Pastor Marcus Hayes Withdraws From Consideration at First Baptist Church of Naples, Florida

Church leaders say “racial prejudice” entered into a vote that denied Marcus Hayes, shown with his wife Mandy and their three daughters, the job of senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Naples, Fla., Oct. 27. Photo from Twitter

A black Southern Baptist minister has withdrawn his name from further consideration at the Florida megachurch that failed last month to achieve the supermajority vote required to call him as pastor, sparking accusations of racism from within and outside the congregation.

First Baptist Church of Naples, Florida, announced yesterday in an email to members that Marcus Hayes “has asked that his name be removed from consideration to be our next Senior Pastor.” The email, signed by the congregation’s eight-member senior pastor search team, called the withdrawal of Hayes’ candidacy “a major disappointment to several thousand members and supporters of First Baptist.”

Hayes has declined to make a statement to media regarding his decision.

Search team chairman Neil Dorrill had told the congregation November 2 he hoped Hayes, an African American, would allow himself to be considered a second time as a candidate for the senior pastor vacancy.

Currently a campus pastor at Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden, North Carolina, Hayes was presented October 26 and 27 as the candidate for the top leadership spot at the predominantly Anglo church. Its bylaws require “at least an 85% majority vote by secret ballot” to elect a senior pastor. But Hayes garnered only 1,552 of the 1,917 votes cast (81%).

Following the vote, FBC Naples’ executive pastor John Edie claimed in an open letter to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) that there were “racial prejudices” behind the vote, which manifested themselves in a “campaign that started just days before.” The church, he said, had already begun “to make sure that this sinful cancer is dealt with.”

That week, First Baptist’s deacons voted to remove from membership at least 18 people as an act of church discipline. One of those disciplined members, Bob Caudill, a former deacon and member of the pastor search committee, was told his expulsion came as consequence of breaking the church covenant, failing to protect the church’s unity, not acting in love, gossiping, and failing to follow church leaders.

But Caudill told Christianity Today a different story. He said he and 17 others who also received church discipline from the deacons raised questions about Hayes that had nothing to do with racism but that stemmed from at least seven months of church conflict.

While the church is attempting to discern which interpretation of events is correct, the SBC more broadly has been paying attention. As the denomination continues its efforts to raise up more leaders of color, it has been forced to confront an ongoing history of racism. (Just this week a 2012 letter from former seminary president Paige Patterson was made public, indicating that he worried about a theological backslide under the denomination’s first black president.)

Southern Baptists took note of Edie’s letter regarding the FBC Naples vote and shared their reactions online. Dwight McKissic, an African American pastor in Texas, called it “shameful” and stated he may make a motion in 2020 for the SBC to withdraw fellowship from First Baptist. Former SBC President Jack Graham said it “appears that there was racism” involved in the vote.

First Baptist declined to share further details about its allegation of racism, though Dorrill said at an October 24 Q&A session with Hayes that “inappropriate emails” were sent to Hayes’s church in North Carolina. CT was not able to confirm whether the North Carolina congregation received such communications.

Additionally, a lengthy email was sent last month to hundreds of First Baptist members, criticizing Hayes’ positions on race in the church based on his posts on social media and implying Hayes espouses liberal views. When asked in a Q&A session about accusations of liberalism, Hayes said he is “as conservative as they come,” the Naples Daily News reported.

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Source: Christianity Today