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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. Duane - St. Pete FLA

    overblown....no big deal. I want to get married at the headquarters of the NAACP....lol. who cares......it =has to do with race so CNN will run this story for weeks! hahaha. wonder why they never run a story about blacks killing them selves over shoes? now thats funny........

    July 31, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • bosfaninva

      Seek help immediately.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Blah blah blah

      Yep, you're right Duane... so much "reporting" appears to be for the sole purpose of causing hate and discontent in this society. As I said below, I'm sure other blacks have married in that large church, what is the REAL reason the congregants objected to THIS couple? I'm sure we'll never know.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • ErickMN

      Ignorant hick.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Duane - St. Pete FLA

      blacks = 11% of the population but 50% of murders.....and 9 of 10 of those murders are black on black....lets discuss that!!

      July 31, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Duane - St. Pete FLA

      Don’t you all care about ALL the killing? They are killing themselves in record numbers and you libs don’t want to discuss? whY?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • Duane - St. Pete FLA

      how about you libs asking your black voters to value an education (like Obama did)? or to respect the law? or ask black males not to abandon thier kids? are you all afriad of making the blacks mad? it would do them good if you libs stop treating them like five year olds and asked them to be good fathers? are you are so scared to discuss these things? dont you all care???????

      July 31, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Robert

      "blacks = 11% of the population but 50% of murders"

      cite your source for this.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  2. Delilah

    The minister of this church should be ashamed of himself. His job is to lead and guide people toward the Lord. He blew it big time. He should have stepped up and said "We do not discriminate in this church". He is not fit to lead any Christian church and should be removed!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  3. conerned minister

    I am outraged about this story. As a minister for the lord, it is not about any past laws from our fore fathers whom we need to honor except love one another as Christ loves us. This pastor which is in charged should be ashamed of himself and need to fall down to the alter and ask for god forgiveness. The bible says if you touch my least one it is better you should cast a Milstone around your neck and jump into the deepest part of the sea.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  4. Blah blah blah

    Funny how everyone is quick to jump on the racism thing. Come on! With a congregation of 800 with a church that's been around for 150 years, guess what??? I'm certain there have been black couples marrying within the church without a problem. So instead of jumping on the racism thing how about asking the obvious question??? What is it about THIS couple that sparked the congregants to speak up against it???

    Come on! Use your brains and don't listen to the race mongers. There is ALWAYS more to a story than the reporter tells.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • bosfaninva

      Please fool. For most of those 150 years there was ZERO chance of ANY blacks even setting foot in this church. Of course this about race, and only a racist would try to make it about the couple.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Delilah

      Blah, blah white sheep – you are an idiot – the minister himself said they have never had a black wedding in that church!

      July 31, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Blah blah blah

      Delilah

      Hey idiot! I'm a black sheep... deal with it! And I am ASHAMED of my RACE!

      July 31, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Blah blah blah

      Delilah said, "Blah, blah white sheep – you are an idiot – the minister himself said they have never had a black wedding in that church!".

      I say, YOU LIED! NOWHERE in the article does it say the minister said there had never been a black wedding in that church!

      July 31, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Visitor

      In other articles it is stated that no black couples were ever married in that church.

      August 1, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  5. joe

    p.s. and all aspects of their financial and social relationships!!!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  6. Gary

    To say that they (the pastor, elders, etc.) didn't know who made the calls complaining about the wedding are simply lying to cover up the truth. If not that, then you have a leadership that couldn't/shouldn'y be allowed to manage a car wash.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  7. GOP hate america

    Meanwhile we invade countries telling them what freedom is supposed to be like.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  8. Wootings

    Expecting rational, decent behavior from the religious is like expecting to walk in a rainshower and not get wet.

    If you don't want to get wet, don't go out in the rain. If you want rational, decent behavior, don't hang out with the religious.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  9. joe

    the initial behavior in this matter speaks for itself, boycott this particular enclave!!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  10. ben

    oh wow mississippi did something racist... I'm so surprised.

    BTW they need to lose their tax exempt status....

    July 31, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  11. kevin

    Dear South,

    Don't make us come down there again!
    North

    July 31, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  12. I'mabeliever

    Very unfortunate that in this day and age we are still dealing with pinheaded racists. Sickening actually. I wish Mr. And Mrs. Wilson all the best as man and wife!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  13. bern dog

    I wonder what these radicals are going to think when they come before God on judgment day and see that he is black

    July 31, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • MissV

      People will think Oh my God. Especially when they find that he is also a she 🙂

      July 31, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  14. Tex71

    The fact that racial integration is even an issue here is embarrassing. It does not speak well of the USA compared to other developed nations, of the South in a national context, of Southern Baptists in comparison to other religious traditions.
    What is the common factor in all this shame? Ultraconservative extremists. They give us all a bad name.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  15. C. L. Giles

    As a Pastor I think that we have a responsibility to speak against those things that are in contradiction to the teachings of Jesus Christ. We have to teach the truth and/or allow people to leave our congregations if they stand for practices that violate the unity of the entire Body. In Acts the early church was comprised of all types of cultures and they displayed their unity by many different cultures being represented in the leadership (Antioch, Acts13). We as leaders in the Church are to teach and lead our congregations in the healing and reconciliation of race relations. When we as the Church and our leaders begin to take a constant stand against prejudice and racism in action and speech in the Church and politics this great country will fulfill its greatness!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Bob

      C.L. Giles, American thinking is crippled by the idiotic supersti.tion that,sadly, you continue to promulgate. That certainly isn't our only problem, but it is one thing that inhibits our "greatness" and handicaps us compared to countries with higher levels of scientific and technological literacy.

      If anything, Christianity is hastening our decline from greatness (let the arguments about the founders begin, but they were mainly deists, not Christians...). Jesus was a man, nothing more, and the stories handed down about him have been blown out of proportion.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • Jim

      @Bob, I think you are being slightly harsh to Christians here. Faith is something we all need, whether it's faith in God, or in Science, or whatever. It holds us up when we need it, and it helps us to succeed. There are, in my opinion, bad Christians who use the Bible as a shield for their even worse behavior, such as The West Baptist Church, but there are also good Christians, who help those in need and who are willing to go the extra mile to do the right thing. If anything is accelerating the decline of the US, it's intolerance that hides behind the Bible. And that's what needs to be stamped out.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • JATJR

      Rev. Giles, as you know, the love of money is the root of all evil, right? Also, the most segregated day in America is on Sunday morning. So what purpose does the church serve $$?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  16. Dave Jaipersaud

    My guess is those folks that oppose the wedding at the church are all Republicans or vote Republicans. Since Obama became President we have seen the true colors of the base of the Republican Party. Need I mention what Michele Bachmann and her buddies in congress are now alleging about honest, decent law abiding American citizens just because they are of a different religion. Even Eric Cantor, the GOP leader in the House is defending them. People this is not a fringe element of the Republican Party, it is the Republican Party.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • LENA LACEWELL

      HALLELUJAH! YOU SAID IT!

      July 31, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  17. Overseer

    SEGREGATE....and YOU SHALL BE REDEEMED!!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  18. Overseer

    Long live, Mississippi!!! Told of all you morons, before, and I say it again...The South will Rise again!! Segregation was as much as the answer then as it is today.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Really!

      Your a disgrace

      July 31, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • bern dog

      OVERSEER "told of all you morons"? What kind of grammar is that you moron?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • kevin

      #overseer....kill yourself...seriously

      July 31, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • MissV

      I would like to introduce all of you to the MS education system. Only place I know that the outgoing Governor pardons murderers and buys them new cars. Read about Hailey Barber, I am sure that most are familiar with him. If not make yourself aware and see all the damage he created himself and Repugs still LOVE HIM! Shows the stupidity of the state. Anyone with brains left the state when they were old enough. Nothing left in MS except a bunch of racist, uneducated, rednecks.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  19. ART

    I'am sorry this so called church should be stripped of its tax exemt status emiadiately and Mr libertarian there is nothing rational about that hateful Westboro. I can only wish that people who go to Westboro were all in attendence at the Batman opening in Aurora

    July 31, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  20. BHH

    The healing and forgiveness happens when the people who asked/demanded that there be no marriage of race at the church, stand up in front of the congregation and confess their sins, including the pastor and ask for forgiveness to God & the people they offended. The pastor's leadership will always be under attack and he/she has to demonstrate what God's love and grace is all about. He had the opportunity and blew it. Now is the time to publically make it right. Going outside our comfort zone is part of our own healing process.
    The church/pastors should have a sermon series on race discrimination and use Galatians 3:28 as the foundation. Many times we Christians are the worst PR for Christianity….and this is just another example.
    “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you
    are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
    Let the healing begin

    July 31, 2012 at 10:00 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.