Sunday, February 18, 2018
News Roundup

Church rift reflects political disunity

Something sad is going on at an institution most of us don't know enough about.

Bethlehem Progressive Baptist Church in Brooksville is 151 years old — absolutely ancient by the standards of this part of Florida. For years, if you were a prominent black resident of Hernando County, there was a good chance you belonged to Bethlehem.

Teachers at the old, segregated Moton School were members. So are Hazel Land, the first black woman to graduate from the University of Florida law school, and Willie Brooks, one of the county's first two black sheriff's deputies. Bethlehem's longtime former pastor was the now-deceased Rev. Louis Edrington McGhee, once Brooksville's most influential African-American leader.

And, until a few years ago, the handsome, white sanctuary on S Brooksville Avenue was packed every Sunday, as was the choir box.

Now, three dozen is a big crowd, Brooks said, and "we don't really have a choir. It's just a little put-together deal."

Some of the reasons for this decline are common in a lot of traditional churches, including an aging congregation.

But another isn't common at all. On Sept. 2, the Rev. Cecill Hubbert grew enraged as Brooks, 81, and another member of the congregation carried on a conversation as Hubbert was preaching — though several members said Hubbert was mostly just talking about the need for more donations.

Hubbert first asked Brooks to be quiet, said member Lorraine Stockley.

"Then he rushed off that pulpit and he said, 'Shut up! Shut up! I said shut up!' And he went to the back of the church and he said, 'When I say shut up, I mean shut up,' " Stockley said.

Hubbert reached around another elderly church member, Eddie Warren, and grabbed Brooks, "and we all went down in a pile," Brooks said.

"Everybody was shocked. I was screaming," Stockley said. "I was like, 'What the hell is going on? This is a church.' "

Nobody was hurt, said Brooks, though he has since been hospitalized twice with heart problems.

Brooks and Warren reported the attack to Brooksville police, but both of them signed documents stating they didn't want to press criminal charges.

When Brooks later changed his mind, a prosecutor told him that because of the signed affidavit, the matter would be impossible to prosecute.

So, there won't be a criminal case, and, at this point, there hasn't been any other real action.

Hubbert has never apologized to him in person, Brooks said, and others at the church said he hasn't done enough to ask the congregation's forgiveness.

Not only that, said longtime member Matilda Holland; Hubbert created the circumstances that led to the incident. Hubbert, she said, doesn't call business meetings because he likes to run the church his way, with the help of a few close allies in the congregation.

"They are just totally for the pastor, right or wrong," Holland said.

That's why Hubbert spent so much time on Sundays talking about money, she said, and why so many of the members tuned him out. That's also one reason why attendance had been declining, even before the incident with Brooks, she said.

Neither Hubbert nor his supporters returned several of my calls, so I don't know their side of the story.

I imagine it's different than the one I heard from his detractors, but I think it's safe to assume that nobody is happy with the way this has all played out.

I also think there might be parallels here with what's going on outside the church in the aftermath of another nasty local election.

Is this a reach? Maybe. There haven't been physical altercations that I know of, and I don't think anybody is expecting any apologies.

And is it sappy, not to mention hypocritical, for me to go all Rodney King and ask if we can all just get along? I'm sure some of you think so.

But, still, we have disagreements to put behind us, work that can get done only if we do it together.

When I interviewed Brooks two weeks ago, he said he wasn't interested in hearing an apology from Hubbert at this point. It's too late, he said, and he won't come back to the church "until this whole mess is straightened out."

But several other members still do attend and said they would listen if Hubbert asked for forgiveness and expressed a willingness to change the way he runs the church.

"That's what we Christians do," said Andy Williams, a former county employee and lifelong church member.

But it ought to happen soon, he said: "The Bible says not to let the sun go down on your wrath. Because tomorrow is not promised."

Comments

Pinellas Sheriff’s Office accuses 14-year-old of copycat Snapchat school threat

PINELLAS PARK — The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office late Saturday said detectives arrested a 14-year-old boy and accused him of posting a threat to a school on his Snapchat account.Edward Charles Osgood, who attends Lealman Innovation Academy, was a...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Ten things to know about Stormy Daniels

Ten things to know about Stormy Daniels

1. Was editor of her high school newspaper, president of her 4-H club.2. Started stripping at age 17 in Baton Rouge, La.3. Made her first porn film with a girlfriend.4. Took her stage name from the Motley Crue bassist, who named his son Storm, and fr...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Trump adviser: Russian meddling ‘incontrovertible’

Trump adviser: Russian meddling ‘incontrovertible’

MUNICH — President Donald Trump’s national security adviser said Saturday there was "incontrovertible" evidence of a Russian plot to disrupt the 2016 U.S. election, a blunt statement that shows how significantly the new criminal charges leveled by an...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Prominent Republican donor issues an ultimatum

Prominent Republican donor issues an ultimatum

A prominent Republican political donor demanded on Saturday that the party pass legislation to restrict access to guns, and vowed not to contribute to any candidates or electioneering groups that did not support a ban on the sale of military-style fi...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Hundreds rally against gun violence in downtown St. Pete

Hundreds rally against gun violence in downtown St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG — A red heart-shaped balloon rose above crowd of several hundred people that had gathered at Williams Park on Saturday evening to mourn Wednesday’s school shooting in Broward County and to protest gun violence.Below the balloon, signs ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Trumpeter is the highlight of a concert featuring ‘West Side Story’ themes

Trumpeter is the highlight of a concert featuring ‘West Side Story’ themes

TAMPA — Leonard Bernstein would have turned 100 this year. The Florida Orchestra performed two of his works Friday, the second of which paired the dances from West Side Story with the overture to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet.The orches...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Stormy at the strip club: A porn star cashes in on presidential connection

Stormy at the strip club: A porn star cashes in on presidential connection

TAMPA — In the center of the nightclub, between the cigar case and bustling bar, a giant screen blankets the back wall. Usually, ads for drink specials and coming attractions scroll across.But Friday night, a life-size picture of President Donald Tru...
Updated: 10 hours ago

Man found dead in flaming mobile home

TAMPA — Firefighters found a man dead inside a burned-down mobile home Saturday.Tampa Fire Rescue got a call just after 4:30 p.m. that a single-wide mobile home at the 100 block of East Linebaugh Avenue was in flames.The man’s identity was not releas...
Updated: 12 hours ago
‘I’m going to watch you bleed’: Nikolas Cruz threatened ex’s new boyfriend, report says

‘I’m going to watch you bleed’: Nikolas Cruz threatened ex’s new boyfriend, report says

Warning: This story quotes graphic material.Before he killed 17 people at a South Florida high school, Nikolas Cruz repeatedly threatened an ex-classmate who had started dating his former girlfriend, according to a report in Buzzfeed News."I’m going ...
Published: 02/17/18

Police find dead man in Tampa apartment

TAMPA — Police found a dead man inside an apartment in the 5200 block of Sonora Court Friday after 3 p.m.Who the man is or how long he’s been dead is not yet clear, police said. The victim appears to have been killed in some sort of "homicidal violen...
Published: 02/17/18