Five Things You Need to Know About the FBC Naples Crisis
1. Two sides, Two stories at FBC Naples
Church leadership announced that a new senior pastor was not hired because the nominee failed to meet the 85% approval threshold. Marcus Hayes, an African-American who is on staff at Biltmore Church in the Asheville, North Carolina area, was the candidate. The final vote was 81 percent in favor and 19 percent against. The church staff alleged that racism was behind the rejection. However, no evidence of racism has yet been produced. In fact, concerned church members have come forward to reveal the questions and concerns they had about the nominee. Their considerations related to legitimate theological, moral, and political issues. The church leadership released a statement explaining how the church membership wasn’t supposed to vote their conscience, but rather rubberstamp the search committee’s recommendation:
“As most of you know, in Southern Baptist life, when a Senior Pastor comes in view of a call by the recommendation of a Search Committee, the actual vote is most always viewed as a ceremonial and celebratory affirmation of the Spirit’s leading within the hearts and minds of the Search Committee that has extended the call. Most church experiences, when it comes to a new Senior Pastor, are just that, a celebration and a time of looking forward with hope and optimism to what God has for the future. Our Pastoral Search Committee, lay leadership, and the Pastoral Staff all anticipated that our vote would be nothing less than an affirmative statement from our people that God had sovereignly chosen for Marcus Hayes to be our next Pastor. Sadly, that did not come to fruition. Our constitution and bylaws stated that a Senior Pastor must be affirmed by at least an 85% or higher vote. It is widely known that an 85% affirmative vote is unusually high. Our church voted by a percentage of 81 % to bring Marcus Hayes as our next Pastor. Unfortunately, this did not meet the threshold. If all things had been equal and fair, our story would not have reached as far and wide, and stoked the emotions that it has. But what was concluded was that all things were not fair nor were they right. A portion of the 19% that voted against Marcus Hayes did so based on racial prejudices. We know this because of the campaign that started just days before by a few disgruntled people in our church.”
Takeaway: So much for a democracy. So much for giving church members the benefit of the doubt. Raising concerns over a pastoral candidate’s seeming endorsement of the book Woke Church doesn’t make someone a racist.
2. Church members are upset over the treatment of the retiring pastor who served 27 years at FBC Naples
FBC Naples, Florida’s longtime senior pastor Hayes Wicker announced his retirement from pastoring the church in January 2019. Wicker spent 27 years as pastor of First Baptist Church of Naples. According to sources, Wicker wanted a long period of transition to the new leadership, with even an overlap to help the transition process. However, at some point the church leadership became hostile to the longtime pastor, according to church members. The leadership spread negative comments about the pastor and accused him of acting in bad faith, according to sources close to the church. Instead of the transition period Wicker announced, the staff strong-armed Wicker out after over a quarter of a century of service to the people of FBC Naples, sources told the Capstone Report.
Takeaway: The treatment of the retiring pastor at FBC Naples is eerily similar to the treatment of the retiring pastor at McLean Bible Church. What does this say about Big Eva?
3. Silencing Dissent: Church leadership begins questionable discipline process to punish conservative church members against or suspected of being against the pastoral nominee.
After Marcus Hayes failed to receive the necessary 85 percent affirmative vote to install him as pastor, the leadership of First Baptist Church Naples, including the church staff, launched a pogrom against dissenters. They released a statement to the church family blaming racism for the rejection of Marcus Hayes. They’ve even released an open letter to the SBC with the same claim. On the surface, Marcus Hayes is a highly recommended pastor who is seemingly qualified for the role. At the same time, some members were concerned about some of his social media posts that might indicate support for a pro-abortion, pro-LGBTQ Democrat presidential candidate, his endorsement of the problematic book Woke Church, his blocking some FBCN members on his social media platforms, and other theological, political, and administrative issues. Regardless of what specific concerns were held, it’s important to know that 1) no evidence of genuine racism on the part of those holding them has surfaced, and 2) the efforts these members made to ask questions and express reservations were not taken seriously.
Takeaway: One could reject the concerns of the church members and not label them racist. Why did the church leadership behave in such an aggressive and dismissive manner?
4. FBC Naples used unbiblical process to expel conservative critics.
Numerous now-former church members have been purged from the church membership roll. The process did not adhere to or reflect any biblical model. The church by-laws allow for the expulsion of members without consulting the entire church body. First Baptist Naples has a byzantine process that allows the pastoral staff to recommend to the deacons the expulsion of a member. The deacons vote on it, and, if they approve the recommendation, the individual then is informed. The process offers no protections for those suspected worthy of dismissal, so it invites rampant abuse. By circumventing the clear teachings of Matthew 18:15-17 regarding church discipline, this process showcases glaring problems with approaches to discipline that rely entirely on church oligarchies.
Takeaway: The problems here illustrate how important biblical models of church governance and judicial process are. Christians should model justice and love to the world. This models anything but love and mocks justice.
5. Intimidation used to silence some church members.
Many church members are staying silent because they fear their children will be kicked out of the Christian school run by the church. Sources close to the church administration have said they fear raising any issues that might bring adverse consequences to them, their children, or their grandchildren.
Takeaway: Using children as political pawns is despicable. Yet, that’s what multiple sources have alleged is happening to them. This is a warning to all Southern Baptists. If it can happen at FBC Naples, it can happen anywhere.