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Fla. Baptists meet, support state ban on ‘gay marriage’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Voting unanimously to support a statewide constitutional marriage amendment, messengers to the Florida Baptist State Convention annual meeting Nov. 9 urged legislators and citizens to press the issue defining marriage as a “God-ordained union between a man and a woman.”

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush reacted to the vote the same day, telling reporters he might support a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex “marriage” if the judiciary challenges the state’s 1997 Defense of Marriage Act already in place.

“If there was a threat that gay marriage would be accepted in our state, then I might be supportive of [a state constitutional amendment]” Bush said, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel. “I’m not sure it’s necessary to do this in a pre-emptive fashion.”

The convention was meeting in Jacksonville and celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Jay Dennis, pastor of the 6,500-member First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, offered the motion regarding the marriage amendment, telling messengers he believes the time is right to go on the record to support such a move with “passion and conviction.”

“I think that if we vote on this today as Florida Baptists, we will be sending a very strong signal to our state that says we believe in the biblical definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman.”

Just before the vote Dennis told the Florida Baptist Witness he believes the process he took in presenting the motion to messengers represents the “grassroots” spirit he hopes to engender by his move.

“I think that Southern Baptists are grassroots people,” Dennis said, adding that the annual meeting presented him with the opportunity to prompt churches to “step up to the plate” and begin to focus on the importance of moral issues.

“I think that this is a good venue to be able to make a clear statement in that we go on the record that this is who we are,” Dennis said. “This is something I think a lot of people have been thinking about and … wanting to do something about.”

Messengers also affirmed a motion calling for the Florida Baptist State Convention to continue to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools.

The education motion was put to messengers after a resolution concerning public school education was submitted in the morning session. That resolution asked messengers to “help parents provide their children with Christian alternatives to government school education, either through home schooling or thoroughly Christian schools.”

Jimmy Deas, pastor of Westwood Baptist Church in Live Oak, Fla., submitted the motion encouraging continued support of SBACS.

In clarifying his motion, Deas said he affirmed Christians employed in the public school system who “love the Lord and are trying to advance His Kingdom.”

In the motion itself, Deas did not mention public schools, but his motion asked the State Board of Missions and the Florida Baptist State Convention to “find ways to strengthen and support Christian schools and home schooling among the churches” of the convention.

Upon affirmation of Deas’ motion, Stan Lewis, chairman of the committee on the order of business for the Florida Baptist State Convention, told messengers that because both a motion and a resolution had been received on “the same subject of Christian education” — and because the motion had already passed — there would be no need to consider the resolution.

“The motion supersedes the resolution,” said Lewis, who is also associate pastor at Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola. “The committee noted that the spirit and essence of the proposed resolution only encouraged Florida Baptists to do certain actions which the just passed motion has authorized.”

Robert Dreyfus, a member of First Baptist Church in Leesburg, Fla., and a messenger to the convention, submitted the education resolution characterizing public schools as “explicitly and legally godless.”

Following the business session, Dreyfus told the Florida Baptist Witness he was disappointed that that resolution was not brought before the body for a vote.

“I cannot tell you the distress I feel,” Dreyfus said. “I feel like the leadership of the Florida Baptist Convention has done a great disservice to our Christian children and I think it will be a shameful page in our history that this has occurred.”

The Convention celebrated its 150th anniversary by baptizing five new converts from five ethnic groups.

Among those who were baptized were 17-year-old Felipe Augusto, who only two months ago immigrated to the United States from Brazil, and Benjamin Johnson, 64, an African American from St. Matthew Baptist Church in Jacksonville. Other churches represented in the baptisms were Eglise Evangelique Baptiste Mont-Sion in Miami, Iglesia Bautista Hispana Mandarin in Jacksonville, Brazilian Baptist Church in Jacksonville and Hibernia Baptist Church in Orange Park.

In honor of the anniversary, all registered messengers received a souvenir rock representing a “heritage stone” of the Florida Baptist State Convention inscribed with I Peter 2:5.

“During these 150 years, Florida Baptists have been laying foundation stones of faith as they have sought to be God’s heirs of promise in the Sunshine State,” John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the convention, said in presenting the rocks. “The anniversary memento seeks to remind Florida Baptists that as God’s people today, we are a living stone of Christian faith and witness.”

Throughout the anniversary year, every Florida Baptist church received a larger keepsake stone and all 49 Baptist associations were presented with a stone inscribed with their year of origin. The theme of the 150th anniversary was “Celebrating Heritage and Hope.”

During the two-day meeting, video vignettes featured historic Florida Baptist events. At the conclusion of one video that highlighted the ministry of Frank Fowler, the first Florida Baptist to be appointed as a missionary by the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board), four generations of the Fowler family were introduced.

Hayes Wicker, pastor of First Baptist Church of Naples, was elected to a one-year term as president without opposition. He was nominated by Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola.

From the time Wicker became pastor in 1992, First Baptist Naples has experienced more than 2,300 baptisms, church membership has increased by 4,300 members, Sunday school attendance has increased by nearly 1,300 and the church budget has grown to $6.2 million from $835,000.

In 2003, according to the Annual Church Profile, First Baptist Naples contributed nearly $340,000 to the Cooperative Program, representing 6.29 percent of its undesignated receipts. The church has sponsored four ethnic missions.

Outgoing convention president Tommy Green, pastor of First Baptist Church of Brandon, was ineligible for re-election after serving two consecutive one-year terms, the first modern day president to do so; a bylaw change last year permitted Green’s re-election.

Mike Landry, pastor of Sarasota Baptist Church, was elected first vice president over Silair Almeida, pastor of First Brazilian Baptist Church in Pompano Beach. Landry received 287 votes to Almeida’s 250 votes.

Mike Branch of Fernandina Beach was elected as second vice president and Ron Hobbs, minister of music/business administrator at College Road Baptist Church in Ocala, was elected as recording secretary. Both were elected without opposition.

The 2,478 in attendance heard from Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch and other Florida Baptist pastors as they commemorated their heritage. The theme of the convention meeting was “Celebrate His Glory.” Speakers included Traylor; Jim Henry, pastor First Baptist Church of Orlando and chairman of the 150th anniversary observance committee; and Green, outgoing president.

In delivering two theme interpretations, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., recalled that he first felt called to vocational service at a camp at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center in Leesburg while growing up in Florida.

Messengers approved several revisions to tighten the state convention’s Bylaw 2 by empowering the State Board of Mission to conduct inquiries into churches that are not in compliance with terms of cooperation as defined in Bylaw 2.

That Bylaw defines a cooperating church in terms of annually giving $250 through the Cooperative Program, providing an annual church profile and being committed to the “Baptist Faith and Message as revised in the year 2000 or any other declaration of faith which parallels the tenets of our historic faith.”

Churches are given a three-year window to comply before board action will be taken.

If you are going to have a Bylaw 2, there needs to be an expectation that a church is complying with it,” Sullivan, the executive director-treasurer, said.

Messengers also adopted a record $37 million Cooperative Program budget for 2005 with 51.75 percent designated for Florida Baptist Convention causes, 40 percent designated for Southern Baptist Convention causes; 4 percent for pastoral aid and 4.25 percent designated for the church annuity program.

Other business included new partnership agreements with the Nevada Baptist Convention and the Brazilian Baptist Convention and the authorization to consider proposals to sell and/or exchange the property where the Baptist building is located Jacksonville.

Messengers approved several matters related to the four hurricanes that hit Florida this past season, including the authorization to create debt to provide interest-free loans to damaged churches. Messengers also passed resolutions in appreciation for the disaster relief efforts of other state conventions, Florida Baptist churches and state convention employees.

The next convention meeting will be held Nov. 14-15, 2005 in Ocala, Fla.
— Compiled by reporting by Barbara Denman, Joni B. Hannigan and James A. Smith Sr.

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