A California congregation that decided to "agree to disagree" about the moral acceptability of homosexuality has been kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country's largest protestant denomination. The SBC executive committee announced on Tuesday that it had decided to oust the New Heart Community Church because the congregation's relatively tolerant take on LGBT issues does not meet the convention's standards of a "cooperating church." The SBC constitution allows the organization to ban congregations that "act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior."
In May, New Heart pastor Danny Cortez gave a passionate sermon, titled "Why I Changed My Mind on Homosexuality," which prompted the congregation to put its formal stance on LGBT issues to a vote. Congregants eventually agreed to become a "third way" church, meaning individual members may still believe homosexuality is morally wrong, but they and church leadership will not condemn the LGBT community. The decision elicited a number of fiery responses from other members of the SBC, including Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
"There is no third way on this issue," Mohler wrote in a blog post blasting New Heart's decision. "Several years ago, I made that argument and was assailed by many on the left as being 'reductionistically binary.' But, the issue is 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."
Months later, the SBC has sided with Mohler and others who unequivocally condemn homosexuality. The convention's president, Ronnie Floyd, told the Baptist Press that the decision to expel New Heart did not reflect a lack of compassion for the congregation, nor for the LGBT community. Still, Floyd pegged the church's tolerance as a rejection of Southern Baptist convictions.
"[New Heart has] walked away from us as Southern Baptists," Floyd said. "We have not walked away from them. So it is with compassion that I would appeal to them to reconsider their decision, mostly their position related to the Word of God on homosexuality."
The congregation, however, has held fast to their third way acceptance, and reportedly submitted a letter to SBC leadership before the deciding vote on the New Heart's removal. In it, they provided a near-perfect description of "tolerance":
Some ‘members in our church’ believe that same-sex marriage can be blessed by God, while other members in our church believe that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman ... While ‘our church’ remains without an official stance on same-sex marriage, our preaching pastor has officiated a same-sex marriage.
(h/t Think Progress)