Florida church signals discipline over 'racial prejudices'

    November 4, 2019

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    NAPLES, Fla. – A majority white Baptist church has apologized for 'racial prejudices' that leaders deemed partly responsible for a favored black candidate losing the Oct. 27 vote for pastor, and said it will discipline those guilty of the sin.

    Church leaders say racial prejudice entered into a vote that denied Marcus Hayes, shown with his wife Mandy and their three daughters, the job of senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Naples, Fla., Oct. 27. Photo from Twitter  The pastoral and lay leadership of First Baptist Church of Naples (FBCN) apologized to all Southern Baptists Thursday, Oct. 31, for "a sickness in what we characterize as a cancer within our fellowship" that led in part to 19 percent of the congregation voting against African American candidate Marcus Hayes. According to the church's constitution and bylaws, candidates for senior pastor must receive 85 percent of the vote to win; Hayes received 81 percent after preaching in view of a call, the church said in a letter emailed to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.

    "A portion of the 19 percent that voted against Marcus Hayes did so based on racial prejudices," reads the letter signed by Executive Pastor John D. Edie on behalf of church leaders. "We know this because of the campaign that started just days before by a few disgruntled people in our church."

    Not all members of the church believe racial prejudice swayed the vote.

    "With the utmost respect, having attended FBCN for 17 years I stand on my opinion that the color of Pastor Marcus' skin had NOTHING to do with how the vote turned out," an FBCN member identified on Twitter as Gretchen Church tweeted @gretchen_church, although she did not indicate whether she voted for Marcus Hayes. "FBCN has been spiritually fed and nourished for over 27 years by [former] Pastor Hayes Wicker, a man of God filled with the Holy Spirit.... How could a congregation under a man like Hayes Wicker be racist?! I think not!!!"

    FBCN has been without a senior pastor since the spring, when Wicker's pastoral service ended.

    "The issues facing FBCN are deep and systemic," @gretchen_church tweeted. "Sadly, Pastor Marcus was not given time to hear everyone out, in a comfortable place for all. Pray for FBCN that God will help them to trust each other again, [c]ast out any ungodly spirts & reunify FBCN & allow a Pastor to lead them!"

    In an email to the church membership days after the vote, leaders said a campaign against Hayes included social media, texting, phone calls and emails from "a small group of people who call themselves 'Voices of FBCN,' and/or 'Group of Concerned FBCN Members,' as well as others who have espoused these sinful positions," but further details have not been disclosed.

    Leaders assured Southern Baptists that the guilty would be disciplined in line with biblical principles.

    "Let me assure you that our statement of contriteness is currently being and will continue to be followed by actions within our church to make sure that this sinful cancer is dealt with," reads the letter signed by Executive Pastor John D. Edie on behalf of church leaders. "Biblical church discipline has started within this local house of the Lord, and we are resolute to make sure that First Baptist Church Naples will be an example to the church at large of how Jesus Christ has asked us to go forward in this world as a light that would draw all men to Christ."

    Hayes leads the Hendersonville, N.C., campus of the multisite Biltmore Church based in Arden, N.C., and is a member of the SBC EC. He has made no comments to BP regarding the vote. The 85 percent threshold for victory is exceedingly high, the church acknowledged, but said the congregational vote after the "in view of a call" sermon is usually a procedural affirmation.

    "Our Pastoral Search Committee, lay leadership, and the Pastoral Staff all anticipated that our vote would be nothing less than an affirmative statement from our people that God had sovereignly chosen for Marcus Hayes to be our next Pastor," the letter reads. "Sadly that did not come to fruition. If all things had been fair and equal, our story would not have reached as far and wide, and stoked the emotions that it has. But what was concluded was all things were not fair and right."

    FBCN lists 10,596 members on the 2018 SBC Annual Church Profile (ACP), with an average attendance of 3,233. On voting day, the church noted a "record" turnout of 3,818. Of 1,917 votes cast, 365 were negative. An 85 percent victory allowed no more than 288 negative votes.

    In the above referenced email to the congregation, leaders of FBCN vowed to move forward in choosing a new senior pastor.

    "Please know this, that our Senior Pastor Search Team will meet to identify options moving forward with our Senior Pastor search," the leaders said. "For now, we humbly ask you to stay strong in the Lord.... Pray with us and lock arms with us as we move forward and seek the face of God."

    The full text of FBCN's letter to Southern Baptists is printed below.

    **********

    October 31, 2019

    Dear brothers and sisters in the Southern Baptist Convention,

    Recently, many of you have heard about the sad, unfortunate occurrences at First Baptist Church Naples. On the weekend of October 26 & 27, Marcus Hayes was brought before our church by our Senior Pastor Search Committee in view of a call as our next Senior Pastor. It should be noted that Marcus Hayes is an African-American. It should also be noted that Marcus Hayes is absolutely one of the most qualified men in Southern Baptist life to be a Senior Pastor of any church in this country.

    As most of you know, in Southern Baptist life, when a Senior Pastor comes in view of a call by the recommendation of a Search Committee, the actual vote is most always viewed as a ceremonial and celebratory affirmation of the Spirit's leading within the hearts and minds of the Search Committee that has extended the call. Most church experiences, when it comes to a new Senior Pastor, are just that, a celebration and a time of looking forward with hope and optimism to what God has for the future. Our Pastoral Search Committee, lay leadership, and the Pastoral Staff all anticipated that our vote would be nothing less than an affirmative statement from our people that God had sovereignly chosen for Marcus Hayes to be our next Pastor. Sadly, that did not come to fruition. Our constitution and bylaws stated that a Senior Pastor must be affirmed by at least an 85% or higher vote. It is widely known that an 85% affirmative vote is unusually high. Our church voted by a percentage of 81% to bring Marcus Hayes as our next Pastor. Unfortunately, this did not meet the threshold. If all things had been equal and fair, our story would not have reached as far and wide, and stoked the emotions that it has. But what was concluded was that all things were not fair nor were they right. A portion of the 19% that voted against Marcus Hayes did so based on racial prejudices. We know this because of the campaign that started just days before by a few disgruntled people in our church.

    For us, as leadership in our church, it exposed a sickness in what we characterize as a cancer within our fellowship. Our Pastoral Staff and leadership are deeply grieved and embarrassed. There are no terms to describe what has happened here other than sin. It certainly is tempting to try to look the other way, make excuses, or to simply say "people will be people". We are not willing to do that. As the Pastoral Staff and church leadership representing First Baptist Church Naples, we humbly ask for forgiveness from Marcus and Mandy Hayes. We also ask for forgiveness from our fellow brothers and sisters in the Southern Baptist Convention who hold to the scriptural principle that all men and women are created in the image of God, are dearly valued, and matter equally to Jesus Christ. We would also apologize and ask for forgiveness for any other person who has been offended, hurt, or damaged by the outcome of our church vote.

    As scripture says, faith without works is dead. Let me assure you that our statement of contriteness is currently being and will continue to be followed by actions within our church to make sure that this sinful cancer is dealt with. Biblical church discipline has started within this local house of the Lord, and we are resolute to make sure that First Baptist Church Naples will be an example to the church at large of how Jesus Christ has asked us to go forward in this world as a light that would draw all men to Christ. In the midst of all this turmoil, the Lord has been at work in our midst, and He still is. We have hope that our ultimate Senior Pastor, Jesus Christ, will redeem this situation for His glory and His church's good. Please be in prayer with us as we seek to become the church that Christ would be pleased with.

    Written by Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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