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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. Michael

    Typical xtian charity and love. By the way I didn't take Christ out of the word Christian, the people who attend this church did.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • clevercandi

      Well said

      July 31, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  2. Craig Doug

    "Thompson, who is African-American, explaining his decision to go to the church on Sunday."

    Correction: Thompson, who is Black, explaining his decision to go to the church on Sunday.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  3. John

    He is a liar and a coward and a racist, like the rest of white Mississippi.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • nt worry

      What gives you the right to judge people that you do not know? I guess you learned nothing from what black leaders fought tirelessy for in the 1960's. They fought for acceptance and non judgement based on the color of thier skin. Its sad that ignorant people such as you still exist much like those at the church in Mississippi. May you and those people that opposed that marriage go start your own church and bask in you stupidity and ignorance.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  4. JohnNMurray

    Preacher didn't want to upset the BIG Givers $$$$ Greed, Cowardice.. Typical religious stuff.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  5. Jay

    False christians. Theyre everywhere. This "pastor" is a sad excuse for a "man of god". Pathetic.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  6. ceyanna

    The church is rife with bigots, racists and hateful people. Why is this anything new?

    July 31, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  7. Roderick

    We who believe in Jesus should be in prayer for the church and for its cowardly pastor.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  8. Love Thy Neighbor

    Great video about Christian love.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAvDtPz33w0

    July 31, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • Fifi

      Classic Bill Maher! Love it.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  9. What about our right?

    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.

    All the writer mentions is that they were black, for all we know there might have been som other things which made the congregants speak out against it. Hey REPORTER! How about a little bit more invenstigating and reporting?!?!?!

    July 31, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You must have missed the part where the pastor identified those who inspired him to bar the wedding as "radicals" calling him up anonymously. I suppose people do have a right to be moral cowards.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Mattski

      Oh. But it's all motivated by racism, the most un-Christian sentiment I can think of. How can thinking people be such total hypocrits?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Neeneko

      And people have the right to be annoyed and produce backlash.

      This gets into one of the fundamental misunderstandings about things like freedom of speech, or freedom in general. Being free to do something does not mean one should be free from consequences. Modern conservatives seem to have forgotten this.. wanting the freedom to do what they like and not have consequences for their speech/action. Personal liberty without personal responsibility.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Jay

      Yea. Its their right sure.. Obviously they dont know a thing about Christ. They will likely be counted in among those whom Jesus says, "GET AWAY FROM YOU WORKERS OF LAWLESSNESS, I NEVER knew you"

      July 31, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Chicago Bob

      "What about our right?" sounds like another bigoted racist. And now he/she will be offended for being labeled a racist.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • CopontheBeat

      This is NOT a CHRISTIAN church! "CHRISTIAN" means you follow the teachings of CHRIST - not the bigotted opinions of your congregants.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  10. Marc

    Small town churches are full of self-righteous loudmouths. Recall that the most despised "church" in America is the funeral-picketing, bigoted, incestuous, mouth-breathing Westboro BAPTIST Church. Yup – "baptist" is their middle name. Why would anyone admit to an association with them? Kind of like labeling yourself "republican" these days...

    July 31, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • What about our right?

      Good for you Marc, am glad to hear you blast that place. It deserves so much worse, but this is a start.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • Chicago Bob

      I love you Marc. You sound just like me.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  11. One Love

    Here is another disgusting example for you. A Swiss footballer was expelled from the Olympics on Monday for his threatening and racist message on Twitter about South Koreans.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  12. Ivan H

    I'm black and my wife is white...we were denied marriage (maybe discouraged is a better choice of words) in a rural all white church because the pastor basically knew his congregation would have a problem with it, though he did not. But we ended up getting married in our home church, which was a Southern Baptist church. So, like every other part of life, you're going to meet racists in the church...not sure why anyone is surprised by this. The church is made up of people produced by our messed us society....

    July 31, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  13. One Love

    Racism. It will never die, It will only multiply. There should be a system to make everyone colorblind.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • scranton

      Yea right. That is why we have a black president and black first lady.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  14. Doc Vestibule

    The "vocal minority" should convert to Mormonism where racism is a tenet of the faith.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • LiberaLIowan

      Don't forget misogyny.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  15. Pinkflam

    It's a nice day for a
    White wedding.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • Mirosal

      Hey little sister what have you done?
      Hey little sister who's the only one?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Hey little sister, SHOTGUN
      It's a nice day to start agaaaaain.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  16. Mamathom

    It's a shame if the pastor gave in to the complaints of a few anonymous people. However I don't think that is entirely true. It's not a large congregation. Anyone who cared enough to make a complaint is probably pretty involved in the church and therefore is more than likely known to the pastor. What I think needs to be addressed is the few people who were allowed to ruin this couple's wedding. Someone who understands the meaning of christianity needs to sit down and have a discussion with them about tolerance.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • Jo Ann

      The article says it has about 800 members. That is a large congregation.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  17. TmNPitt

    It's all about the money – "Our many ministries here are open to everyone...".The deacons made an affirmation that First Baptist Church would be available to minister to anybody in the church or the community." It's all about you puttin' money in the basket. Don't think you're gonna use the church for anything black – it's just about the green. I'm amazed how so many people have no opinion or knew nothing about what happened. Just like the glory days of the Klan – "I didn't see anything. I'm not a racist. We're all children of God! I don't know anyone like this." Then the sun goes down, the fires go up, and the sheets come out. "We must have the confederate flag waving over our buildings – it's part of our heritage!"

    July 31, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  18. maureen Driscoll

    This sickens me.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  19. Regina Harrison

    This story just breaks my heart. First, for the sweet young couple who just wanted to marry in THEIR church, but who were denied their wish because of some ignorant people with loud voices. Next, for the ignorant people in this church who still believe that Black people can be set aside because of ignorant, racist beliefs. Next, for the pastor who didn't have the guts to stand up for the couple and stand up to the ignorant, vocal minority. Last, for the congregation as a whole who has had to deal with the ignorant racists, probably for a lot of years, but who has never drawn a line in the sand to say "No More Racism!" I'm praying for all.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:05 am |
  20. TruthInATL

    The pastor is a lying hypocrite. He claims that the complainers made anonymous calls to the church and he didn't know who they were. For one, I'm sure he knew who they were and if he didn't, then that would have been a great reason to go through with the wedding. Why give in then? He was probably in agreement with the "radicals". That "church" should be demolished.

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

      This pastor must be the only person in the US who does not have caller I.D. on their phone lol It's simple.. sue the church for punitive damges, the lawyers will get a list of incoming calls to that line (if any), and "po'of" no more anonymity is there?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • Al Zimmer

      It is a sad day in this country that the work of a small group of minortiy radicals can have this much power and sway. This is the same as the Taliban and the jihiadist radicals – just change the religion and the skin color.
      It is a disgrace to our culture and society that we aloow things like this to even happen.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:36 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.