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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. Abiodun

    I think the church orgnization should look into the matter an corect the error black white will all one.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  2. aprovpro

    The 20th century called....it wants it's racism back.... :0

    July 31, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • Kelly51

      No it doesn't it just wants idiots to stop posting.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  3. Just Asking

    I lived in the south for 10 years. One on the things I found striking is the racism. It seemed that about 75% of the whites couldn't stand non-whites and 75% of non-whites were racist against their own demographic. I also beleived, due to my own observation, the more religious someone was the higher the likelyhood they were racist.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • Just Asking

      "non-whites were racist against their own demographic" was meant to be "non-whites were racist against anyone who was not a member of their own demographic"

      July 31, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • Kida

      Yep you are right , I moved down here in the state of Mississippi , north of Crystal Springs from Chicago when I was ten years old but still I visit once in a while , now it's twenty years and sad to not much has change , like the parts you said about non-whites discrimatory or rasicts at other non-whites , when I went to school here they treated me as a alien from another galaxy , they pick at my voice cause I didn't had that southern dialog , unlike them I said my words correctly , but not just me , they even hated at others who had better intelect I am not picking at them , It is what I went through all these years , Mississippi and mainly this small town of Crystal Springs see America in a crazy awful view , They don't like difference that even within they own race , ther not that politcal ,when some one say God they got there vote ,I don't to say much to waste your time , I still remember when I was ten years old I had a constanct back ground check on me to see were I really come from evn though I had the paper saying Chicago Illinois barely no jobs but a church on every street for a town barely under five Thousand , till this very day , they look at me like I am a alien, did you ever had that experiance down here damn my keybroad mess up ,

      July 31, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Visitor

      Only in the South can people in a business meeting introduce themselves as Native Texans and Native Alabamans, and people talk about their Southern Heritage. I've seen it. It does NOT make non Southerners feel welcome.

      August 1, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  4. rickinmo

    Amazing how they all object after the fact. We all need to pay attention to what they did; not what they say now. Where were all the objections before this became a national news story? This is just another example in a long line of christian hypocrisy. Christianity teaches hate, racism, bigotry and exclusion. As we get closer to election day, many christian churches will be schooling their congregations on their bigoted and racist beliefs in an effort to sway opinion. I'm sure I'll get some replies to this comment defending christian beliefs and denying efforts to sway opinion. Don't bother. Just send me a note when the south stops fighting the Civil War or at least when the south gets over it. This tactic was in full force under G. W. Bush and continues today. The south will vote GOP again as they have since LBJ supported and signed Civil Rights Legislation. They'll justify their vote based on abortion as they have in the past and once again nothing will change regarding abortion legislation. And, they'll ignore the fact that the Democratic philosophy is far more in touch with christian beliefs than the GOP. Racism well rear its ugly head once again. Guaranteed.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  5. RG

    This is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog! As the head shepherd, the Pastor is supposed to direct the congregation, he is the leader and teacher, one who leads the sheep not follow the sheep! I just hope the Pastor is not listening to someone who is known for his or her giving record. As for the couple, you should be asking yourself some hard questions as to where your support lies when it comes to this church.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  6. gottaluvem

    I saw the interview, as some of the church members were leaving services on Sunday. All the people I saw were white, and the ones that spoke to the interviewer sounded, well, ignorant. And, of course they said they were never against the couple getting married at the church. Yeah, sure. That pastor, and I use the term loosely, should have done the right thing. I've never seen a marriage of church members, using their home church for the ceremony, ever being an issue to vote on by the congregation. The congregation had absolutely NOTHING to do with it. He was not a "pastor" to that couple. What a sorry excuse for a man leading the church. Would they prefer their members not to be married; to just live together?? So it would seem.

    That being said, I hope this is a wake-up-call to the christian black community. How did you feel and what did you think of this happening to church members, who probably support and serve their church?? This is your history, and not so very long ago, or did you forget already? Now, it's how gay christians are being treated, everyday. It's still discrimination. Funny how when it's happening to someone else it becomes OK. Do you remember the old song "We Shall Overcome?" Who do you think the "we" in that song is supposed to be? I thought it was for all people to overcome opression. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speach clearly stated "all people." All people. Perhaps you should listen to Rev. King's speach again, or maybe it would be for the first time. To my black brothers and sisters: you dropped the ball when the "we" in "We Shall Overcome" stopped including you.

    Until all of us are free, and have the same rights and freedoms that EVERY person has, then none of us are truly free. None of us. Not one of the opressed.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  7. Norm

    Well let's hear from the parishioners that objected to the wedding.
    Why can't the media interview them and get their point of view?
    Are they hiding?
    No strength in their convictions?
    What a bunch of cowards.
    I bet they're regulars at Fox News....

    July 31, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Kelly51

      I'm a Christian that reads both CNN and FOX. I do so, so that I can make my own decissions about what is printed. I agreed with most of your comment until you became as radical as the so called Christians that threatend the church. Take the plank out of your own eye before you point fingers at the speck in anothers eye. I wish the couple a very long life together and I pray that this kind of racial hatred would end in the Christian churches.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • FoxNews

      We open our doors to all hypocrites here at Fox because we are fair.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  8. jaintn

    What would have made their wedding special was to hold it in the church they attend, not move it to another church! The pastors "logic" isn't logical. He caved to some small minded nitwits who should not be allowed to call themselves Christians. Shame on him.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Norm

      And yet the people that made this decision aren't being interviewed?
      Why can't we hear from these people and hear in their own words why they didn't want these people to marry in their church.
      You have non-Christians making church policy.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  9. Carole

    Hey Folks, All THREE parties were at fault here;
    1. The church GOVERNING BOARD was at fault for not having a set of "WEDDING GUIDELINES" for members and non-members already set in place. This includes but is not limited to: building usage and janitor clean-up fees; pre-marriage counseling requirements; clergy honorarium (non-members); organists or musicians fee and music guidelines; using bird see instead of rice; no flash pictures allowed during the ceremony.
    2. THE PASTOR was neglect in not letting the governing board know of the upcoming wedding as soon as he was approached by the couple and then ask the board about any guidelines. The pastor could have given the couple the "guidelines" which then it put the decision on the couple whether or not to hold the wedding at that church.
    3. THE COUPLE would have been better off if they had been accepted as members and were ACTIVELY CONTRIBUTING to the life of the church with their time, talent, and treasure BEFORE their wedding. The board would have had a harder time refusing their request. (I had read on another website that the bride-to-be was bragging that the couple would be paying little or no cost for the wedding which upset other people (MEMBERS) that paid a higher fee. –I don't know if this is true, or not.–
    Some couples don't understand that a wedding ceremony is considered a WORSHIP SERVICE and should be treated as such. The couple should not chose a church because the grounds or sanctuary are pretty – they are pledging their love and faithfulness in front of GOD, not just their family and friends. Many denominations have the"Order of Marriage" included in their hymnal along with other worship settings and hymns.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • jaintn

      Blah, blah, blah, Carole. I know a lot of people who choose to marry in a particular church or location because of the beauty, the ambience, or whatever. I'm pretty sure if there is a God he or she would be cool with it and would show up wherever you are. You've got a stick stuck up where the sun don't shine and frankly, you sound about as bad as those fake Christian congregants making the annonymous phone calls.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      I think the Governing Board's list of "Wedding Guidelines" would be pretty short.
      1) No poofters
      2) No darkies

      July 31, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • Joe

      It is absurd to suggest the couple was at fault. Absurd.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • James

      Nice argument, but your logic doesn't apply here. The second paragraph states, "Charles and Te' Andrea Wilson, regular attendees at First Baptist Church". As members of the church, they had EVERY right to get married there.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  10. James PDX

    Someone should investigate who was objecting to this wedding and boot them from the church for being fake Christians.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  11. Jeb

    This is a church that needs to examine itself and its pastor. This sort of bigotry against people because of skin color is hatred and those whose hearts have this hate in them are not Christian (1 John). The pastor is obviously more worried about offerings than doing the work of God or he would invite the offending parties to leave or should leave himself.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  12. Asturiano

    Racism in the Republican South, nothing new.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Keith

      Racism in the Rep South? How ignorant of you? Guess what... The LAST place to have segregated school buses in this country was "liberal" Boston, Mass.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Keith
      A quick run down of some White Supremacist groups in the US
      K.K.K. – Originated in the Southern US
      National Alliance – Headquartered in West Vir.gi.nia
      American Nazi Party – based in Vir.gin.ia
      Council of Conservative Citizens – Missouri
      Nationalist Movement – Mississippi
      National Van.guard – Vi.rgi.nia
      League of the South – it's right there in the name!

      And you wonder how people get the impression that the South is racist?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • Keith

      @ Doc
      Now that you brought that up, the KKK now has it's strongest membership in Northern states like Illinois and Indiana. Oh, and the North's treatment of the Irish by essentially enslaving them to fight the Civil War was such a NOBLE act... NOT!

      July 31, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Keith
      I'm not talking about the Civil War era – we're talking today, son.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Keith

      Exactly SON... The KKK has it's strongest membership in Northern states right now (currently)... Read the WHOLE comment son...

      July 31, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  13. Jeff

    Another win for organized religion.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  14. Dave From Philly

    Many years ago my family left MS. To bad after more than 60 years the reasons they left are still part of the culture now. Any one wonder why so many people don't go to church any more? Christian need to act like Christians.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  15. johnsonj3

    They all need JESUS, and to the couple move your membership to another church that will be Christ like and accept you for who you are. God Bless these people.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  16. GiveItUp

    Just another sad example of a couple of noisy morons ruining it for everyone. While 90% of our complacent nation is snoozing, people like this are eroding and destroying the foundation upon which our country was defined and built.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Norm

      Agreed...and they call themselves conservative Christians.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  17. Jeff

    The proper response would have been to marry the couple there and tell the congregates to find a new church. I think Westboro would be a good fit.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Please cite one example of Westboro racism.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • Jeff

      Go to Google, you'll find plenty. I'm not doing your homework for you.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • phil

      Please cite one example in Jeffs comment where he says Westboro is racist.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Jeff

      Ever heard of God Hates Fa**? There's your one example. Westboro breeds hate and it would be a perfect fit for these people. They could jump on the hate bandwagon.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Cannednoodlez

      Come on, Radical...

      http://www.adl.org/learn/ext_us/WBC/WBC-on-blacks.asp?LEARN_Cat=Extremism&LEARN_SubCat=Extremism_in_America&xpicked=3&item=WBC

      A simple Google search.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • Simon

      Re: Westboro church and racism, the ADL has made a small list for you:
      http://www.adl.org/learn/ext_us/WBC/WBC-on-blacks.asp?LEARN_Cat=Extremism&LEARN_SubCat=Extremism_in_America&xpicked=3&item=WBC

      July 31, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Jeff

      Haha, there you go.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  18. New Gawker

    That church is now the most popular church in Mississippi. The yahoo's are flocking to the church that doesn't allow blacks.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  19. TG

    I bet noone complained when this couple put their green money in the collection plate.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • phil

      EXACTLY.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  20. TG

    These are the Hill-billies even Europeans don't want!

    July 31, 2012 at 9:18 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.