News Articles

Freedom Church to appeal Executive Committee decision, ask for reinstatement in SBC

Freedom Church in Vero Beach, Fla., is planning to appeal a decision from the SBC Executive Committee that deems them deemed the church not to be in friendly cooperation with the SBC. (Facebook photo)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Baptist Press is publishing a series of articles in advance of the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting on the three churches that have indicated they will appeal the February 2023 decision by the SBC Executive Committee deeming them not to be in friendly cooperation with the SBC. The articles are intended to give messengers an opportunity to hear from church leaders at Saddleback Church, Fern Creek Baptist and Freedom Church. Statements made by representatives of the church should not be deemed to be endorsements by Baptist Press.

VERO BEACH, Fla. (BP) – Freedom Church in Vero Beach, Fla., is one of three churches that will be appealing the SBC Executive Committee’s February decision in which it deemed the church not to be in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Unlike the other two churches that will be appealing (Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.), the EC’s decision regarding Freedom does not have to do with the church’s position on women filling the position of pastor.

Freedom Church was deemed not to be in friendly cooperation because the church failed to cooperate to resolve concerns regarding an abuse allegation. Freedom Church has denied the charge to Baptist Press, saying the matter was investigated and resolved by the Anglican Church of North America.

The Florida Baptist Convention and Freedom’s former local association, the Treasure Coast Baptist Association, both severed ties with the church last year.

The appeal will be made by Donald Stewart, an elder at Freedom Church, during the June 13 afternoon business session of the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans. 

“The issue that has been identified by the Credentials Committee has been addressed,” Stewart told Baptist Press.

“We consider ourselves in friendly cooperation,” he said. “We’ve never varied from the beliefs [of the] Baptist Faith and Message 2000 statement of faith. As an elder board, we wanted the focus of the church to be on Christ.”

While the Executive Committee did not name the alleged abuser in its decision, the Florida Baptist Convention listed the senior pastor of Freedom Church, Richard Demsick, in a statement detailing its decision to disfellowship the church after a meeting of the state convention’s board April 8 of last year.

Baptist Press confirmed with a spokesperson from the Florida Baptist Convention that the convention stands by its statement:

“The State Board of Missions voted to remove Freedom Church of Vero Beach from fellowship with the Florida Baptist State Convention on the grounds that they have called an individual to the senior pastor role who is biblically disqualified from ministry as a Southern Baptist pastor,” said a statement from Board president Brian Stowe. “Aside from other disqualifications, the individual has admitted to a pattern of sexual misconduct with women who were under his pastoral care and supervision. 

“The individual is currently under investigation by another denomination for these and other credible allegations of sinful conduct, and Freedom Church’s local association, the Treasure Coast Baptist Association, is already moving forward with disfellowshipping the church.”

Demsick was appointed lead pastor of Freedom Church in late 2021 or early 2022.

Stewart declined to confirm to Baptist Press if Demsick is still serving as pastor of Freedom Church. A phone call and voicemail from Baptist Press to Demsick were not returned.

As of publication, Demsick is listed as pastor on the church’s website.

Although the SBC has disfellowshipped churches for various reasons over the years, none has appealed that decision until this year, making it the first time this item of business will appear before Convention. 

The Credentials Committee released a statement detailing the appeals process on May 16, one day after the deadline for churches to submit a formal appeal to the CC.

“Pursuant to SBC Bylaw 8, the Committee on Order of Business shall propose a time for miscellaneous business during the afternoon session on Tuesday, June 13, for the consideration of the appeals received,” the statement said. “Bylaw 8 also provides that one representative of the church will be recognized to speak and one representative of the Credentials Committee or Executive Committee shall be permitted to speak to the question.”

Messengers will then be able to vote “yes” to affirm the decisions of the EC and the Credentials Committee to disfellowship the church in question. “A ‘no’ vote will overturn the decision of the committees and allow the church to immediately be registered and to seat messengers in accordance with Convention rules,” the statement said.

David Sons, chairman of the Executive Committee, released a statement May 16 highlighting the importance of messengers’ understanding the process of this first-time event.

“SBC bylaws plainly outline the process for churches determined to be not in cooperation with the Convention to appeal their cases before messengers cast their votes,” Sons, pastor of Lake Murray Baptist Church in Lexington, S.C., said.

“Since this is the first time in SBC history for this particular item of business to come before the Convention, it’s important for everyone coming to New Orleans to be prepared and informed about the process.”