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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. Sumeeta Patnaik

    Reblogged this on spinningthemuse and commented:
    I first read about this story yesterday. I would like to say that I am surprised by the actions of this church, but I am not. Unfortunately, we live in a society where prejudice has become less overt and more subtle. I do not believe that it was simply a few members of this congregation who objected to this marriage, but something that was actively communicated within the church. Once the story become public knowledge on a national stage, it was then that the church began to repudiate a "few members" who objected to the marriage. Fortunately for this couple, they were able to get married at another church, yet their day was tainted by the actions of a previous church. It is not until people begin to see past color, gender, ethnicity, and religion as social assignments and see the heart of a person, only then we will have true peace.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Farid

      My heart was filled with joy when I saw the pohots on your site and remembered the wonderful family of believers at Brimpton Baptist Church. I thank the Lord for your faithful service to Him as you continue to witness and minister to the blessed people throughout the UK. Sandy and I look forward to seeing and fellowshipping with you all again as soon as the Lord allows. God bless you all!

      October 7, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  2. Carlos

    Is it possible that the bigots that made the pastor change the venue were his biggest donors?

    July 30, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  3. wisdom4u2

    The 'First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, Mississippi' can just kiss off!! Like Jesus said, ".....And if a town refuses to welcome you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate." Amen and Amen!!!

    July 30, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  4. Uncle Joe

    Maybe these old racists thought that Mr. Wilson was a "massah" marrying his young slave.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  5. adam

    Atheist sure do invest a lot of emotion, time, and energy into not believing in something. How can so much commentary be generated from not believing in something? Why do people who are supposed to be enlightened and objective have so much hate and contempt for those who have differing beliefs?

    July 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      I know..right? They always have something to say about something they DON'T believe in. Derrrr

      July 30, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Adam I can't believe you!

      July 30, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Doctor Gonzo

      Because you mofo religious types are always up in our face. If you can preach so can we. There is no god.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Miklan

      Because its frustrating for us atheists to see people devote so much of their lives and make decisions based off something that is clearly just not real.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  6. Chickenhauler

    The ultimate culprit here was the pastor. Had he truly felt this was wrong, he would have stood up to the bigots from the start and the wedding taken place within the church. Right is right and wrong is wrong, and any pastor that won't stand up for what is right isn't worth a damn.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • jimmer

      We don't hate you, we just think you are dumb.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Genie

      Agreed!

      July 31, 2012 at 1:47 am |
    • patkasper

      Amen to that. The pastor is not following the Master. I don't believe it was just a few. I live in South Carolina I can tell you about racist so-called Christians. No one could beat them shouting "Amen" on Sunday.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  7. New Gawker

    I wonder how many weddings between cousins took place in that church.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  8. iron mike

    Mississippi....this comes as no surprise. They should realize Jesus looked more like Tariq Aziz than Barry Gibb 🙂

    July 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  9. Charles

    Now that's the pot calling the kettle black!

    July 30, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  10. Loyal Northern Democrat

    BET report that Church's Chicken also turned down their request for the receipt to be held there.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Loyal Northern Democrat

      receiption, not receipt. Sorry, spell check got me good.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • adam

      LOL. laughing at your ignorance not your joke. BET is owned by viacom which is a white owned company.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      loyal, what the hell is a "receiption" ??

      July 30, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • lsgyrl

      Ignorant for no reason at all. Fail.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  11. adam

    Hate is hate. Wether it is white people hating black people or atheist hating believers. People in western society always need a reason to hate their fellow man. Group contempt is a bedrock of western culture.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • New Gawker

      western culture? I think this behavior is pretty universal.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • wrong

      Atheists don't hate believers.
      That's a very ignorant (and blanket) statement.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  12. Ransom

    If you are raised by racist parents,its likely that you will be a racist yourself.You could also become a racist by what you experience or see on tv.Atheists don't want to consider the other facts besides misquoting verses to justify why they try to make all Christians feel guilty.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  13. lepke

    I don't understand. This church clearly discriminated against this black couple. Is that legal? Just because it is a church they can do that? Who is protecting our civil rights?

    July 30, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • New Gawker

      The church gets away with raping small boys I don't think they're going to get in trouble for this. They'll probably get more supporters. Especially in Mississippi.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  14. Pat in IL

    I think the church should ban those " radicals" because those people definitely are not Christian. Their behavior proves that. They have no reason to be in church.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Not Christian? How are they not Christian?

      July 30, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Nah

      ungodly: "Not Christian? How are they not Christian?"

      Reading comprehension isn't your forte, is it?

      He said, quite specifically, that their behavior proves they aren't Christian in anything but name.

      Thanks for playing.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Nah, how does that prove their not Christian?? They seem very Christian to me, I certainly wouldn't expect any more!

      July 30, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  15. skullmurphy

    it's really a shame when the policies of a church can be made by a bunch of ignorant, in-bred, morons. Oops, I forgot for a second that this took place in Mississippi, so how could we expect anything different.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Nah

      skull: "it's really a shame when the policies of a church can be made by a bunch of ignorant, in-bred, morons. Oops, I forgot for a second that this took place in Mississippi, so how could we expect anything different."

      Do you always make generalizations about an entire state filled with people?

      Kind of like how bigots make generalizations about an entire race.

      Funny.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  16. Ungodly Discipline

    God has you in his book. He has a plan for each of us. He knows when you will be born and when you will die. He is therefore responsible for all death, murder and destruction for all of history including every abortion ever performed, every r.a.p.e, every murder, every miscarriage, every atrocity.

    He is perfect. He is omniscient. He is omnipotent. So how could this not be so? It is God’s will.

    Praise the Lord!

    July 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • gmad

      he is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent because he does not exist.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Loyal Northern Democrat

      God told me that he hates you.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      loyal, HE is such I nice fellow. Praise Him! Praise the Lord!

      July 30, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • sftommy

      free-will by which choice all shall judge themselves through Him on the day of reckoning

      July 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  17. Julian Arancia

    Dear Mississippi,

    On behalf of the Northern states that wronged you and your confederates in the war of Northern Aggression back in the 1860's, I'd like to sincerely apologize for trying to force you all to stay in the Union.

    Please go ahead and leave, all of you, with our blessings. We won't stop you this time.

    Thanks much.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • jlaigo2

      Feel free to take Texass with you.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
      • Julian Arancia

        They were part of the confederacy so they're welcome to leave again too! 🙂

        July 30, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Nathan

      Come on. Stop the generalizing. These people that made the calls are fools. But a call for the state to leave the union on behalf of northern states is just silly and divisive.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:09 am |
      • Julian Arancia

        It's mainly meant as a joke but I think the question of union is a valid one. The culture wars are increasingly driven by southern conservatives and as a non-southern, non-conservative (though from the south) I view the culture wars as increasingly dictatorial and oppressive.

        Where I live has more in common with Canada than Mississippi. Instead of driving each other nuts trying to live in the same house it's time to look at separating and moving on.

        August 1, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  18. DXEphilly11

    Supposedly pastors are suppose to the ones teaching but this is yet another total failure. And they wonder why people become less religous

    July 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  19. adam

    These responses show how low bigot culture has fallen in America. The irony of the fact that it is typically the most ignorant and uneducated among us who still believe in white supremacy is hilarious. It makes sense that the feeblely ignorant would be the ones that believe in the mythical racial differences in fitness.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  20. jojocircus

    i don't think it has anything to do with their race - IT HAS TO DO WITH THEIR AGE DIFFERENCE.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • adam

      The pastor admitted that race was the issue that the church members had with the wedding. You are in a denial caused by your bigoted world view.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • lsgyrl

      Don't think.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
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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.