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Baptist agency refuses to sell Fla. site for gambling interests

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (BP)–“Under no circumstances will the North American Mission Board allow property it now owns to be sold and used, directly or indirectly, to further gambling interests,” said Randy Singer, executive vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention agency.

The property in question is a 25-acre tract north of Miami which the Seminole Tribe of Florida has announced intention to acquire for construction of a $300-million hotel and gambling complex.

Singer also affirmed the mission board’s commitment to maintain the viability of two Baptist churches which could be displaced by the announced plans. First Seminole Baptist Church meets in a building located on the NAMB property while a Spanish-speaking Baptist church, Iglesia Bautista, owns and meets on an adjacent three-acre tract.

“We’ve spoken with representatives of both the tribal and Hispanic churches, as well as tribal officials, and conveyed our intention that both of these ministries remain strong,” Singer said. “I believe they understand our position.”

Paul Buster, a member and former pastor of the 100-member First Seminole Baptist Church, told the Miami Herald the church has been the heart of Christianity on the Hollywood reservation since it was started in 1936. “Hopefully, they can be mindful of leaving the church to its work,” Buster said. “That’s what we’re praying for.”

Baptist opposition is not the only hurdle for the Seminoles. A 65-acre mobile home park with more than 90 homes would also need to be acquired. And, Florida officials, including Gov. Jeb Bush and state Attorney General Robert Butterworth, are against allowing Las Vegas-style gambling in Florida.

Singer, an attorney, said he is confident NAMB has had clear title to the property for more than 50 years even though tribal officials contend the tract is reservation land. NAMB’s board of directors must authorize disposition of any of the agency’s mission property. That board’s next meeting is in September.

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