The First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida is being criticized because of its biblical sexuality statement that is set to take effect in March. Members are required to sign the statement to maintain their membership.
“As a member of First Baptist Church, I believe that God creates people in his image as either male or female, and that this creation is a fixed matter of human biology, not individual choice. I believe marriage is instituted by God, not government, is between one man and one woman, and is the only context for sexual desire and expression,” the statement says.
Backlash grew against the statement leading up to an open mic event at the church to listen to and discuss concerns from audience members. A self-described queer woman named Katie opposed the statement and condemned the church for supporting it.
“The decision to have your members sign any form of contract to attend turns your church into an organization, a club,” she said. “This church is no longer a religious place of worship welcome to all. These sexuality oaths are drawing a clear line in the sand, showing us who you truly welcome, which is by no means all.”
Senior Pastor Heath Lambert defended the statement against these allegations, emphasizing that the statement does not solely condemn homosexuality but all sins regarding sexuality.
“It is not that we are any less sinful than anybody out there in Jacksonville,” he said. “It’s not that we are any better than anybody who thinks our statement is a joke. It’s that we have come to confess our sin instead of looking at the Bible and railing against what the Bible has to say about sexual sin. We’ve said, ‘God, you’re right, and I’m wrong, will you please forgive me and [then] you wash me in the blood of Jesus.’ By faith, we are not better, but by faith, we are saved.”
Lambert previously offered a lengthy defense of the statement on the church’s website when it was first approved. In the defense, he specifically responded LGBTQ critics who vehemently opposed the statement.
“We want to welcome you as we were welcomed,” he wrote. “If you need help, we would love to serve you. If you would like to come and worship with us, you are always welcome to be part of what we are doing. Of course, when you come, we will ask you to respect our beliefs just as you want us to respect yours. But if you do come, we will welcome you, pray with you, serve you and love you. We will also probably say some things that will challenge you. That’s OK. Real love can handle disagreement.”
Local media may have fueled the firestorm reporting the statement has caused “controversy,” “created backlash,” and “makes clear that LGBTQ freedoms are not welcome in the church.” One reporter quoted a community member’s plea for inclusivity, “We need to love on one another and embrace one another. Not to judge, not to separate.” Another reporter quoted the pastor of a local PCUSA church, “We don’t think that anything other than faith in Christ should be what determines membership.”
But Lambert says he and the church will stand for what they believe.
“What we’ve got here is a disagreement,” says Lambert. “The folks who are so upset about this — they have a source of authority. And that source of authority is their own heart. … It’s about, ‘I get to decide what is right for me.’ As Christians, we have had to say, ‘I don’t get to decide what’s right for me. I have to do what the Lord tells me to do.’”
–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice