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Baptists take lead in Florida Right to Life

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–In what’s being called “an exciting opportunity,” two Southern Baptists are now serving in key leadership positions in Florida’s largest pro-life organization. Bob Touchston, a member of The River Church in Melbourne, was elected president of Florida Right to Life, Inc., (FRTL) last May. Terry Kemple, a member of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, came on board as the executive director in August.

Kemple and Touchston also work closely with another Baptist, Bill Bunkley, who serves as a legislative consultant in Tallahassee for the Florida Baptist Convention.

“In God’s unique timing,” Bunkley told the Florida Baptist Witness, “these Baptists are now in one of the most visible areas dealing with one of the most important issues in our culture. It will be interesting to see what God has in store. I am excited about what he is doing.”

Despite their different backgrounds and experiences, excitement over what God is doing deeply bonds these men.

Though they believe life begins at conception and ends at natural death, and that individuals at all points in between should be defended, nurtured and treated with respect, each of these men has special gifts to deal with issues regarding the sanctity of life.

“I first got involved with Florida Right to Life in 1997,” Touchston said. “The more I learned about the FRTL organization, the more impressed I was with what they were doing.”

Touchston, dad to four daughters and one son, quickly moved from being impressed to jumping in. A leader from his early years, Touchston accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior in 1979, shortly before joining the Air Force and being sent to Hawaii. “I came to Christ right before my 18th birthday,” he said. “I just knew there had to be more to life than living for myself.”

Touchston’s life took a positive turn in the years that followed. He met and married Diane. He served eight years in the military and even became a youth director. “I can honestly stand before kids and tell them what a wonderful thing it is to stay pure before marriage,” Touchston said. “Believe me, I know it’s not easy. But seeking God’s will and staying abstinent before marriage is truly the best thing. It allows access to all kinds of doors God opens that people would otherwise never even see.”

Though Touchston is quick to point out the value and need for the legislative and educational arms of Florida Right to Life, this father of five teenagers has a vision of what can be accomplished through education. That’s one reason he is ecstatic when speaking of the February 2002, “True Love Waits” event FRTL will be sponsoring in Orlando. He noted that the Florida Baptist Convention’s Austin Ramel will play a key role.

“We hope to have 5,000 to 10,000 kids from all over the state,” Touchston said. “We’ll have top Christian groups there, and some companies are even providing free pizza and prizes. There will be one catch, though. Kids who come to the event will need to bring some kind of baby item like booties or a blanket. We’ll donate the gifts to a crisis pregnancy center. We want to make that connection.”

Admitting he is also a glutton for challenge, Touchston said the Florida Right to Life annual dinner would also take place in February at the Orlando Marriott. “We can’t wait to let everyone know what’s going on. It’s so exciting. We’re putting together a resource library for people, especially for teens and college students to use when they want to explain pro-life issues or write papers about it or give talks on the subject. We are all about helping, especially helping kids make smart decisions that will effect them in positive ways the rest of their lives.”

Touchston also told about the deeply emotional experience of caring for an elderly heaven-bound family member. “You know,” he said, “you show love and respect to people by ministering to them and helping them. You allow God to let you grow in love as you serve in another’s time of need. Respecting life at every stage is part of that.”

Touchston said he believes if Florida Baptists will work together for pro-life issues, they can have a part in halting the the almost 100,000 babies aborted. “Christians have to be involved,” he added. “This is about saving babies’ lives, and respecting life.”

Terry Kemple, father of five daughters, twelve grandchildren, and two great grandchildren, has much the same concern as Touchston. Though he attended church as a small boy, it wasn’t until later in life, 1986, that he accepted Christ while at a revival in Orange Park. Kemple and his wife, Shirley, later got involved at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon and became concerned about many of the anti-family political decisions being made in government.

Laws that Count

After asking for prayer for the country, Kemple received an invitation to attend his church’s issues committee meeting. He was later asked to chair that committee. From there, Kemple said he began receiving invitations at the local, state and regional levels to speak on pro-life issues. Before becoming executive director of Florida Right to Life, Kemple served in a similar position with the Christian Coalition.

“I have felt God leading me and opening doors,” Kemple said. “I believe there are many reasons our society has slipped in an attitude of not respecting life. You remove God and moral absolutes from the culture, and you’re traveling a dangerous road.”

Kemple thinks this is especially damaging for young people. That’s one reason he is so involved with the legislative side of FRTL. “It is important to stay aware of issues and to be involved. If we divorce ourselves from society and don’t stand up for what’s right, our silence becomes tacit approval.”

Kemple said his heart hurts for kids coming up these days. “When you remove valuing life, when you even export abortion like has been done in recent years, when materialism becomes a value marker and we allow the media to set our perspective, we are not going out to be light and salt and to make disciples. There’s a great need for Christians to be the beacons of truth. We do have an opportunity to affect our culture.”

Men who care

Bunkley said he’s excited about his two “Baptist brothers” being in leadership positions with Florida Right to Life.

“Terry and Bob are bringing some new ideas that will continue to build on the fine leadership we’ve had in the past,” he said. “Bob is simply a bundle of energy, and Terry is a great strategic planner who gives attention to detail. I believe both these men have a special sensitivity to God’s working. I applaud the Florida Right to Life. I think they are a fine organization taking the lead on many life issues dealing with the unborn and the elderly.”

Bunkley said he believes our country is at a crossroads in history. As Christians, he said we should help sow the seed and fertilize the mind with the importance of the unborn child and with respect and caring FRTL senior citizens. “We’ve got to go back to the basic foundations,” he said. “The events of September 11th have left many people searching.”

For more about FRTL call 407-422-7111 or visit www.frtl.org.

    About the Author

  • Rhonda Reese