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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. Jerry

    Way too much "crappola" on these and other blogs. Wow! Got to go have my Chick-fil-A. Oops! Sorry. I forgot the Chick-fil-A support celebration is scheduled for this coming Wednesday.

    Sorry...

    July 31, 2012 at 4:15 am |
  2. charlie

    Every day I am reminded how many religious hypocrites there are. People who profess to be wonderful people and are full of hatred and deceit.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:06 am |
    • Frankuchman

      IT'S A SHAME TO SEE ALL THIS HAPPENING IN THE MIDST OF SO CALLED CHILDREN OF GOD. THE PASTOR OF THIS CHURCH IS NOT DESERVES TO BE SOMEONE WHO PREACH THE WORD OF GOD. HE DOESN'T DESERVES TO BE CALL A PASTOR. HOW CAN YOU ALLOW SUCH EVIL TO BE FALL IN YOUR CHURCH. ALL OF YOU WHO PLANNED THIS ARE RACIST AND RACIST DOES NOT EXIST IN THE HOUSE OF THE MOST HIGH GOD. MAY GOD FORGIVE YOU ALL FOR THIS ATROCITY. I PITY THOSE COUPLE OUT THERE,WHO THOUGHT THEY WERE IN THE RIGHT CHURCH WITHOUT KNOWING THAT THEY WERE IN THE MIDST OF LIONS IN SHEEP CLOTHES.

      July 31, 2012 at 4:35 am |
  3. Upstate

    You are always welcome at a Unitarian Church.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:46 am |
  4. jc

    Pastor, I think you failed. Nameless phone callers RULES your church. Too bad. I really doubt the wedded couple feel very welcome in your church. YOU should have had the faith to call out those haters, I say, invite them to the wedding. Let the congregration deal with it. This congregation has some poision in it. It needs diluted. Evil prevails when good men do nothing.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:44 am |
  5. Susie

    I have to wonder if this pastor wasn't just stirring up controversy. I mean, come on, some anonymous callers? How would he even know they were really part of the congregation? This sounds really fishy to me.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:23 am |
  6. kevininjc

    So, from what I gather, the pastor made the decision to move the wedding based on some anonymous (or not so anonymous) calls to his office? It seems to me that he showed a particular cowardice in caving so quickly and easily to this element.

    The bigger issue here is not of race, but giving in so easily to fascism.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:19 am |
  7. John

    Want to be that those "few" that complained contribute BIG to the church, and the pastor was afraid that the money train would end if he performed the wedding there? I think so.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:15 am |
    • MS Queen

      I think you, my friend, hit the nail on the head. I thought the same thing when I read this article.

      July 31, 2012 at 4:52 am |
  8. everettreb

    What really gets me is that not the deacons are trying smooth things over by sifting the blame on some anonymous members.
    Sorry I don't buy that. It was the deacons and pastor's decision. And for all of you trash talking the south and churches we are not all like that in fact I believe the numbers may be a lot smaller than you thing.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:48 am |
  9. Name*mat mat

    I pray for our nation to come back to God and ask for forgiveness .keep away from sins such as racism .

    July 31, 2012 at 2:41 am |
  10. Name*mat mat

    We as American Christians needs Christ in our life .kneel down pray for all the sins we do ..keep in mind racist is sin ..bible quote those who know the word of God and still sin have a greater punishment

    July 31, 2012 at 2:38 am |
  11. Sheldon

    Smh, smh, smh!!! It is sad to see this type of thing, but its Mississippi. Why expect anything different?

    July 31, 2012 at 2:36 am |
  12. Name*mat mat

    Only happen in white American Christian church .I don't think they read bible .lol

    July 31, 2012 at 2:33 am |
    • everettreb

      The couple in question were members of the church. So I don't know where you get that it was a "white church" unless the building it's self was white.

      July 31, 2012 at 2:51 am |
    • Susie

      No it happens in all kinds of places to all races. It doesnt happen often, thats why this is such a big story.

      July 31, 2012 at 3:28 am |
    • raenil

      @susie. It's not that things like that don't happen frequently, it's that this one was publicized.

      July 31, 2012 at 4:07 am |
  13. chicago7

    Almost every time you read a story like this, it happened in Mississippi. This kind of thing just makes them look so backward and validates every joke you hear about them. Do these folks ever plan on joining the rest of us in the 21st century?

    July 31, 2012 at 2:33 am |
    • Theresa

      This type of thing happens all over. Mississippi is under a microscope about racial injustices because of the 1960's. But Mississippians were forced to take a hard look at themselves because of the horrible (but much deserved) publicity in the past. Most who live there are not bigoted and desperately want to move forward in peace.

      July 31, 2012 at 3:08 am |
  14. ArdDruid

    And "Christians" wonder why people just don't like them. I was raised in the Southern Baptist church and I will always thank them for CURING me of religion.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • everettreb

      We and God still love you.

      July 31, 2012 at 2:51 am |
  15. danielwalldammit

    It's a damned shame to see a story like this.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:08 am |
  16. WolfeCanada

    Continuously surprised at the racism in the South....guess I shouldn't be by now. "God" bless America.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:02 am |
    • Susie

      You should come to California, we have racists of all colors here.

      July 31, 2012 at 3:26 am |
  17. fred

    Every once in a while Republicans crawl out from under a rock and reveal their true nature.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:00 am |
    • Susie

      I think you are confusing the parties. Republicans fought slavery, and passed the civil rights acts, whild democrats burned crosses all around the country.

      July 31, 2012 at 3:25 am |
  18. 1rooster

    When I was a child growing up in rural Louisiana, my mother always told me to never go to anyone's house if they didn't want me there. This just happened to be a church house. I wouldn't have gone there to begin with. It's obvious they weren't wanted there, even in God's house.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:55 am |
    • Jorge

      You are mistaken, a place like that is not God's house.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  19. WolfeCanada

    Too little, too late......you're forever branded as bigots.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:53 am |
  20. Camdens_Log82

    Why would the couple even want to marry in a predominantly white church?

    July 31, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • patiat

      Because they attended it. That wasn't a problem for the church until the couple wanted to get married in the church.

      July 31, 2012 at 1:57 am |
    • Terry

      Because that's where they attended church.

      July 31, 2012 at 1:57 am |
    • ohyeahreally

      I can NOT believe you even asked this question! What does skin color have to do with getting married in their own church? OMGOSH!!! The leaders of that church should be forced out of ministry, period!

      July 31, 2012 at 2:31 am |
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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.