First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, a venerable downtown religious landmark, is in full-out civil war after a year of sporadic confrontations about financial accountability and transparency.
On Friday night First Baptist trustees, seemingly under the control of Lead Pastor James Welch, released an email that expelled from membership — much like Catholic excommunication — an entire dissident faction, an estimated 200 churchgoers.
The group has been pressing for dialog about finances, the future of the property-rich institution and Welch’s controversial, top-down management style. He took control of the church in early 2019.
There could be no more dramatic example of that style than the trustees’ Friday night purge.
“All we ever wanted was to have a voice,” said Brian Keno, a leader of Concerned Members of First Baptist Church, and now, apparently, a former congregant. “We started strong. So many left in disgust.”
Following inquiries from Florida Bulldog, Romney Rogers, a lawyer for First Baptist and a longtime church insider, forwarded the trustees’ statement that exiled the dissidents.
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