The Southern Baptist Convention's official news service turned to the writings of the denomination's lead ethicist Thursday to criticize an op-ed asking that the blind eye the church has long given divorced and remarried Christians be given LGBT couples as an apple to oranges argument. While churches are maybe at fault for permitting biblically unlawful divorces and marriages within its fellowship, heterosexual remarriages are still considered marriages according to the Bible while same-sex marriage are not.
Danny Cortez, a California pastor who recently led his church New Heart Community Church in affirming same-sex relationships, published an opinion in the Huffington Post rejecting the traditional choice of embracing the Bible's teachings about marriage. He wrote that there is a "third way" where the Church can be united as the body of Christ yet have "deep disagreements." Cortez also asserted that the SBC already has such a pathway for divorced and remarried Christians.
He explained in the Tuesday piece "We all knew pastors who were officiating remarriages in our denomination that were the result of non-permitted divorces. And according to the SBC, this constitutes adultery. Therefore, the act of officiating these remarriages was in direct contradiction to Article XV. And yet, we don't dismiss the churches where these remarriages are taking place. In fact, within the same church, there are some pastors who hold the traditional view and therefore will not officiate these remarriages, and there are some pastors who will. These churches practice a third way where they give space to disagree. We don't draw a line of separation. We know how to extend grace to couples who are in these marriages. We know how not to condemn, even in the midst of disagreement."
He urged the SBC to "extend this same grace to LGBT couples."
The convention's Executive Committee voted last month to withdraw its fellowship with Cortez's church because of its differing stance of same-sex marriage.
The Baptist Press article entitled "SBC Not 'Third Way' on Divorce" published two days after Cortez's Huffington Post article recalled Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore's September 24 blog entry after the vote to assert that divorce and remarriage are not "applicable to the same-sex marriage debate."
In the entry, Moore acknowledges, "The charge of hypocrisy is valid in some respects," noting "the preaching on divorce has been muted and hesitating all too often in our midst. Sometimes this is due to what the Bible calls 'fear of man,' ministers and leaders afraid of angering divorced people (or their relatives) in power in congregations. Sometimes it's due to the fact that divorce simply seems all too normal in this culture; it doesn't shock us anymore. "
Divorce is biblically permitted in some circumstances including abandonment, abuse and adultery.
In the case of unpermitted divorces, he admitted, "If the church did what we ought, our divorce rate would be astoundingly lowered, since vast numbers of divorces do not fit into these categories."
However if a remarried heterosexual couple repented of their previously unbiblical divorce and asked to rejoin the church, Moore argued that the church should recognize their marriage because "their marriages may have been sinfully entered into, but they are, in fact, marriages."
The New Heart pastor changed his position on homosexuality in May after many of his congregants 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."
His beliefs were cemented after his 15-year-old son Drew also came out as a homosexual. He said he had remained in his old beliefs, "I may have destroyed my son through reparative therapy."
Cortez acknowledged his change of heart frustrated church elders and left many in the church displeased and wanting to vote on whether to terminate the pastor or accept his proposition.
However he said that after a period of prayer, study and discernment, which also included hearing from gay and straight teachers on both sides of the homosexuality debate, the church voted not to dismiss Cortez and "instead to become a Third Way church."