Members of a Jacksonville, Fla., Baptist church have until March 19 to sign a statement on “biblical sexuality” or be removed from membership.
All members of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville are required to sign a form that indicates their agreement with a Statement on Biblical Sexuality adopted by the church last fall.
That statement says: “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.”
“I agree with and will uphold the biblical truth contained in the First Baptist Statement on Biblical Sexuality.”
Members are required to check a box indicating their assent: “I agree with and will uphold the biblical truth contained in the First Baptist Statement on Biblical Sexuality.” Then they are required to provide their complete contact information and list all people by name who live in their household.
A preamble to the signature page explains: “Our church requires all members to agree with the following statement expressing a view of biblical sexuality that is basic to the Christian Scriptures. Requiring agreement with this statement for all members is an exercise in faithfulness to Jesus Christ whom we trust and serve. It is an exercise in clarity so that our members might understand our most fundamental commitments in a sexually confused world. It is also an exercise in love toward a lost world that desperately needs to know God’s standard for human sexuality.”
The church approved the statement on sexuality and the requirement for all members to affirm it last October. The church has created a page on its website with multiple videos and resources related to its anti-LGBTQ position.
In a Q-and-A portion, the site addresses the question “What will happen if I do not sign the Statement by March 19, 2023? The answer: “Per the motion adopted by the church, you will be considered to have resigned your membership from First Baptist. But you can always join again by going through our membership process — attending the membership class, meeting with a pastor, and being voted on by the congregation.”
Last September, Senior Pastor Heath Lambert sent out a video message about the sexuality statement and why it is necessary. Lambert has served as senior pastor since September 2017, coming from a job as executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and as a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Lambert portrayed the church as being at war against a “sexual revolution” yet wanting to “share the love of God” with all people. The church’s position, he said, is “the” biblical position.
“I want to talk to you about the sexual revolution that our culture is experiencing and I want to share with you the threat this is to our church,” he began. “I also want to let you know how we’re going to take a stand for God and his word as we share his love with a deeply confused culture.
“As Christians, we know that God created human beings as male and female and that he created the institution of marriage between one man and one woman as the only outlet for sexual expression. These are basic facts of life, and … these realities are given to us as gifts from God to enjoy.”
“The secular warriors of our culture’s sexual revolution have made clear in numerous places that they are seeking to eradicate any opposition to their extremist agenda.”
He continued: “But we live in a confused culture that does not understand these gifts and rejects them. In fact, the sexual revolution has declared war on anyone who would seek to affirm them. It is that declaration of war that I am so concerned about. The secular warriors of our culture’s sexual revolution have made clear in numerous places that they are seeking to eradicate any opposition to their extremist agenda. They will not rest until their confusion has permeated every area of society and silenced every voice of opposition. They have sought to shame, silence, convert and punish even through the force of law anyone who does not agree with their new and extreme agenda.”
He spoke of a threat of fathers being jailed for not supporting “sex change operations of their teenage daughters” and physicians prescribing puberty blockers “to grade school children” and “permanently ending their ability to have children.”
Neither of these statements about medical practice is factually correct. Advocacy groups and physicians working with transgender persons have repeatedly explained that they typically will not perform gender-affirming surgery on a teenager and that medication to delay the onset of puberty does not make anyone sterile.
“We live in a day where schools allow men to undercut women by competing against them in sports and where city councils victimize women by allowing men into their restrooms,” the pastor declared. “I want to be clear that at First Baptist Church we do not hate the members of the sexual revolution. … They are precious children of God. Our calling as a church is to share the love of God with them, to let them know that Jesus Christ lived, died and rose for them and that anyone who would turn from their sin and trust in Jesus will find eternal life and eternal joy in God himself.”
He added: “To anyone watching this who disagrees with the biblical message on sexuality, I want you to know that we love you and God does too. It’s that love which drives us to share truth that may be hard for you to hear in confusing and dark times.”
Lambert listed three reasons why it is “necessary to require all of our members to express their agreement with the statement.”
First is a “prophetic reason” to “shine a bright light of clarity in these dark and confusing times.” Second is a “legal” reason because “our church has a responsibility to protect against those who would take us to court to require us to change our policies.” Third is a “pastoral” reason because “we’ve had many precious people in our church who have struggled with these issues of gender and sexuality or whose family has struggled.”
He explained: “It’s right that every member agree to such a statement before they join us to receive our care.”
Once a prominent Southern Baptist megachurch, First Baptist in recent years has experienced membership decline. In 2019, the church announced it would sell off 90% of its downtown property, keeping just one city block out of 10 it had occupied. The pandemic and related drop in commercial real estate scuttled that plan in 2020.
At its peak, the church reported about 12,000 people in Sunday attendance. That was in the 1980s and ’90s, when the church was led by co-pastors Jerry Vines and Homer Lindsay Jr., both prominent figures in the so-called “conservative resurgence” in the SBC. Lindsay retired in 1999, and Vines retired in 2006.
Vines was succeeded by Mac Brunson, who later brought on Lambert as co-pastor. Brunson left the church in 2018 and Lambert remained as the sole senior pastor.
In its heyday, First Baptist Jacksonville billed itself as the third-largest church in the SBC. Vines served as a president of the denomination during the height of the schism over biblical inerrancy.
Before the pandemic, the church reported Sunday attendance of about 3,000. In addition to its historic downtown location, the church operates a second “Nocatee campus” on the far southeastern side of Jacksonville.