First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, a venerable downtown religious landmark, is in full-out civil war after a year of sporadic confrontations about financial accountability and transparency.
On Friday night First Baptist trustees, seemingly under the control of Lead Pastor James Welch, released an email that expelled from membership — much like Catholic excommunication — an entire dissident faction, an estimated 200 churchgoers.
The group has been pressing for dialog about finances, the future of the property-rich institution and Welch’s controversial, top-down management style. He took control of the church in early 2019.
There could be no more dramatic example of that style than the trustees’ Friday night purge.
“All we ever wanted was to have a voice,” said Brian Keno, a leader of Concerned Members of First Baptist Church, and now, apparently, a former congregant. “We started strong. So many left in disgust.”
Following inquiries from Florida Bulldog, Romney Rogers, a lawyer for First Baptist and a longtime church insider, forwarded the trustees’ statement that exiled the dissidents.
Many grievances at First Baptist
It lists many grievances against them, saying they “attempted a hostile takeover of the church through illegal meetings … claiming to act in the name of the congregation.” Also, they “refused to respond with repentance to Church discipline.”
The trustees accuse the dissidents of engaging in “a public campaign of slander, defamation, accusations and threats against the pastors, trustees, deacons and other Church leaders.” They decided that further efforts to arbitrate disputes “will be an unfruitful waste of the church’s time and resources.”
Therefore, the trustees “recently voted to terminate the membership of all church members who have identified with, participated in, or supported any actions of” the dissidents.
The news spread fast, and members of Keno’s group expressed shock and outrage in Facebook posts. “I want to scream!” said one. “They need a dose of their own discipline,” said another. And a third: “We will have to figure out next steps. In the meantime, don’t give in to their bully tactics.”
Welch did not respond to emailed questions from Florida Bulldog. Former Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, a lawyer for the church, said it would release a statement. That statement, separate from the trustees’ purge announcement, was not produced by deadline.
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Source: Florida Bulldog