A Baptist church in California has voted to welcome the gay community despite going against the Southern Baptist Convention's views on homosexuality.
The New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, CA faced a difficult decision in early 2014 when lead pastor Danny Cortez told the congregation that his son, Drew, had come out -- and that he himself no longer agreed with the church's teachings on homosexuality.
A month later the church said in a statement that it would investigate the issues surrounding same-sex marriage and vote on May 18 whether to dismiss Cortez or not.
New Heart’s congregation elected to establish an in-depth theological study of same-sex marriage, so that congregants for themselves might more deeply discern both their own theological views concerning same-sex marriage and their willingness, whatever their views, to invite same-sex couples into fellowship, communion, and leadership in the church.
On the date scheduled, the congregation took a vote and elected to keep Cortez in his post and change its official stance on homosexuality.
In a letter to Patheos blogger and founder of Unfundamentalist Christians John Shore, Cortez said the church had voted not only to let him stay but to become a 'Third Way' church, which he said indicates agreeing to disagree and not casting judgement on others' lifestyles.
"This is a huge step for a Southern Baptist Church!!" he added.
In his coming out video, posted to YouTube on February 7, 15-year-old Drew Cortez offered a message to other gay teens struggling with their identities. "I kind of wish I could just hug them and tell them, 'You're perfect the way you are. You don't have to change because you are fearfully and wonderfully made'... God still loves them for who they are."
Read Pastor Cortez' full letter below and watch his son's touching coming out video above.
I wanted to introduce myself to you. My name is Danny Cortez and I pastor a small Southern Baptist Church in La Mirada, CA. We’re about a mile from Biola University in a very conservative neighborhood.
Anyway, I recently became gay affirming after a 15-year journey of having multiple people in my congregation come out to me every year. I scoured through your whole website and read everything I could. And it was especially the testimony of my gay friends that helped me to see how they have been marginalized that my eyes became open to the injustice that the church has wrought.
In August of 2013, on a sunny day at the beach, I realized I no longer believed in the traditional teachings regarding homosexuality.
As I was trying to figure out what to tell my church, I was driving in the car with my 15-year-old son Drew when a song on the radio came on. I asked Drew who sang it, and he said, “Mackelmore.” And then he asked me why I was interested in it. I told him that I liked the song. He was startled and he asked me if I knew that the song’s message was gay affirming. I told him that I did know and that’s why I liked the song. I also told him that I no longer believed what I used to believe.
As we got out of the car, I could tell he was puzzled. so I asked him what he was thinking. In the parking lot, he told me in a nervous voice, “Dad, I’m gay.” My heart skipped a beat and I turned towards him and we gave one another the biggest and longest hug as we cried. And all I could tell him was that I loved him so much and that I accepted him just as he is.
I couldn’t help but think that my 15 year journey was in preparation for that moment. If it wasn’t for this 15 year journey and my change in theology, I may have destroyed my son through reparative therapy.
My son decided to make a coming out video on YouTube on Feb 7, 2014 which he posted on Facebook.
I then told my church on Feb 9 about my new position. However, I expressed that my goal wasn’t about trying to convince everyone what I believe, but that we should allow room for grace in the midst of disagreement. I shared that the body of Christ is segregated every sunday between gay affirming and non-gay affirming and that there must be unity and love.
Unfortunately, many weren’t pleased, so the church had to vote whether to terminate me or accept my proposition. On March 9, the church voted instead to prolong the period of prayer, study and discernment until May 18. We then invited teachers, both gay and straight, from both sides of the debate to speak to our church.
The church just voted two Sundays ago, on May 18, 2014, to not dismiss me, and to instead become a Third Way church (agree to disagree and not cast judgement on one another—see Ken Wilson’s book, “A Letter to my Congregation”). This is a huge step for a Southern Baptist 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 judgement. 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 judgement in our disagreement.
Unfortunately, many who voted to remain traditional will now separate from us in a couple of weeks. We are in the period of reconciliation and forgiveness. Please pray for us in this. Then on June 8, we will formally peacefully separate, restate our love for one another, and bless each other as we part ways. It has been a very tiring and difficult process.
All of this to say, I believe God is moving in beautiful ways. And I’m thankful that you were part of my journey through the many things I processed through your writings. I pray that you would be encouraged that a conservative evangelical church like ours has embraced the LGBT community.
I am now in conversation with other pastors who are now wondering what in the world we are doing. I’m thankful for these opportunities. I pray that the church will no longer be segregated. I pray that those who have been marginalized would feel safe in our churches. I pray that we as the church would set aside our difference and learn what it means to be the body of Christ. So please keep us in your prayers as the road ahead promises to be filled with difficulty. Thank you again for helping me through my journey.
New Heart Community Church
Here is Cortez' February 9 sermon, "Why I Changed My Mind On Sexuality":