As the Southern Baptist Convention begins its annual meeting Tuesday in Baltimore, the country’s largest Protestant body will confront an issue agitating many conservative evangelical Christian churches: How to navigate the rapidly shifting landscape of same-sex marriage and homosexuality.
The denomination, which claims 16 million members but also has been struggling with declining membership, defines God’s plan for marriage and sexual intimacy as between “one man and one woman,” and teaches that homosexuality is “not a ‘valid alternative lifestyle.’” According to its constitution, if a congregation decides to “affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior,” it is considered no longer “in cooperation with” the wider body.
But in February, a California pastor told his Southern Baptist congregation that he no longer believed the traditional teachings of the church regarding homosexuality. The Rev. Danny Cortez said members of New Heart Community Church and his own son, who had recently come out as gay, had helped convince him that homosexuality is not a sin.
Last month, New Heart church members voted against firing Cortez, choosing instead to welcome the gay community as a “Third Way” congregation, described by the pastor as “agree to disagree…and not cast judgment on one another.” But in a blog post headlined, “There is no ‘Third Way’ – Southern Baptists Face a Moment of Decision (and so will you),” prominent evangelical leader Albert Mohler wrote last week that, “A church will either believe and teach that same-sex behaviors and relationships are sinful, or it will affirm them.”
Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote that eventually, “every congregation in America will make a public declaration of its position on this issue.” He also predicted that the Southern Baptist body “will act in accordance with its own convictions, confession of faith, and constitution” at this week’s meeting.
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SOURCE: Pew Research
Tim Townsend and Jessica Martínez