP that the withdrawing of fellowship from New Heart 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."