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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. What about our right?

    So many are acting is as it if everyone's right to do anything they want where ever they want. What about our right to NOT have to allow things in our midst? I don't care if someone is gay or not, but I have a right not to view what I consider offensive to me. I don't care if someone is black or white or yellow or purple with pink polka dots, if thier behaviour or desire offends me, I have a right not to allow it around me.

    This world needs to stand up and say NO, the line is drawn, No More. As my dear parents taught me, if I'm afraid of offending anyone then I offend everyone including myself. So to the world I say, To Hell with Political Correctness until it is CORRECT.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:49 am |
    • Damocles

      Im confused by your post. This couple is black, not gay. But you certainly have the right to not attend any wedding you don't want to attend. However, you do not have the right to deny another persons rights.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • Beelzebub

      So, using your own brilliant logic, it would be just peachy-keen if a group of Black thug-types beat the snot out of you and left you for dead because they found your presence "offensive" and they have the right to "not allow it around" them, right?

      What a tool...

      July 31, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • LT

      Exactly what are you trying to say???? Was it right for this church to deny marrying the couple or not????

      July 31, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • What about our right?

      Beelzebub

      They tried, just this past Thursday with a home invasion. Your sarcasm gets nothing from me.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • What about our right?

      Don't be confused Damocles,

      I realized the couple was black and not gay. I was trying to show that it didn't matter if black or white or yellow or purple with pink polka dots or gay or straight. Being married in the church of the couples choice is not a right. They must ask to be allowed to marry there and it must be granted. The congregants which found this offensive spoke up, as IS their right. The pastor decided to listen to the voices of those that spoke up because it mattered to them, and they are part of the group that pays his salary. The pastor made his decision, which IS his right.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  2. Jorge

    Having experienced the Deep South and Southern Baptist duplicity firsthand, I can tell you that there are parts of the South that are steeped in evil, where the very land is cursed, and there are parts that have come into enlightenment and grace where everyone of good manner is equally welcome, independently of the religion that their inhabitants may belong to. As the Book says,-"By their fruit shall you know them."

    July 31, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • What about our right?

      Jorge, the same is seen in these so called "black" churches and areas all over this country, so open your eyes.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • Beelzebub

      I like fruit... especially apples.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • What about our right?

      Better get some quick, with the draught, the prices of everything is going up, even apples!

      July 31, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  3. Rozelle

    I'm glad the reporter expanded the story and dug deeper. I'm disturbed that the pastor of this church didn't recognize and confront evil, in the form of the anonymous calls. There was no mention that the calls were threatening, just disapproving, The calls may or may not have come from members of the church. But perhaps he had some fears that the wedding party might be harmed or the wedding disrupted. It seems to me, though, that a better course of action would have been for him to call together the deacons and other church leaders and any law enforcement in the congregation and ask them to act as "security" for the wedding – directing parking, riding a golf cart around the parking lot, keeping an eye on the cars while the wedding is going on, for example. A visual show of unity for any of the "disapproving" callers, who may not have been members at all. Christians must confront evil and not let it disrupt lives.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • Peter

      Proof positive that there are radicals in every religion who twist the teachings for their own corrupt agenda.

      Often, posters talk about mainstream Muslims not doing enough about radicals in their flock.

      What is this pastor doing about the radicals in his flock?

      Nothing.

      I am sure they will be attending next Sunday's service.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Peter
      Are they really radicals?
      The Southern Baptist church has a very long tradition of racism.
      When the American south was forced to rescind Jim Crow laws and accept racial integration, it was Baptists who most strongly opposed equality.
      Wallie Criswell, an extremely popular and influential Southern Baptist Minister famously said "Let them integrate! Let them sit up there in their dirty shirts and make all their fine speeches. But they are all a bunch of infidels, dying from the neck up."

      July 31, 2012 at 8:13 am |
  4. Dilip Samuels

    This is the Christianity of the TEA PARTY ..

    Quite unlike the Christianity i know..

    The most shameful thing here is the Pastor ....

    July 31, 2012 at 7:40 am |
    • Beelzebub

      Where in this story was the Tea Party mentioned?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:52 am |
  5. Ghost in the machine

    Southern Baptists........deep south......these folks should be happy they weren't found hung in front of the church the next morning ! What were they thinking ? A black couple getting married in a WHITE Baptist Church......in Mississippi ? "Martha, where's the cross, kerosene, and bed sheets" ?

    July 31, 2012 at 7:14 am |
  6. travelfree

    Pure comedy. They are praying and proclaiming themselves to be christians and God let the world see how their hearts really are and they really really expect to go to heaven. How do you really expect to go to heaven and you hate someoene because of the color of their skin. But God knows your heart and how you really feel and he displayed it to the world. I wish the black couple would go to a black church and get married and be done with it. I am so tired of black people trying so hard to be accepted by the white race when its obvious time and time again they will not.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • Sandy

      Travelfree....racist much?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:25 am |
    • fintastic

      You forgot to add "I am a racist" to your post.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • Mike in NJ

      Badly transcribed, but close: "All that is required for Evil to thrive is for Good people to remain silent." If you really think it's terrible to hate, you wouldn't be so 'TIRED' of people trying to be treated the same as others. You, sir/madam, are part of the PROBLEM, not the solution.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      " How do you really expect to go to heaven and you hate someoene because of the color of their skin."

      repent?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      ". I wish the black couple would go to a black church and get married and be done with it. I am so tired of black people trying so hard to be accepted by the white race when its obvious time and time again they will not."

      Wow racist much?

      Just FYI, the bible you consider the words of god, are nothing but words of mere mortals written over a long period of time then edited by other humans to fit their agenda of money, power, and to gain pagan followers. Yet you base your bigotry on it. Congrats. You are an 1d1ot

      July 31, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  7. objectivist5

    Gotta love those Christian!!! And just think, their God let's them reproduce. Religion is the root of ALL evil. It's the root of all hatred, killing, bigotry, and basically everything bad on the planet can all be traced back to ALL religions. Participate in the chaos? Hell no.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:12 am |
  8. Chris

    And now they know how Gay couples feel when they want to get married....

    July 31, 2012 at 7:00 am |
    • John

      I thought the same thing. This is what happens when you let someone's belief system preferences dictate policy. This comes from the same place. If you can wrap your discrimination in a cross, you can claim it's just god's will and not your own bias.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:23 am |
  9. Name*bobby51

    The RACISTS FEW. WON DIDN'T THEY .....LEAVE THAT HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. THE PASTOR HAS NO CONTROL SATAN IS LOOSE
    ..

    July 31, 2012 at 6:55 am |
    • Mirosal

      And the boo'geyman is following him, and then it's the evil Santa-bot from Futurama. Gee, let's let Stephen King to tell the story, his fiction is just as good as the fiction they "teach" you in church.

      July 31, 2012 at 6:59 am |
    • newsjunkie50

      Mirosal
      ..... I can't find the darn 'like' button... hehe

      July 31, 2012 at 7:08 am |
  10. Say What?

    I dont see a problem. Everybody has the right to choose who they want to be around or not. Its a right, and its the couple's right to go somewhere else. We have racist people in the world, get over it. nuff of everybody's 15 mins of fame cause someone does something that someone else doesnt like....

    July 31, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • Jack 63

      Hey say what, see you at the clan rally.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • Sarah

      And I choose not to be on the same comment board as you – go back to the trailer where you come from!

      July 31, 2012 at 7:22 am |
    • Mike in NJ

      (repeating) Badly transcribed, but close: "All that is required for Evil to thrive is for Good people to remain silent." If you really think it's terrible to hate, you wouldn't be so 'TIRED' of people trying to be treated the same as others. You, sir/madam, are part of the PROBLEM, not the solution.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:37 am |
  11. Kevin in Atlanta

    The main person to blame for all this is the one person who still hasn't apologized he did anything wrong: Stand Weatherford, the pastor of the church. He not only rolled over for the racists in his congregation, but also has refused to acknowledge doing so. The congregation of that church should immediately fire him. His actions were beyond reprehensible, despite his desperately idiotic attempts to justify his decision as an attempt to "avoid controversy."

    July 31, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • newsjunkie50

      well typed... thank you!

      July 31, 2012 at 7:02 am |
    • Paul in Tallahassee

      Right on – well said. He should have stood up and said that no discriminatory stance would be taken by the church while he was pastor.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • LT

      I strongly agree with you Kevin. Well said and thank you.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:10 am |
    • AnneofVA

      Well said. Sounds like most of the congregation did not agree with this decision, and didn't even know about it. The Pastor was totally in the wrong, lacked leadership, and shouldn't be in that position. He actually caved in toj "anonymous calls"? Ironically, his desire to avoid controversy totally failed.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  12. mageen

    What a screaming shame! It seems that some congregants have to make a decision. Do they want a church or a country club? If its a country club, then they will have to form an admissions committee and review all applications to see who meets their criteria AND PAY TAXES. Yup. That's right. Churches are not taxed. Country clubs are. Grow up people! If you can't abide the fact that the Carpenter from Nazareth opened his arms on the cross for everybody, then you should be the ones to decamp! And as I said before, shame on you!

    July 31, 2012 at 6:46 am |
  13. ColdBeerz

    The Pastor should have grown some balz and conducted the marriage at the church. Let the racists quit the church and let the newly married couple begin their life together and grow in the church.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:36 am |
  14. neil

    We are trying to save the jobs of 5 people
    http://www.indiegogo.com/save-our-jobs
    If you can help, please do.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:26 am |
  15. LT

    This group of "radicals" have defamed the name of Jesus Christ. They do NOT represent Christ nor his Perfect Love. My prayer is that they repent of the hurt that their hatred caused for this couple. What the Pastor should have done is stand for Jesus and demonstrate the true love of Christ for all of his creation and marry the couple irregardless of what anyone thought of it.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:23 am |
  16. urban turner

    A church that hates is no church at all.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:15 am |
    • Jason

      Au contrare, that is exactly what a church is. Churches teach their members to hate or pity (also a form of hate) anyone that is not a member.

      July 31, 2012 at 6:34 am |
  17. chefdugan

    The baptist religion depends on the ignorance of its followers so what happened here should be no surprise. Self-rightous, phony, lying, cheating and any other negative you can think up best desribes any religion but this one leads the pack in hypocrisy.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:53 am |
  18. hah!

    "Spiritual reconciliation"? They just didn't want their A$$ES sued in court. hah!

    July 31, 2012 at 5:14 am |
  19. Wes

    The primitive social development of American humanity reveals that our progress away from discrimination against one's race or color has hardly moved forward at all. We live in a country that lusts for hatred and violence, and finds affection and caring a loathsome affair. It is hard to see any demonstration of media, society, or government that embraces complete opacity to another's racial, ethnic, or religious beliefs. We are a nation of bigotry and have stayed rutted in the same psychology since our inception.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:13 am |
  20. AusieSceptic1

    this is hardly "nipping it in the bud"
    it's flowered, fruited and the sprout is in need of a chainsaw

    July 31, 2012 at 4:49 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.