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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. Hypatia

    And i wonder if that would have happened, had the entire debacle not gone viral. This is nothing more than one of those lame 'apologies' that always follow some heinous act of religious thuggery or political crassness.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  2. John

    Pfft. Words are cheap. Lets see some real action – like evicting the pastor for not having the spine to abide by the principles he's supposed to pass on.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  3. Lorraine

    That minister sure caved in to the bigots... fast and now want to the couple to come back.... Is he crazy... you give in to bigots you idiot and you are NO BETTER THEN THEY ARE... and you call yourself a religious man... that is why I DO NOT GO TO CHURCH ANY MORE

    July 31, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  4. Jeff

    Tell them white folks to go over to Westboro where they breed hatred.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  5. Duane - St. Pete FLA

    black Americans need to get thier act together and you libs need to stop treating them as if they are childern. Giving them handouts instead of insisting that fathers BE fathers and teach thier kids to value school and make good grades. Now if a black kid makes good grades he's told he's "acting white". what a joke....and you libs KEEP making excuses for all thier failings.....it shows who the real racists are…..you libs just want to keep them down and you all never want their situation to improve or you would call them out. Your libs are useless

    July 31, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • I am God

      Racist claiming others are racist. Typical uneducated fool.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Jeff

      Well... your shirt looks stupid

      July 31, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Duane - St. Pete FLA

      I am God.....what a retatard....you all love the blacks....help them by asking them t9o do thier part.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Duane - St. Pete FLA

      I am God.....what a retatard....you all love the blacks....help them by asking them to do thier part.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • I am God

      Hey Duane go to a real school instead of that KKK school you dumb racist. God hates racists.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Blah blah blah

      Hey! I AM GOD... you are a blasphemer! Get your butt in he!! with the rest of them.

      Everything Duane has been saying is correct, not politicallyl correct, but CORRECT! Deal with it people.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • I am God

      Hey Blah blah. You are correctly incorrect. All Duane is spouting is propaganda he heard from the KKK. All you are doing is defending a racist.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Blah blah blah

      Blasphemer, not true... nothing he's said is incorrect. Would you like to know what's wrong with society today (and I mean EVERYONE!!!)
      1 – We all think we have a right to things we have no right to, and we have little to no responsibility to/for things we should.
      2 – We are so afraid of offending anyone (political correctness) that we offend everyone because it isn't always CORRECT.
      3 – Laws and punishments mean little to nothing anymore. This needs to be change, NOW. If sentenced to death, its past time to die. If sentenced to life, it means LIFE.

      We need to go back to the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. (education, working hard, not beating your wife/girlfriend/children, etc.) and get away from the Malcom X and Edgar... Only then, does society stand a chance to actually survive this century. WWIII is coming if we're not careful, and it will be on American soil.

      God help us all.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  6. Frank

    Hey CNN. I have an idea. Why dont you write some articles on how many Churches burned to the ground and how many Christians the Muslims ki11ed today all over the world? You could have a permanent column on your site since they do it EVERYDAY and we could tally up the body count? Or maybe you could right about how many victims of Muslims had ACID thrown in their face and poured down their throats, how many Gays where publicly hung in the Muslim world of peace, love and tolerance!? and how us Americans need to be more sympathetic to their cultural needs?

    No, all we get out of you is who is eating at CHIK FILET! and some white and black couple denied to get married! How pathetic!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Phil

      Excellent comment. Any rational person would have a problem with disputing your facts.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  7. nathan

    Christianity at its best. These people are the problem in the world today. It seems lile the people who proclaim tobe christian themost are the ones who seem to hate everybody. I lived in the bible belt for 8 long years. I have never seen such a bunch of hypocrits in all my life.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  8. I am God

    God hates racists.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  9. jimnoe

    Thank you tea party!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Phil

      Really!!!!!another liberal without an education....There is a name for that...

      July 31, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  10. Viet.Vet

    I find it ironic, this couple could continously attend this church and not realized the racists in the congregation nor why they would allow the same pastor of this racist congregation who is supposely a man of the faith but afraid to standup to them to perform their marriage. Stupid is what stupid was, The KKK still exist in Mississippi.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  11. I am God

    I wonder if the Westboro Church had anything to do with it? Probably did.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  12. lmc2

    Take any group of.f people and there is always a small portion of that group that think they are better than the others, that they are always right and they wipe their butts differently than anyone else. They are bullies. Ignore them and do the right thing.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • Frank

      And leave it to CNN to track them down and exploit it to fit their ultra liberal agenda! Pay no attention to the 1400 years of world wide genocide by the Muslim cult that continues DAILY! Lets track down a 10 person Baptist congregation in the woods somewhere and EXPLOIT CHRISTIANITY!

      And lets not forget to AVOID CHIK FILET FOR GOD SAKE! "NO PUN INTENDED!"

      July 31, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  13. Frank

    Nice try. These are not Devils, they are part of your Christian congregation. If you wonder why they are acting this way, try reading your bible.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  14. I am God

    I know I wouldn't have cared who got married. I would have been like "Blah blah blah in the name of a so-called God. Blah blah blah...to hell with it. Just kiss each other and get the heck out of my church so I can continue my day."

    July 31, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • teresa

      @I am: in reading the bible.... some pastors wont married a divorced person/ couple of people. Some wont marry people they know are "living in sin". A couple, according to the bible, is to find a man of God to join them in God. Yes, old fashioned i know but thats my take on what I read.

      I am sure there is more to this story than just the color of the skin. CNN plays up race and secksual orientation to make the world seem like such a hateful place. But who's spreading the hate ? : )

      July 31, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  15. Evangenital

    Religion is such non-sense.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  16. I am God

    What do you expect though? Its Mississippi.

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

      it doesnt matter if its mississippi or mars. people have brains to think for themselves.

      by the way, in case no one ever told you, your screen name assists you in commiting the ONE UNPARDONABLE sin.
      go read your bible. you might not care now, but ... ah, maybe in a couple more yrs., you just might. I am not judging you, simply pointing something out you probably already know? after all, it's only a name, right?

      July 31, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • I am God

      teresa you would think by now that you would know my profile name is sarcasm. I am an Atheist.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • fintastic

      @teresa.... you got one thing right, it's only a name, nothing more.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  17. SuZieCoyote

    Baptists.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  18. AGeek

    "We're not a top down organization," said Roger Oldham. "We're a bottom up organization."

    ...I thought they didn't support gay marriage. Huh. I suppose that's ok, but you can't get married if you're "one of them colored folk". #$(*ing backwards-assed inbred, redneck, cousin-marrying bible-thumpers.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  19. DANILLE

    I DON'T KNOW WHY PEOPLE KEEP GOING TO CHURCHES WHEN THEY CAN'T GET ALONG. WHAT KIND OF FU=K UP GOD ARE THEY PRAYING TO

    July 31, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • AGeek

      What kind of god? Easy, the one that gives them an out from personal accountability and permits them to justify ignorance, bigotry, intolerance, and many other manners of malfeasance by pointing to a book of stories they cherry-pick from.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  20. LENA LACEWELL

    I really can't say that I am surprise because of the hatred and prejudice still going on in the world today in the year of 2012 in the 21st Century. I pray that the couple will have a blessed and happy marriage for the rest of their lives. I pray that they will pray for the 1st Baptist Church and all its members from the pulpit to the door and hold no animosity in their hearts because of other peoples stupidity. but, I would no longer be a member of that church or having any other dealings their. These people are because of all of the prejudice and hatred toward our wonderful PRESIDENT. I truly pray for them.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Evangenital

      Never has there ever been a more decent President & First Family as The Obama's. NEVER!

      July 31, 2012 at 10:39 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.