October 4, 2007 Publishing Good News since 1884 Volume 124 Number 235

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Marriage amendment needs more than symbolism


The Florida Marriage Protection Amendment signing ceremony during the Florida Baptist State Convention annual meeting in Ocala was important symbolically. But symbols alone will not get the job done.

Don’t get me wrong. High praise is due to FBSC President Hayes Wicker, First Vice President Mike Landry, State Board of Missions President Ben Bryant, and Florida Baptist Convention Executive Director-Treasurer John Sullivan for personally endorsing the marriage amendment effort with their signatures and for giving time during the annual meeting schedule Tuesday morning to bring special attention to this worthy effort. As valuable as the signing ceremony was, however, it will take more than symbolic actions for Florida Baptists to fully play our part in making sure that the marriage amendment is on the ballot next November.

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And, time is running out. As of Nov. 21, only 109,542 valid petitions have been received by the Florida Secretary of State office – with 611,009 required to qualify the amendment and send it to voters next fall. The Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage, which the Florida Baptist Convention participates in, has set the end of 2005 as its “internal deadline” to receive the petitions. Clearly, there is much work left to be done – and Florida Baptists must play our part.

This editorial is the third time this year, and the second in one month, that I have focused on the marriage amendment. (Since my last editorial, merely 11,000 additional petitions have been collected; the total stood at 98,447 as of Oct. 17.) Some readers, no doubt, may think that I sound like a broken record on this matter – sounding the same note over and over. Others may chafe at my agitation on something they regard as “political.”

One reader offered such an assessment of the Witness to me at our exhibit in Ocala. “Too political,” was his opinion about the content of this newspaper. Perhaps he had in mind coverage of things like the marriage amendment. I’ll never know for sure because he was not interested in actually discussing the matter with me; he expressed his opinion, rejected my attempt to seek clarification of his thoughts, and departed.

Because it is so contrary to the overwhelmingly affirmative response I receive from others, I’m confident that this reader is in the distinct minority in his assessment. Still, the claim is perplexing and disappointing to me, and illustrates the danger that too many Florida Baptists may share a similar misunderstanding that involvement in an effort like the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment is inappropriate or even illegal for ministers and churches.

In fact, it is entirely appropriate for ministers to educate their church members about issues in our society and to lead church members to understand their biblical obligations of citizenship. Further, churches do not jeopardize their tax-exempt status by participating in efforts like the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment. Mat Staver, religious liberty attorney and president of Liberty Counsel in Orlando, wrote in a recent legal opinion “churches may actively promote the passage of marriage amendments” without endangering their tax-exempt status.

Other myths about the marriage amendment are circulating to which the Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage has responded in a recent e-mail:

MYTH: The Florida Supreme Court must rule on the “single subject” requirement of the amendment before petitions can be gathered.

“No! We cannot wait – and we must not wait for the court to rule,” answers the Coalition. “The court may not rule at all until just before their legal deadline of April 1, 2006, so we must collect all 611,009 signatures immediately and while we still have time. Our internal deadline is Dec. 31, 2005. We are confident the court will let the people decide this issue when it does rule.”

MYTH: The marriage amendment effort does not need financial support.

“We need a huge amount of money to continue and complete the final phase of the petition campaign,” responds the Coalition. “We, therefore, encourage and welcome all contributions both large and small.”

MYTH: Online petitions may be filed.

“This is totally false! There are no online petitions in this effort. Only physical paper petitions with actual original ink signatures will be valid,” according to the Coalition. Copies of the petition, however, may be obtained online on our Web site (www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com) or the Coalition’s Web site (www.florida4marriage.org).

MYTH: The petition gathering process is “moving right along as scheduled.”

The Coalition answers: “The petition effort is way behind schedule and we need your help now in getting the petitions collected in your church, neighborhood and schools.”

MYTH: The Florida Marriage Protection Amendment will change current law and prohibit private or public agencies from granting same-sex benefits.

“The Amendment will permanently establish the current Florida law into the state constitution. The Amendment does prohibit polygamy, polyamory (group marriage) and same-sex marriage. This Amendment does not prohibit same-sex partner benefits by private or public agencies.”

For more information about the marriage amendment effort, including resources for pastors, visit the Coalition’s Web site: www.florida4marriage.org.

Fortunately, the Florida Baptist Convention is giving more than symbolic support to the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment. In addition to contributing $25,000 to the Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage, the Florida Baptist Convention has hired Bill Bunkley, a Tallahassee veteran and longtime member of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, to assist the Convention in educating Florida Baptist associations and churches on the marriage amendment effort.

Additionally, during the FBSC in Ocala last week, more than 400 petitions were signed, 200 pastors took information on the petition effort for their churches, and 500 Florida Baptists agreed to be a “Defender of Marriage” – agreeing to enlist 10 other petition signers and gatherers.

Florida Baptists put the marriage amendment on the front burner when we enthusiastically and unanimously adopted a motion at the 2004 annual meeting offered by Lakeland pastor Jay Dennis to “lead the way and go on record as supporting a statewide constitutional marriage amendment that defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman and is the God-ordained building block of the family and bedrock of civil society.”

Like the signing ceremony this year, Dennis’ motion was also a symbolically important act. Nevertheless, more than symbolism is needed. Will we in fact “lead the way” on this effort? Only time will tell – and time is running out.