Heath Lambert, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida sparked online criticism for requiring churchgoers to sign and abide by a "biblical sexuality" pledge.
The pledge in question rejects LGBTQ+ people and unequivocally affirms the church's opposition to same-sex marriage. Lambert gave church members a deadline of March 19 to sign otherwise they will no longer be members.
"As a member of First Baptist Church, I believe that God creates people in his image as either male or female, and that this creation is a fixed matter of human biology, not individual choice."
"I believe marriage is instituted by God, not government, is between one man and one woman, and is the only context for sexual desire and expression.”
Lambert denied in an interview with Rolling Stone that the pledge discriminates against LGBTQ+ people, saying only it "does rule out the LGBTQ array of sins" and that rape, incest, polygamy, "and all sorts of things are ruled out just as much as homosexuality.”
In an official statement, the First Baptist Church said the pledge “is an exercise in clarity so that our members might understand our most fundamental commitments in a sexually confused world. It is also an exercise in love toward a lost world that desperately needs to know God’s standard for human sexuality.”
Lambert held an open mic event to address the community about the pledge's importance.
The open mic event was held in response to "concern, questions, and anger" the church acknowledges reared up since the pledge and its requirements were formally introduced.
Lambert insisted to reporters the pledge offers nothing controversial from a biblical standpoint and those who choose not to sign the pledge are still welcome to attend church services—they just won't be considered full members of the organization.
Mark Rutzen, a member of the congregation, toldAction News Jax only full members can become deacons, teach and "hold a position on staff here of any authority or anything like that."
However, community member Sheri Lynn signaled not everyone in the congregation is on board with the new policy, saying people "need to love on one another and embrace one another," not "judge" or "separate."
The news of the pledge exposed Lambert and the church to significant criticism online.
More information about the “Statement on Biblical Sexuality” can be found on the First Baptist Church Jacksonville website, which also requires church members to declare there are only two genders.
Lambert and the church denied the policy is transphobic as well as homophobic.