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First Baptist responds to concerns about LGBTQ stance

First Baptist Church Jacksonville
Congregants fill First Baptist Church Jacksonville during a worship service.

Citing legal and religious reasons, First Baptist Church of Jacksonville is requiring its members to sign a statement agreeing that marriage is between a man and a woman and that a person’s gender is not an individual choice.

Church members have until March 19 to sign the statement; the church will assume they have resigned from the Downtown Jax congregation if they decline.

The Rev. Heath Lambert said the statement grew from advice that having every member on record about sincerely held beliefs would bolster the church’s religious exemption argument if the church were sued for discrimination based on gender or sexuality.

In a public forum Sunday night, Lambert said the statement isn’t designed to be discriminatory and that no one will be barred from attending services. He compared the request to Jaguars coach Doug Pederson’s requiring certain behaviors from members of his team but not having those same requirements of fans.

“Anybody is welcome to come into this room, into our worship, receive our love and our care,” he said. “We don’t ask them to prove anything, we just want them here.”

Church leaders posted a myriad of documents on First Baptist's website in recent months about the new mandate. One of those describes why the church believes it needs a biblical sexuality statement from its congregants, saying it "summarizes God’s design for gender, marriage and sexuality."

The church's web page also states that the church equally forbids what it calls other sinful sexual expression such as adultery, pornography, homosexuality, transgenderism and others.

Two speakers at the forum criticized the church, including one who accused it of fomenting anti-LGBTQ hatred. A speaker who identified as queer said, “This oath is disgusting, and not what God would want nor what Christianity is about.”

Another speaker received a standing ovation for praising Lambert for “standing up for the word of God.”

You can watch the full forum here.