Are you a pastor, staff member, or member of a Southern Baptist Convention church that looks up to First Baptist Jacksonville as a beacon of taking a strong stand on the exclusivity of Jesus Christ and on moral issues? Do you or your pastor come to the Pastor's Conference held February each year? If so, you might be interested in knowing what is about to take place at our church. Please read this and share it with others if this causes sorrow in your heart that one of our great SBC churches is being led astray. I hope that if you are offended by one of the flagship churches in the SBC convention hosting this event given the facts I lay out below, then send Mac Brunson a message and let him know you can't support him and his conference this year. Mac obviously doesn't listen to his sheep; maybe he'll listen to other pastors.
By all appearances, Mac Brunson is still going to host A Time To Stand With Israel in the First Baptist Church Jacksonville sanctuary on November 8. This event will be featuring Jewish speakers that have no interest whatsoever in furthering the gospel, and at which a "love offering" from Christians and others present will be sent to the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Firstly, let me say as I've said numerous times already, I am not opposed to this event. I am very pro-Israel, and I understand the scriptural truth that those who bless the Jewish nation will be blessed. I have no problem with a community holding an event to honor Jews or raise funds for Israel. I would very much support this event at a neutral site in Jacksonville. But I am very much against this event being hosted at our church for four basic reasons:
1. Holding this event in our church facility which will likely gain local media coverage, creating confusion in the minds of those we are trying to reach with the gospel about Jesus being their only hope for salvation. To host an event featuring, glorifying those who are expressly of a non-Christian religion, who expressly do NOT believe Jesus Christ is the only hope for mankind, WITHIN THE WALLS OF OUR CHURCH sends the wrong message to the very people we are trying to reach with the gospel through the ministries of our church. This is worse even than hosting a purely secular meeting of some kind; it is a meeting glorifying an expressly non-Christian religion. There is no doubt that praise will be heaped on our church and on our pastor by the local media on how loving and open and brave we are to host this event...but are we worried about gaining favor from the community or maintaining a clear, consistent testimony and message that says to Jacksonville: "Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and he is man's only hope of salvation and heaven."? Will not some in our city reason "gee, I thought that big church downtown has said for years that their Jesus is the only way to heaven, but they are having a service honoring the Jews who are definitely NOT Christian, so I guess things really HAVE changed at that "Jesus" church downtown.!" How sad to use our church facilities for an event that will dilute and confuse our message about Jesus that has been rock-solid for decades and decades.
2. The funds raised at this event taken as a "love offering", will be sent to the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center (AHMC). Most people who are ardent supports of Israel don't know that the state of Israel pays for abortions for women that are under 18 or over 40, provided they meet some financial or medical hardship. Approximately 20,000 of these abortions are performed at the Israeli hospitals each year, including the AHMC. I'm not saying the AHMC is evil, or should be shut down; it is a legitimate hospital that does much good in research and providing medical services. I'll even say that it is deserving of Jews and supporters of Jews raising funds to support it. But the fact remains: on-demand abortions are performed at this institution and pro-life churches have no business using their name or their facilities to raise money for it. All abortions are wrong, and abortion is a blight in any country. But it is a particular social concern in Israel because of the disturbing imbalance between Jewish and Arab fertility rates within the nation of Israel, which abortion only serves to make worse. Already half a million Jewish babies in Israel have been aborted because of their state abortion policy. But regardless...a church, any church...any church opposed to the evil of abortion...certainly one of the flagship churches of the Southern Baptist Convention...should avoid even the appearance of evil and not host a fund raiser which will send money to a hospital at which abortions are performed! I have recently corresponded with a Jewish-Christian couple in Israel who have a ministry of saving unborn Jewish babies by meeting the needs of women in financial distress; they confirmed first hand the problem of abortion in Israel. When I explained that a fund raiser was being held at our church to give money to AHMC, they kindly expressed a hope that believers outside of Israel would be more discerning as to where they send their financial help to Israel. There are so many worthwhile ministries within Israel that are inline with our church's mission and values that its disturbing to see the monies go to the AHMC.
3. The circumstances and motives of this event and the selection of the AHMC as the sole recipient of the funds raised is very suspect. As I've written previously, the impetus behind this event appears to be a Dr. Michael Cohen, who is the head of the Galilean Institute, and the recently appointed head of the new company called Florida-Israel Biomedical Initiative (FIBI), owned by the Jacksonville-based M-EDG, LLC. The FIBI company was formed in June 2007 with a mission of "...[providing] a very well-suited marketing and distribution vehicle for the U.S. commercialization of Israel’s biomedical devices and products." Nothing at all wrong with that. But when the pastor makes the following statement in an email reply to a member questioning the reasons of this event: "A number of our most prominent deacons are a part of this group and support financially some interest in Israel...." What does that mean? Part of the rationale in hosting this is because some of our most "prominent" (read: "wealthy"?) have a financial interest in Israel? Does he mean they donate money to Israel? Does he mean that they have a financial interest in M-EDG or the FIBI? I'm no conspiracy theorist, but this just has the appearance that the decision to host this, the decision that the money is going to the AHMC and not some other equally worthy charity consistent with our church's mission, is done for reasons other than what is the best for the cause of Christ and for our church. I find no fault with Dr. Cohen or M-EDG; Dr. Cohen's list of credentials in business and philanthropy is impressive. But if this is common practice at our mega churches in the SBC, hosting fund raisers for non-Christian charities that our "prominent deacons" have an interest in, then please forgive me for being so alarmed. By the way, this is precisely the reason why it is unwise for a wealthy member of the church to give a $300,000 land gift to the new pastor upon his arrival, and doubly unwise for the pastor to accept it. The circumstances here, and his email statements to a member make it look as though the pastor is looking out for the interests of the wealthy deacons and not the best interest of the church at large. I thought that a pastor of a mega church carefully guarded his flock and the church to make sure all efforts, all resources, all activities of the church are laser-focused on furthering the gospel. I know that was the focus of Homer Lindsay, Jr. and Jerry Vines.
4. The lack of communication by our pastor to the congregation about this event makes it look as though he has something to hide about the event. A member has posted email responses from the pastor to his questions on why the event is being hosted, and the responses contradict information given on the website, and I suspect that one of the responses may be outright fallacious. In response to a question about his silence on this to his congregation he replied "I have mentioned it from the pulpit on several occasions. The deacons know about and support (sic). I am sorry you did not hear the several times I have talked about it." Still haven't talked to anyone at church who recalls when he explained it to us. The church at large first learned about this event was the week of October 12th while Mac Brunson was on a 2-week vacation, when it appeared on the church website scrolling announcement. He also made this statement in an email: "We are not supporting abortions at this hospital, it is a wing for orthopedics and the offering that is taken that night is going to come from the Jews and the medical community. I told them not to count on FBC taking an offering for them." This seemingly contradicts the church's own website that says the love offering will be taken from Christians out of obedience to Romans 15:27 to share our material blessings with the Jews (which is a misuse of scripture - this scripture refers to Paul giving to believing Jews). So which is it? Only the medical community and the Jews? Or are Christians going to be urged to give?
Well, that is what I have. Take your shots. Call me nosey. Call me a biblical slanderer. But deal with the information. I look at these facts and I see a pastor negligent in his duties to guard the church and keeping us on track to spread the gospel. I see this and I see factors other than "how can we get the gospel out to the world" influencing how decisions are made to hold events. This makes me further wonder - was this very lack of wise leadership displayed by our pastor the reasons many of our staff has fled in the past year? Questions, only more questions.
If you are a pastor who comes to FBC Jacksonville for the pastor's conference and are concerned about this information, I hope you will call or email Mac Brunson to express your disappointment and let him know you'll pass on the pastor's conference this year. You can still watch many of the services via the church live feed over the Internet and be blessed by the excellent line up of speakers, but keep your church's monies from going to a careless pastor.
All this said: Mac its still not too late to do the right thing. You still have time to tell the event organizers that the event will have to go to a neutral site and set things right with your congregation.