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First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., reportedly voted Wednesday night to loan up to $500,000 for start-up funds of a new Christian academy.

A Web site launched Thursday said First Baptist Academy of Jacksonville will open in the fall of 2009, initially with 240 students grades K-3. The site includes job postings for a headmaster and teachers.

A “watchdog” Web site said Wednesday’s vote was not announced in advance from the pulpit or in church bulletins. The motion, reportedly approved unanimously Sunday by deacons, was to “move forward with the establishment of First Baptist Church Academy of Jacksonville, Inc.”

A second part of the motion extends a loan of up to $500,000 for “associated start up costs.” The loan, according to FBC Jax Watchdog, will be no-interest and drawn as needed with approval by the FBC board of trustees.

EthicsDaily.com reported last December the Florida mega-church, one of the most influential congregations in the Southern Baptist Convention, was considering launching a Christian school as part of a grassroots strategy to eventually build a large network of Southern Baptist church and home schools to compete with public education.

The FBC Academy Web site links to the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools, an organization that envisions a “nationwide system of Christian schools of excellence, uniting home, church and school in Jesus Christ to produce true disciples who reach and change the world.”

Ed Gamble, the group’s executive director, spoke at First Baptist Jacksonville in December. Gamble believes secular education undermines values taught in churches and Christian homes. His solution is to build an alternative “public” school system “open to the public but owned and operated by the body of Christ.”

Some members of FBC Jacksonville question whether the time is right for a major financial commitment like a Christian school. Disgruntled members have been airing grievances with Pastor Mac Brunson publicly in the FBC Watchdog blog, and giving is reportedly suffering.

Recently Brunson announced there would be a special offering on Easter to raise money to put his sermons on a Christian television network.

Brunson has said he supports the idea of a Christian school because of positive experiences with an academy attached to his former church, First Baptist Church in Dallas, where he served between 1999 and 2006.

He also has said the church needed to consider starting a school is because traditional door-to-door evangelism no longer works.

“We go knock on doors now and you can’t ever find anybody at home,” he said. “Let me tell you something. I’m never at home. You’re never at home. I’ve tried to come see some of you, and I know you’re not at home. Nobody else is ever at home. One of the most effective ways we have of reaching the next generation and reaching their parents is through a school.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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