110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Jen Horton
posted Feb 26, 2014 - 3:28:06pm
Yes, they gather on the street corner, they hold signs, they proclaim their belief in Jesus Christ — often quite loudly — and they pass out religious tracts.
Those things are true.
James Knox, pastor of Bible Baptist Church, said pretty much everything else people say about his church isn't true.
"The perception is, we live in a cave somewhere and come out once a week to yell at people," Knox said. "We're not vampires or zombies, we're not monsters."
Bible Baptist Church in Glenwood has about 250 to 300 members in its local congregation, Knox said.
The congregation includes no monsters, but does include doctors, business owners, teachers, construction workers, and pretty much anyone from any walk of life who wants to be a member of the church.
"People say we don't allow women to have jobs, don't allow our children to go to college, don't allow minorities in our church," Knox said. "None of that stuff is true."
Gossip and rumors portray Bible Baptist as a cult-like church.
Knox repudiated that, as well.
"The idea that we're a cult is based on what? That we're more dedicated to our cause than you are? That's a word that's hateful, it's name-calling. Cult — it's like a kindergartener calling another kid a name," Knox said. "You are free to join us and you are free to leave. No one is forced to attend our church."
Some former members of the church have slammed Bible Baptist in comments published on social-media websites.
"Who hasn't left a church at some point?" Knox said. "Most people have changed churches."
Comments on social-media websites rarely include the church’s side of the story, Knox noted.
"Your website has comments on it about this," he told The Beacon. "No one differentiates between what someone posted as a comment and what The Beacon writes as a story. That's hurtful."
Bible Baptist Church has been in and out of the media spotlight for three decades. Most recently, members have been defending their right to spend a couple of hours each week standing on the corner of Woodland Boulevard and New York Avenue sharing God’s Word.
Business owners have told the DeLand City Commission the church members’ actions are hurting their businesses. The complaint has surfaced many times over the years, but the City Commission has declined to regulate the street-preaching because it is protected by the First Amendment.
This year’s rally against the street-preaching has a new element: a counter demonstration group whose members have added to the number of people on the corner on Friday afternoons. A Facebook group also formed to protest the street preachers, and its members hold signs at the corner, too.
DeLandites are used to activity on the corner. During election seasons, it is a frequent haunt of sign-wavers touting political candidates or campaigns. Rarely does that activity draw complaints.
But people do complain about the street preachers.
Knox said he believes, in spite of comments to the contrary, it's the message people don't like to have waved in their faces.
"We live in a day and age where people don't think; they feel," he said.
He said preaching on street corners is a tradition that goes back thousands of years.
"The first basic practice of Christianity, from Day 1, is people who believe in Jesus Christ make His gospel known to others," Knox said.
What Bible Baptist members do is not new, nor is opposition to it.
Throughout history, Knox said, prophets, disciples, and Jesus himself, found well-populated areas and preached. Sometimes they were well-received and a church was formed by those who listened, and sometimes they were beaten and thrown out of town.
People from the community have said Bible Baptist Church members are aggressive bullies who disrupt commerce, and pose a danger to pedestrians at the corner.
"Here's what's interesting: a few people say we're hateful, we're aggressive, we're mean-spirited, but just look at the signs," Knox said. "The counter-protester signs are personally directed at us, but we're called the hateful ones. It's petty."
Regardless of their differences in beliefs, Knox is happy the counter-protesters have the same right to free speech as he does.
"That's the very thing our Founding Fathers had in mind," he said. "If you have a belief that's different than mine and you stand on the corner next to me, I'm for that — even if I disagree with you."
DeLand isn’t being singled out for public preaching, Knox said. Members of Bible Baptist Church will be at the Daytona 500, the Mount Dora Art Festival, Titusville’s wine festival and various other events and parades.
"Nobody seems to have a problem with us except for our hometown, DeLand," Knox said.
Congregation members filled DeLand City Hall Feb. 17 for a discussion of the First Amendment at a City Commission meeting. Knox said he liked the looks on the faces of those attending, as they took note of the normal-looking people with the well-behaved children.
"Who did you think we were?" he said. "We're Christians. We look like everyone else. We're not vampires."
While the news media often focus on their ministry on the corner, Bible Baptist Church does good locally and worldwide, Knox said.
Church members assist with the establishment and maintenance of orphanages, schools and other humanitarian efforts in many third-world nations. Its members have donated more than $3 million to those causes.
Closer to home, they minister weekly in prisons, nursing homes and rescue missions.
"You don't see anyone writing about that," Knox said.
Knox has served as pastor of Bible Baptist Church since 1987. He is the author of 35 books, which have sold nearly 800,000 copies. He is heard on radio across the nation and around the world, and has received comments on his preaching from 182 nations.
Bible Baptist Church has services on Sundays and Thursdays at 872 Glenwood Road. Service times are listed at the church website, www.jamesknox.com.
The comments posted below are posted by readers, not by The Beacon staff. These comments express the views and opinions of the authors, and not the administrators, moderators or webmaster. The comments forum is governed by these rules. Please use the report abuse link if you find offensive comments.
Did you find this story interesting or informative? Subscribe to The West Volusia Beacon to read more stories by Jen Horton, along with others from our award-winning writers. Subscribe now!