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July 30th, 2012
04:53 PM ET

Church that barred black wedding affirms commitment to equal treatment

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) -A Mississippi church that wouldn't allow a black couple to marry in its sanctuary because of the couple's race  appears to be trying to right a wrong, as officials with the church's denomination decried the incident.

Charles and Te' Andrea Wilson, regular attendees at First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, were forced to relocate their wedding this month at the last minute.  Their pastor, Stan Weatherford, made the relocation request on behalf of some congregants who didn't want to see the couple married there, according to CNN affiliate WLBT.

Weatherford performed the ceremony at a nearby church.

At services on Sunday, the congregation's leadership addressed the controversy in a statement read to the church.

"Our many ministries here are open to everyone and have been for many years," the church deacons said in a statement read to the congregation, according to The Clarion Ledger. "We would never consider doing otherwise."

When contacted Monday evening, Weatherford said the church would have no comment on the situation.

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In an interview Monday, a local Baptist official said the church leadership was trying to address the controversy and to move past it with the statement from church deacons.

"The deacons made an affirmation that First Baptist Church would be available to minister to anybody in the church or the community.  That went over real well," said Copiah County Baptist Association Director George Pat Bufkin, who attended the service. " They're now in the way of amends."

Bufkin portrayed the move to deny the black couple a chance to marry in the church as the work of a small minority whom he called "radicals" and who he said made mostly anonymous calls to their pastor to complain about the black couple's wedding.  Bufkin said he did not know who exactly was behind the calls.

Bufkin, whose group is made up of 30 Baptist churches in the area, said First Baptist is among the largest in the county. The 150-year-old church has around 800 members, he said, and is in the midst of a building campaign.

"Anytime the church grows you always have the devil there, trying to stir up problems," Bufkin said.  "That's what occurred here and the deacons have already nipped that in the bud."

Weatherford, the First Baptist pastor, told CNN affiliate WLBT last week about why he agreed to move the wedding.

"I didn't want to have a controversy within the church, and I didn't want a controversy to affect the wedding of Charles and Te' Andrea," he said. "I wanted to make sure their wedding day was a special day."

Calls, e-mails and text messages to the pastor by CNN were not returned on Monday.  No one answered the telephone at the church office.

Jonathan Thompson, the 27-year-old community relations director for the city of Crystal Springs, was at First Baptist's Sunday service, and said the incident "didn't represent all the people of the church."

"I wanted to come as a voice of racial reconciliation and spiritual reconciliation," said Thompson, who is African-American, explaining his decision to go to the church on Sunday.

Thompson said he was welcomed at the service.   "I was allowed to give the closing prayer," he said.  He said he prayed God would forgive all of them for their sins and that they would be able to find reconciliation.

Thompson has organized a unity rally for Monday night for area churches to come together to meet, sing and pray.

"I think this is an opportunity to really get intentional about reconciling," he said.

First Baptist's move to deny a wedding venue has been blasted by local and national officials with the Southern Baptist Convention, whose 16 million members make up the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.

"Mississippi Baptists both reject racial discrimination and at the same time respect the autonomy of our local churches to deal with difficulties and disagreements under the lordship of Jesus," said Dr. Jim Futral, the executive director the Mississippi Baptist Convention.

"While there may be hurts, wrongs and mistakes that must be addressed, the context for this to happen is in a historical church with a genuine caring pastor and thoughtful leaders who are seeking to do right," Futral's statement continued. "We, along with our entire body of faith, pray for them and stand ready to do anything that we can to help that church and that community."

A spokesman for the Southern Baptist executive committee told CNN the group would defer to local and state organizations for comment.

"We're not a top down organization," said Roger Oldham. "We're a bottom up organization. The congregation is the governing body."

Oldham said the local church needs to take corrective measures and he said they appear to be doing that in this case.

"The SBC has taken a strong position that racism is a sin and Christians should always oppose it," he said, referring to the Southern Baptist Convention.  "We're also grieved when a small group attempts to set policy for the entire congregation."

Richard Land, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, criticized First Baptist's action.

"There are valid as well as nonvalid reasons for not permitting a couple to get married with the blessing of that local congregation of believers," Land said. "The race or ethnicity of that couple is never a valid reason and any local body of believers who rejects a couple on those grounds should be reprimanded."

"Everyone should understand that in the SBC this decision resides with the local congregation for good or ill. If this couple was indeed rejected because of their race, as a Southern Baptist I’m embarrassed, frustrated, and I apologize to the couple on behalf of the Convention for the hurt and emotional pain they’ve experienced,” Land's statement continued.

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Charles Wilson, the groom at the center of the controversy, said on Sunday, "All we wanted to do in the eyes of God was to be man and wife in a church that we thought we felt loved. What was wrong with that?"

Te'Andrea Wilson said, "I had dreams of having my wedding the way I wanted it, and I also dreamed of having it at the church and unfortunately, it didn't happen."

Her husband said if there was a time to "step up and be Christ-like," it was before their wedding.

"If it was such a minority of people, why didn't the majority stand up and say, 'In God's house we don't do this'?" Charles Wilson asked.

On Sunday, some church members reacted to news of the wedding with surprise. Many hadn't known what happened to the Wilsons until they heard about it on the news, and offered apologies.

"I would say I'm sorry this happened and would you forgive the people who caused it? Because we're gonna try to," Bob Mack told CNN affiliate WLBT.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Baptist • Christianity • Church

soundoff (933 Responses)
  1. Frida

    This is unbelievable!!!!! The pastor should be fired, the church's non-profit status & all government benefits that go with that should be revoked. It is an absolutely UNchristian thing to do! May this couple have a long & loving life together. And I hope all of this publicity gets them about a zilion wedding gifts from all over the US!

    July 31, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • Camdens_Log82

      Why would a Black couple even want to marry in a predominantly white church? The couple is the stupid ones.

      July 31, 2012 at 1:53 am |
    • Angelo

      I'm gonna send her a wedding gift. Another "bloo toof" earpiece for her other ear.

      July 31, 2012 at 2:10 am |
  2. Angelo

    Sorry but anyone who goes on network news TV with a stupid bluetooth earpiece in their ear deserves far worse than being kicked out of a church.

    Or as she would call it, "blutoof"

    July 31, 2012 at 1:46 am |
    • Angelo

      Bloo Toof!
      Bloo Toof!

      Seriously, who does that? Who wears a Bluetooth earpiece while being interviewed on TV? Like, is she gonna take a call in the middle of the interview?

      "Oh, hold up, hold up. I gotta call. Hallow! What up Sharonda! Yeh, I'm on TV gurl, ha-ha. Das rite gurl!"

      July 31, 2012 at 2:08 am |
  3. Remi

    The "minority"group that was so vehemently against this couple getting married in the church in question should be made to pay for the couple's wedding costs as a form of amends. Then we can talk about forgiveness.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:38 am |
  4. Genie

    Oh, it was the devil that caused this trouble? He so evil. If growing churches are thus vulnerable to satan, maybe they should keep their numbers down.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:32 am |
  5. Genie

    Oh, it was that dratted rascal the devil that caused this trouble. Hm, if growing churches are that vulnerable to Satan then maybe churches should keep their numbers down.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:28 am |
  6. iTexan

    The Radical Right strikes again, hiding behind a cloak of "Christianity". Such insanity. They possess no humanity. Makes me want to resort to profanity. Once again we learn the Radical Right is so pathetically wrong.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • Genie

      No no, not hiding behind Christianity. Didn't you read the article? They're hiding behind satan this.time!

      July 31, 2012 at 1:34 am |
  7. Rev. Deninah Goodwin

    And judgement begins, at the House of God. This example, is an obvious example, still of how far, we have to go, to deal, with the issue, of racism,in the church. First we must admit, like any sin, that it exists, and then asks ourselves, as Peter, asked, at the Last Supper,' Lord is it ' ? Then, we as the Body of Christ, must make purposeful attempts, to mix racially, for we are many members, united in one Body! And even though, there are cultural differences, that may make us,lean, towards, certain, types of worship, we should never lean, to complete denial, that we are all, our Father;s Children ! Do we really believe, that there will be, a ' Segregated Heaven' ? God forbid.......The body at this church, must absolutely, be intolerable, of these deacons, behavior....and take actions accordingly.....BeSteadfast, Preacher Deninah

    July 31, 2012 at 1:08 am |
    • Sean

      ug. You totally missed the point. Sad.

      July 31, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  8. A Little Common Sense

    Funny, a whole long article about how apologetic these people are, but I didn't see one thing about them offering the couple the choice of a symbolic marriage ceremony at the church to show both acceptance & tell the bigots there cries for hate won't be tolerated & they won't get their way.

    But I guess, aside from a PR tactic or 2, they will be tolerated & they will get their way.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:50 am |
  9. ezo

    So, exactly what do the members of this church worship during Sunday service? It certainly has nothing to do with Christianity. Like a war mongering, foul tempered presidential candidate who professes to be so religious; people of one political affiliation bragging about how more-often they attend church over their counterparts; members of another religion who protect pedophile priests. There's only one word to describe them all: Hypocrites! God is NOT mocked! May he have mercy on your wretched souls.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:48 am |
  10. D-Mac

    Check out a discussion on this topic – Faith2.com

    July 31, 2012 at 12:44 am |
  11. Brian

    Sociologists have long pointed out that the one hour of church on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in American life.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:41 am |
  12. John

    My dad left Mississippi in 1960 and told me "there is no reason to go to or do anything in the State of Mississippi." Words that I have not forgotten and exactly what a black father should tell his sons. Iraq > Mississippi, Afghanistan > Mississippi, Hell > Mississippi.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:36 am |
  13. neil

    Help us save the jobs of 5 people
    http://www.indiegogo.com/save-our-jobs
    Please help

    July 31, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  14. Get 'em

    I'll pitch in $50 to pay for a PI to find out who made the phone calls. When we find out thier names we post them on blogs, we picket their business, their home and send letters to thier mamma asking the obvious question....

    July 31, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • Genie

      Who called.is irrelevant, why did the pastor cave to them in the first place? Anonymous my foot.

      July 31, 2012 at 1:37 am |
  15. Fear of unknown

    Sounds like Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich Church. Say away from Blacks, gays and minorities. Usual Romney strategy. He was against this marriage but now he is for it.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  16. AuntSlappie

    I hate to say that I was shocked and saddened to hear that such biggotry had taken place. I had to make sure that the calender was still reading 2012! I can excuse the behavior of the congregation as it is comprised of the "simple man". The pastor is, as should be, held to a "higher" level of standards. He is the leader of his "flock" and must lead by example. Even if that example is not a "popular" theme for the congregation.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • ericgoestoholland

      No one's behavior is excusable here. A person who calls themselves a Christian that engages in racism is no true follower at all. Just a charlatan masking a spirit of hatred with faith.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:55 am |
  17. Miklan

    The "Good Book" strikes again!

    July 31, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  18. Craig

    "Mississippi Baptists...and at the same time respect the autonomy of our local churches to deal with difficulties and disagreements under the lordship of Jesus."

    I have news for you, folks. There is no way Jesus would have denied these people the choice of being married in his church. We all know that. This is exactly what it appears to be...pure, unadulterated racial hatred, cloaked in the guise of the church. The word hypocritical is too mild to describe these people. If Jesus returned today he'd be appalled at the actions taken in his name, and this church would be right at the top of the list.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Becca

      This is just awful! When I read of this I could not believe it. I do not go to church any more as I feel like this GOD does not say I have to go to the church to believe in him does he???? Well I do not think so. This way I am sure to stay away from people like this who are such good CHRISTIANS. I feel that so many peopleho gather in a church really are so untrue to god.
      All of this non gay and non black and non who ever is just a darn shame!

      July 31, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • iTexan

      Agreed.

      July 31, 2012 at 1:14 am |
  19. Who invited me?

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    July 30, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • Bozobub

      Sorry, we already know you're 12, and that you think you own a blog you don't have any power over =3 ...

      You know, there's medication that can help your Tourette's.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Ransom

      Another dumb inmature atheist..

      July 31, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Genie

      Don't blame that silliness on us atheists. Blame it on stupidity. Atheists have much more important things to share than... whatever that was.

      July 31, 2012 at 1:40 am |
    • Mirosal

      Ransom, we are not the ones who believe, as adults, the fairy tales told to children to scare them into believing.. "or else". Are you still afraid of the "or else"? If you are, then it's you who needs a lesson in maturity.

      July 31, 2012 at 1:42 am |
  20. Sick of BS

    There are some really sick people in this world that hid behind religious beliefs and computers to do their dirty work, yet they don't think they will ever have to answer for it. What a wonderful world we live in!

    July 30, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.