OCALA, Fla. (BP)–Seeking to galvanize the 1,550 messengers in attendance to action, leaders of the Florida Baptist State Convention publicly signed the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment during its 144th annual meeting Nov. 14-15 in Ocala.
Among those signing petitions that will be sent to their local county supervisors of election for certification was Hayes Wicker, president of the Florida Baptist State Convention, who was unanimously elected without opposition to a second one-year term during this meeting. Wicker, pastor of First Baptist Church of Naples was nominated by Dwayne Mercer, pastor of Oviedo First Baptist Church and a past state convention president.
Others to sign the petition that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman included John Sullivan, state executive director-treasurer, Michael Landry of Sarasota, state convention first vice president; and Ben Bryant of Starke, president of the State Board of Missions, the Florida Baptist Convention’s governing body.
The symbolic signing “helped to underscore the importance of the petition,” said Bryant, who asked for “a point of personal privilege” in calling for the signatures. A total of 611,009 petition signatures are needed by Feb. 1, 2006 to place the measure on the November 2006 Florida ballot. Prior to the convention meeting only 108,669 signed petitions had been certified by the Florida Division of Elections.
Florida Baptists have been engaged in the petition drive since the 2004 Convention meeting when messengers unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the amendment. A coalition of Christian organizations embraced the cause, writing the amendment’s language and campaigning for its passage.
Bryant challenged messengers to become “Defenders of Marriage” by recruiting 10 persons to sign petitions and make a commitment to enlist another 10 petitions. During the two-day meeting at least 400 persons signed the petition, 200 pastors asked for help to promote the petition among their congregations and nearly 500 made a commitment to become a “Defender of Marriage,” reported Jon Rogers, grassroots coordinator, Florida Family Policy Council who collected petitions at the meeting.
The annual meeting was convened at First Baptist Church of Ocala, Fla., representing the first time in more than 30 years that it was held in a local church rather than a convention center.
Nearly 2,000 persons attended the Monday night session to hear Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, urge Christians to fight the clash of worldviews and cultures in today’s world.
Saying that Islam has been at war with the West for 1,000 years out of the last 1,400, Colson called the cultural phenomenon it has produced: “Islamofascism.”
“One hundred million Muslims in the world are influenced by Islamofascism and they are at war with us,” Colson said. “And when we start talking about [how] we’ve got to bring our troops home because they’ve been over there long enough, don’t we understand that the other side wants to destroy us? Don’t we understand this clash of worldviews is a life and death struggle?”
Noting that secular naturalists hate the biblical values upon which the nation was founded, “We Christians must stand our ground,” said Colson, a member of First Baptist Church of Naples. “The Christian Gospel cannot be stopped.”
Among resolutions passed at the meeting was one in support of President George Bush and the U.S. military for “preserving and protecting freedom.” Others expressed appreciation to the North American Mission Board for financial assistance after Hurricane Wilma and to fourteen Baptist state conventions that sent disaster relief volunteers to South Florida.
Messengers learned that Florida Baptists had contributed more than $2.6 million to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts and an additional $100,000 to Hurricane Rita and Wilma relief combined.
A resolution presented by Robert Dreyfuss, a member of Moss Bluff Baptist Church, Ocklawaha, encouraged parents to remove their children from public schools that “present homosexuality as a normal alternative lifestyle” was not considered. Lois Wenger of Orlando, chairman of the Committee on Order of Business, explained the Convention had “previously addressed and clearly spoken to the issue of homosexuality through prior resolutions.” Also, she added, a collaborative relationship established formally this year with the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools provides Christian educational alternatives.
Messengers unanimously and without opposition approved a slate of officers, including Wicker and Landry, pastor of Sarasota Baptist Church, as first vice president, layperson Marvin Pittman of Bartow, a retired major with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office; and Ronnie Hobbs, minister of music, College Road Church, Ocala.
In other business, the convention approved a $38.4 million budget with 51.50 percent designated for Florida Baptist Conventions causes; 40 percent for Southern Baptist Convention causes; 4 percent designated for pastoral aid; and 4.5 percent for the church annuity program. Another 16 items were discussed and passed, including bylaw revisions and endorsement of 10 newly-constituted churches.
Throughout the two days, speakers, including Wicker, emphasized the urgency of evangelism to rescue a spiritually dying world. Clanging a lid against a garbage can, David Burton, director of the Evangelism Division reminded messengers “Everyone Can” lead others to Christ while 5,000 business card-sized “Life and Death” tracts descended from the church’s rafters.
The next meeting is scheduled for McGregor Baptist Church, Fort Myers, Nov. 13-14.
Eva Wolever contributed to this article.