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Dividing the church

July 2014

Church denominations both sides of the Atlantic are being forced to address the issue of same-sex marriage, with several groups making controversial decisions.

According to a report from a senior theologian ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention, members face an issue that, according to one pastor, ‘would not have been imaginable just a few years ago’: the issue of same-sex relationships.  

The report from Albert Mohler, ninth president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, pointed to a letter posted on the internet by another Pastor, Danny Cortez, who changed his mind about homosexuality and the traditional teaching on same-sex marriage, just before his own son came out.

Mr Cortez wrote: ‘I had multiple people in my congregation coming out to me as gay’ but did not know how to reconcile it with biblical teaching on the matter. After his son came out, he told the church, which voted on 18 May to become a ‘Third Way’ Church.  

According to Mr Cortez, this means that ‘we will accept the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (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’.  

Yet it has divided the church, with many leaving who could not agree with the new direction away from God’s word. Pastor Cortez added, ‘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’.  

His comments, posted on a blog just days before the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), brings the debate to the door of the SBC, which in its Baptist Faith and Message confession of faith, upholds the traditional biblical view of homosexuality.  

However, Mr Mohler wrote, ‘There is no third way. A church will either believe and teach that same-sex behaviours and relationships are sinful, or it will affirm them.  

‘Eventually, every congregation in America will make a public declaration of its position on this issue. It is just a matter of time before every congregation in the nation faces this test’.  

It is not just the US that is facing this issue: across Europe and the UK, churches must come to terms with increasing public battles and the risk of in-fighting as a result of decisions made to appeal to the world’s view of homosexual relationships  

In May, the Church of Scotland (CoS) voted at its latest General Assembly to pursue a ‘mixed economy’, namely that the church will accept homosexual civil partnerships, but subject these same people to church discipline if they wanted to marry.  

Claiming that ‘God wants a mixed economy’, the vote went through despite many speakers arguing for unity on the basis of Scripture.  

According to reports of the conference, one traditionalist, Jeremy Middleton, issued a counter motion, a declaratory Act which declared the scriptural position on marriage, as ‘between one man and one woman, which is the only right and proper context for sexual relations’.  

He had asked that no one be allowed to go against the doctrine and practice of the church. However, his counter-motion was defeated and the overture – namely to progress with a mixed economy – won the day, at 369 votes compared to 189 against.

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