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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. Turning Texas Blue

    Uh... is it just me or doesn't this couple have an obviously HUGE age gap?! Lol. I'm not hatin'...I want a sugar daddy...

    July 31, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  2. Vic

    Just because a person goes to church doesn't make them a Christian. Obviously the "congregants" who didn't want this couple married there were NOT Christians. Real Christians KNOW that skin color is no different than eye color or hair color to GOD. HE wants all HIS children to love each other. Any belief that ANY "race" is inferious is NOT from GOD and has NO place in a church.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Richard

      "Obviously the "congregants" who didn't want this couple married there were NOT Christians. Real Christians KNOW that skin color is no different than eye color or hair color to GOD. "

      Argue it with them. Your "No True Scotsman" fallacy falls flat with me.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • duckforcover

      Being in a church doesn't make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  3. The_Truth

    I am sick to my stomach, this is very, very bad. See what needs to happen is that the State needs to step in and shut that church down, but they want because people are afraid of churches. I believe in our lord and savior Jesus Christ, I believe in he died for our sins, but I do not believe in our church system. Church is the one place you are supposed to feel safe. Those people disgust me, all the elders and pastor needs to be removed from this church.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Richard

      "I am sick to my stomach, this is very, very bad. See what needs to happen is that the State needs to step in and shut that church down, but they want because people are afraid of churches."

      No, they won't because, for the most part, non-Christians respect freedom more than that.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  4. Joe

    The pastor should have been braver against the evil in his church. Ultimately good will win and he shouldn't have been so spineless, and if there is a small minority of bigots and racists in your church, do you really want them there? why would you pander to them? These "people" are an embodiment of modern evil and have no place in any real church and no place in the 21st Century for that matter.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  5. waterman

    This is your conservative rural America. In the reddest of the states, where you have the most conservatism, most religiosity, high crime, high teen pregnancy, high poverty, low wages, lowest education, lowest healthcare coverage – this is the kind of behavior you get.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  6. Carl

    Now isn't this a shining beacon of integrity.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  7. Sean

    The problem is lack of leadership in most churches. The head has abdicate it's responsibility to lead and make hard decisions that are unpopular for fear of losing donations and tax exemptions etc. Most churched no longer stand for anything and is being attacked from within because of pride and ambition. Morals, principles and leading according to scripture is taking a back seat to wanting to be big and not rocking the boat mentality.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  8. Bert0529

    Talk about a spin doctor... check out this masterpiece from Copiah County Baptist Association Director George Pat Bufkin:

    "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."

    What a load of nonsense!! He's selling the story of the dutiful deacons who rise up and beat Satan back in the name of God.... when what really happened was the church leadership passed on their oppotunity to be courageous and stand up for what their religion is supposed to be about and kowtowed to a group of cowardly racists who wouldn't even attach their name to their hate because they know it be shameful and small minded. They're embarrassed by their own blatant stupidity. Even after the fact this snake is defending the lowlifes by attributing their actions to the devil. The devil didn't do it. The people did. Bad people.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Visitor

      NO kidding. The only "rise up" was the "liberal" media. The Pastors were the evil themselves.

      August 1, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  9. hrdwrknjoe

    Head Baptist Furtral states "unfortunate"

    It's the dogma they preach that is "unfortunate" not allowing the wedding is pure HATE.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  10. Zeke2112

    No true Scotsman is back with a vengeance.

    LOL, religion. Selectively oppressing rights since the dawn of humanity.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  11. CINTIJACK

    In 1845, members at a regional convention being held in Augusta, Georgia created the SBC, following a split from northern Baptists over the issue of forbidding churches in slaveholding states from sending missionaries to spread the gospel.

    What a rich history.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  12. Carol

    At first we thought this story was some sick joke....How can a country that is so similar in many ways to its northern neighbour be so many light years behind??? We are shocked, sickened and incensed to think that this beautiful couple
    could not be married in Mississippi. How proud we are to live in Canada where every church in the nation would welcome
    blacks with open arms into their church family.....gladly marrying them too with joy and celebration! For the pastor to go along with this insanity and suggest that they choose another venue is even more disturbing. Has he ever heard of shepherding his flock in the right direction??? This is probably the saddest news story of 2012. May God "help" America!

    July 31, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Visitor

      Simply put, the USA is much more populated than Canada and is very culturally diverse, for better and for worse.

      August 1, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  13. mytch

    Hey Mississippi welcome back to the 50's and 60's. This "man of God" who welcomes this great couple into the bosom of his congregation has the nerve to tell them they cannot marry in their very own church. This is certainly NO man of God-he is nothing more than a hypocritical puppet for his racist congregation. SHAME before your God!

    July 31, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  14. Fred Evil

    "the work of a small minority whom he called "radicals" and who he said made mostly anonymous calls to their pastor "
    And the pastor LISTENED to these 'mostly anonymous' calls?
    What a PATHETIC example for his 'flock'!!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Visitor

      He knew who they were. The Pastor is lying.

      August 1, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  15. Name*partypeanut

    He didn't WANT controversy??? Why buckle under because of a 'small, anonymous group'? This whole incident is way beyond comprehension!!!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  16. Observant Historian

    There was a time not long ago in this country where almost no white church would have permitted the marriage of a black couple. Thankfully, the conservatives, with their love of freedom, took up the fight for racial equality and civil rights....what? They fought against that, tooth and nail? I can't believe that! I mean, from the time of the revolution, the conservatives have fought for the basic principles of freedom and equality upon which this country was founded......wait, they what? The conservatives were called Tories in those days and fought AGAINST the revolution? Well, certainly they opposed the continuation of slavery when the new country was finally....WHAT?!! The conservatives opposed any measures to restrict slavery? But with their love of family, they must have opposed the horror of the international slave trade....NO? You say the conserviatives of the time fought tooth and nail against ending the slave trade? OK, but certainly they were instrumental in the final abolition of slavery.....oh, the conservatives fought FOR slavery? You must be mistaken...why, the conservatives HAD to be at the forefront of assuring the rights of freed slaves, ending the deliberate government policy of destroying native cultures, extending the vote to ex-slaves and women, ending child labor, creating safer and better working conditions for laborers, etc? You are telling me they opposed all of that, too!! What happened to their love of freedom? At least they opposed Hitler and Nazism and struggled to get the liberal Democrats in the '30s to act again him.....they didn't? You mean I have it backwards and the Democrats had to struggle the entire way to get conservatives to support efforts to arm Britain or help in any other manner? You mean it's true that conservatives hated Roosevelt and the Jews more than they were concerned (before the way, anyway) about Hitler? What about after the war and up to the present day? Certainly the conservatives learned an important lesson from the war and struggled thereafter to promote equality at home, to fight against the shortsightedness and personal greed polluting our air and rivers, to champion safer foods and medicines, to extend the promise of American freedom to a broader and broader cross-section of the population? None of that? Well, at least we can depend on them to act with a high degree of fiscal responsibility.....my god, you mean to tell me that the conservatives have tanked the economy every time they've been in office since the Nixon administration? Have the conservatives EVER been on the side of the basic principles upon which the country was founded? Oh, I see....when it applies to them!!!

    They can wave the flag all they want. I know what conservatives have always been in history, and what they are now.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Smacky Smooth

      Well written and sadly accurate. Now we are told not to criticize "success". We should applaud those who believe in the "tricke-the-poo-down" methods of robbing the masses while making oneself the proprietor of proper conduct.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Republicrat

      Revisionist drivel. You are swapping in and out conservative for Republican, and progressive for Democrat. You are correct...many times in history it was the Republicans that were forward thinking and fought for civil liberties for those that didn't have it, but that was because they were the more progressive party once upon a time while the Democrats (particularly the southern Democrats) that championed segregation and subjugation of minorities. They were the more conservative party at the time. It was never, however, the conservatives that fought for freedom of anyone other than those that were already empowered.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Kevin Schmidt

      When Johnson was president, the racists left the Democratic Party and all became Republicans. That's why there is at least a ten to one ratio of black Democrats to black Republicans who have been elected to Congress.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Dr. Cole

      Ever hear of the Civil War or President Lincoln??? Guess who the 1st Republican President was....hmmmmm, President Lincoln. Yes the Republicans did fight for equal rights and an end to Slavery, they believed in it so much that they kept this country together while the Democratic South fought to keep Slavery.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  17. Jasel

    Wasn't surprised in the slightest. The most religious people I know more often then not tend to be the most racist, hateful and bigoted.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  18. New Resident

    After living a short time in Mississiippi, the reaction from a small radical conservative group in this Mississippi church is no surprise. The KKK is alive and doing well in Mississippi, especially in the small towns. The conservative Tea Party rants help perpetuate the power of the KKK.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  19. Love Thy Neighbor

    Great video about Christians and love/hate.

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

    July 31, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Smacky Smooth

      Excuse me, I will thank you not to assume all of us Christians behave nor believe in that manner. I am sorry if that has been your experiences with others or if you are in dispute with God. Try to meet more real Christians if you can, we dont go door to door with pitchforks, torches, or flammable crosses.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Fred Evil

      Keep in mind, there is a huge difference between Christians, and Xtians. There are VERY FEW real Christians in this world. The vast majority are Xtians who use the Bible to their every advantage, while simultaneously denying 30-50% of what it says.
      Christians I respect, and wish there were more of. Xtians are ignorant jackwagons, but who make up a solid 90-95% of America's Christian following. If you think you are a Christian, and not a Xtian, you are probably WRONG.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Love Thy Neighbor

      What Bill Maher describes is typical.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Spijder

      Fred Evil, Xtian and Christian are merely alternate spellings. Look up the historical use of Xtian spelling, it's a linguistic education.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  20. Jeff

    God hates hatred

    July 31, 2012 at 10:43 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.