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

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Collecting marriage amendment petitions ‘easily do-able’ says movement initiator


LAKELAND (FBW)–”My hope is that we don’t look in our rear view mirror and say, ‘We should have done that,’” said Lakeland pastor Jay Dennis of the approaching deadline for petitions to get the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment before the state’s voters. Florida Baptists, along with thousands of other Christians in Florida, have been given a deadline of Jan. 23 to have petitions mailed in to a collection center at First Baptist Church in Orlando.

“If we lose this, it is a huge loss and an opening for the judiciary to overturn the Protection of Marriage Act. I think it will encourage homosexual activists to push their agenda through the courts,” Dennis said. “If the definition of marriage changes, every other moral issue will come unraveled.”

Jay Dennis made the motion before the 2004 Florida Baptist State Convention which began the push to support a statewide constitutional marriage amendment that would define marriage as “a God-ordained union between a man and a woman.” A unanimous vote affirmed Dennis’ motion. Although a drive in spring 2005 garnered 80,000 signatures of registered voters to have the amendment reviewed by state courts, more than 611,000 signed petitions are needed now to place the amendment on the ballot.

“This is easily do-able,” Dennis said.

Dennis, who describes himself as “passionate on the subject,” led members of The Church at the Mall in Lakeland to not only sign petitions themselves, but also to take the petitions to friends, family and co-workers. Members man a booth in the church lobby to distribute and collect the petitions. Pastor Dennis believes that the secret of a church’s success in collecting petitions is “signing them right then and putting them in the offering plates.”

The congregation, along with their long-time pastor, has paid the price for taking a stand on the controversial issue. For many months after Dennis led the Convention to adopt the petition drive, homosexual activists picketed his church each Sunday. The picketers, however, eventually tired of the weekly protests.

“They quit,” Dennis explained. “I guess they didn’t get a rise out of us, and didn’t get the publicity they wanted. We did have an opportunity to talk with them and love them for a while.”

Dissent on the issue now comes from a different source. After Dennis wrote, personally signed and mailed more than 600 letters to pastors of every church of every denomination in Polk County encouraging their support of the marriage amendment, he received “scolding” letters in return from fellow members of the clergy. Pastors from “mostly mainline denominations” accused Dennis of stirring up controversy and clinging to narrow-minded ideas, he said.

“My heart is burdened for pastors who have not seized this moment to take a stand,” Dennis said. “I think the media has played up ‘separation of church and state’ so much that they are afraid to get involved.”

Despite the opposition, Dennis encourages both pastors and lay persons to get involved. He also challenges the pastor of the largest church in every Florida county to follow his lead in writing letters to every other pastor in the area.

He is encouraged by the number of evangelicals, including Baptists, and the lay people of mainline churches who have chosen to take a stand whatever the cost.

“The champions of this whole movement will be the lay people,” he said. “I have heard people ask what they could do to make a difference. We can guarantee that their support here will make a difference.”

Dennis also said that such a large challenge requires both prayer and putting “feet to your prayers.”

“This is not a Democratic or Republican issue,” he said. “We are not mad at anybody. We are just taking a stand.”