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Baptists taking ‘path of most resistance’ to tribe’s plan to buy land for casino

LEESBURG, Fla. (BP)–Florida Baptists will take the “path of most resistance,” said John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, regarding attempts by Seminole Indians to acquire 28 acres of Baptist land to build a casino and hotel in south Florida.

“The land is not for sale,” Sullivan said in a report to the Florida convention’s state board of missions Sept. 8.

“We would lose our voice completely on the gambling issue in south Florida if we just rolled over and let them build a casino on that property. Our voice in south Florida would be mute,” Sullivan said.

“The commitment to me from the North American Mission Board is that the land is not for sale. I have that commitment from the Stirling Road Spanish Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale as well. The Seminole First Baptist Church, Fort Lauderdale, that is located on a piece of the property owns none of the land.”

Sullivan further told the board, “There likely will be a lawsuit, and the Florida Baptist Convention will be involved in that lawsuit. I’m here to tell you we are going to take the ‘path of most resistance.’ They’re going to have to take it, if they get it. I don’t know how else to handle it. We simply are not going to give any property for gambling in south Florida.”

In 1937, the late John Maguire, FBC executive director-treasurer at the time, purchased a 31-acre tract of land from the state of Florida for $1. The property, located near Davie, was purchased to facilitate mission work among the Seminole Indians.

In 1947, the Florida Baptist Convention gave the property to the Home Mission Board (now NAMB) since that SBC agency was charged with working among the Seminoles.

NAMB owns 28 acres of the property, while the Stirling Road congregation owns three acres.

The property has escalated considerably in value. The land is situated close to the Florida Turnpike and Interstate 95. An appraisal has been made on the land for the “highest value use.”

“Would you guess what the ‘highest value use’ of that land is?” Sullivan asked board members. “It is not for a church; it’s for a casino.”

Florida Baptist officials first learned about the Seminole Indians’ interest in the property July 2 when Sullivan received a call from Coba Beasley, a state board member and pastor of Maple Grove Baptist Church, Lakeport.

Beasley told Sullivan that two well-dressed men approached him near the property and said, “We are so glad you decided to sell us that property.” Beasley discovered they were lawyers for the Seminole Indian tribe, and he called the Baptist Building in Jacksonville.

“This was my first knowledge of any of this,” Sullivan said. “Coba discovered it almost accidentally, but by the providence of God, as he was trying to help a neighbor.”

Since that time, Sullivan has had a series of meetings throughout August with officials from NAMB, the Seminole Tribe, the Stirling Road Spanish Church and Seminole First Baptist Church, as well as lawyers for each of the entities.

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  • Michael Chute