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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. UsayWha?

    What shocks me the most about this story is the comments by people about how shocked and surprised they are that this happen in 2012... pull your head out the sand or take the blinders off and have a look around once in a while.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  2. lunchbreaker

    Yet another case of a church doing something stupid and thinking the media would not make it headline news, realizing they look like idiots, and trying to save face. A wise person once said, "Integrity is what you do when you think no one is looking." What they did when no one was looking was be racist, that's who they really are.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  3. Guest

    I don't buy this pastor's excuse that he "didn't want a controversy to affect the wedding of Charles and Te'Andrea". What he showed was a lack of guts, leadership, and faith. If the people who protested were truly a minority, then their voices should have been drowned out by the righteous, led by this pastor. Instead, he caved in to the desires of a bigoted few (I'll give this church the benefit of the doubt and assume it was a few) and basically made the feelings of those few more important than the desire of this couple, to get married in their own church. My advice to Charles and Te'Andrea? Leave this church. This pastor does NOT have your back.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  4. Jack

    Do u think this couple had KFC cater their wedding?

    July 31, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      If they're trulY Southern Baptists, they'd use Chik Fil A, not KFC.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  5. andulamb

    Seems to me the problem here is that the pastor is a bit of a coward. He got anonymous calls, and rather than stand up to them he gave in. And then he tried to spin his actions to make it look like he was just protecting the couple and their "special day." Yes, I know that it can't be easy to get threatening phone calls in the middle of the night. But there has always been religious persecution and many people have had to deal with much worse. You just expect your church leaders to have stronger back bones than this.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  6. Man from Earth

    The pastor, Stan Weatherford, was the first and true coward. He committed sin, and is really a racist. The couple and all the black members should leave this racist First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, Mississippi. There is no true Christianity in this so-called church.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  7. bvilleyellowdog

    The word is "racists" not radicals.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  8. Ct

    Why are blacks even allowed to get married anywhere?

    July 31, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      What a dumb question!!! Why are you allowed to get married? No difference in the questions...equal rights for all...oh but wait, you sound like the type of person who would still own a slave if given a chance!

      July 31, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  9. gabe20000

    Sorry this is not the fault of a few radicals. It's the fault of the pastor for listening to them and not letting this couple marry.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • Marc Simp

      I agree!

      July 31, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  10. CopontheBeat

    People - you CANNOT be a racist AND a Christian! You are ether a racist - OR a Christian. Attending church DOES NOT make you a Christian. Following the teachings of Jesus Christ makes you a Christian.

    Why is Sunday morning teh most segregated time of the week? Becausee racists attend their white churches - and bar fulll participation by the other people God made.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • bvilleyellowdog

      Bigots hiding behind a (burning) cross.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • That's funny

      The God of the old testament was the biggest racist of all time. The Jews were his chosen people and he slaughtered people who went against them.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Jean Malloy

      Correct. And You cannot not be a Christian and do the many, many , many, many , many things that are sanctioned daily, in high places in the name of "equality", fairness, "rights", Political Correctness and other "isms" that has long repaced simple, honest-to-goodness the right thing to do. In fact the right thing to do has been repaced by the flawed thinking of many whose moral compass cannot not be justified in any religion, philosophy in any country, city, town or the planet Krypton.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  11. William

    It is as if God doesn't know. There will be a separation of the Goats and the Sheep and this separation isn't based on color it's based on the condition of the heart.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  12. dave

    How dare this church exercise their right to have their own opinions and beliefs! This church should be forced to marry this black couple. And while we're at it, the NBA should be required to hire a white guy!! Get over it people, as long as humans have brains, we will have preferences. Funny, I have a friend that was accepted to college as a minority – receiving discounted tuition. He was from South Africa...but when they saw that he was white, they revoked their discounted tuition. If he would have been black and this happened...which city would have been burned down?

    July 31, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • bvilleyellowdog

      always some bigot ready to excuse another one.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • phil

      I know a guy who knows a guy whose cousin knew a girl whose boyfriend once went to this school...so mayn stories that are true start out that way, don't they? Your argument would almost be true (not make sense but be true) if it were not for the fact that this was their regular Sunday congregation. Its not like they were invading some other church to get married, they were trying to get married at their church. The church that happily allows them in Sunday to worship–and donate to the collection plate–but not to get married. That's why it was wrong of the church.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Brian

      That's ridiculous and you know it. That 's why they are called minority scholarships! If this had been a scholarship specifically for African's your statement would hold true but I fear my friend it does not. Actually it doesn't sound genuine at all.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Mark

      You obviously didn't read the original articles. It wasn't the
      entire church against the wedding, just a small minority.
      A small group of people, probably just like you.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  13. Mark

    Anonymous requests shouldn't be considered. If your position is
    worthy of consideration you should have no problem putting your
    name on it, and defending it. That's the only mistake the church
    made in this matter.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  14. sam9962

    This story makes me sad, angry, hurt, and mostly embarrassed that in this day and time we have such Backwards people in our country. How can they travel to any other part of the country and see all kinds of people mixing it up, having fun, living life all together...Hope it makes their skin crawl!!!!

    July 31, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  15. Dzerres

    "the Devil did it". Please

    July 31, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  16. Mirosal

    "Christian love" is a fallacy. Would you let a gay couple get married in your church? Yes or no. If your answer is no, you're a bigot, and not realy very loving are you? You need NO religion or "holy book" to justify someone's love. But no greater tool than the buy-bull exists to justify one's hatred.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • toad

      thats really gay

      July 31, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • Damocles

      I disagree, but only a little.... there is a far more powerful tool that has been used to justify hatred. The human brain.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • Gary

      Your lack of biblical truth is doing you no justice Mirosal. People are not bigots for condemning gay marriage. They are standing by GOD's word. Is it okay for an adulterer to be accepted in a church who has no plans to stop commiting adultery? Is it okay for a drug dealer to be a deacon when he has no intention of quitting? Anyone who loves sin cannot be a Christian. There is a difference between committing sin and loving it. If you have no aspirations of changing and seem justified in your sin you are no christian. Christian means to be Christ like. And we all know he didn't love sin.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • bvilleyellowdog

      Gary – another parsing bigot hiding behind a cross.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Gary: When did you decide to be a straight man? What exactly is your personal reason for disliking gays (your belief in the imaginary friend you call god is not justification)? The buybull can't be used to dictate laws in the real world and therefore, what it says about gays has no pertinence in society.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Gary
      I don't think either God nor any of His prophets had anything to say about drug dealers.
      Given that Christ himself changed water into an intoxicant, I think the Bible is OK getting a bit loopy now and then.
      The holiest of holy men, like Noah and Lot, were known to go on benders.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      @Gary

      If you're going to stick to biblical truths then your should remain steadfast in every bit of it. Thus blacks should still be considered somewhat less than human and ok to keep as slaves, women should still be considered inferior and subservient to men...etc...etc. How is it that you can dismiss those tenets yet still adhere to the ones against gays? The passages in the bible were written by ignorant, bigoted, primitive men and there is nothing whatsoever divine in any of it. Using scripture to defend your bigotry in no way justifies your choices. Two wrongs don't make a right.

      "We don't hate you.....we just think you're wrong"

      July 31, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  17. Motty

    The pastor should've stood up and invited those who had a false sense of racial superiority to reconsider how they were going to escape final condemnation on the day of judgement. It's not by works but by grace freely offered to everyone equally. If they still held to their un-Christ-like bias, they should've been asked to leave.

    The truth shouldn't be sold for building funds.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  18. Doug

    If some one is blaming anonymous/unknown people for things going wrong, it's probably their fault. Talking to you pastor.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  19. Love Thy Neighbor

    Good message about Christian love.

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

    July 31, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • rickinmo

      Couldn't be clearer!!!

      July 31, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  20. Christine

    The cowards responsible for not allowing the wedding the should come forth and show their faces - no hoods allowed, either.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:46 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.