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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. JezMyOpinion

    I wish they would list those who protested this wedding. The pastor should also step down as he let his "donors" prevent him from doing the Lords work. I also hope that these vile racists in this church donate so that this couple can have a fantastic honeymoon after having cast such a pall over their nuptuals.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • joshlinc

      That’s the problem....in both cases. The people who "complained" were anonymous (cowards) callers who didn't identify themselves, so we don't know who they are. Which in my opinion makes the preachers decision that much worse....caving to people who know they are wrong to the point they won't give their name??? Please, how can you call yourself a man of God?

      July 31, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  2. Sheila

    Whoooops – forgot about the internet. Darn! The internet! Never considered it. Better apologize... big time. Let's see, how best to phrase it – "We're not racists, we're good Mississipppi Southern Baptists". Yeah – that seems to be a distinction without a difference right now, especially as the Southern Baptist Convention is trying to sidestep the whole thing.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  3. James

    It,s always good to hear from the racist liberals ,who know nothing of what actually happened. Sounds like a great plan for a lawsuit from two non members of the church.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  4. Bubba™

    I find the church's explanation of "It was NOTHING! All over, now go away" pretty unconvincing. Just admit they are an all-white church and be proud! Don't let those inferior races get near your holy place or they'll be marrying your white daughters. Good old Mississippi, you can't change them at all. Time never passes in the Old South.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  5. Tameka Vironet

    This story really saddens me. I have to bi-racial children and I am an African American women. My husband is bi-racial, and we want our children to love everyone and we teach them to love everyone regardless of their color or race. I would like to think that RACISM is over but that is so un true. I was a victim of it over the weekend and arrested because I witnessed a Paralized African American man being beat up by cops and recorded it and then I got thrown in jail falsely and giving charges that wasn't true and had witnesses there to verify. That sad part of the sitaution is that my 4 and 8 year old children witnessed this ordeal and the cops left them unattended, screaming and hollering whle they took me away to jail. This story is being put in my local media right now. I was with my church at a waterpark 2hrs awat from where I live. I was taken to the hospital and everything. I don't want to think nagatively but how can I not. This couple should have equal rights just like anyone else. We all need to love one another just like God loves us. How can we say we love God and can't even love our neighbor? This saddens me, but I pray and I pray for this world because it is so much going on and we as a people don't get it together, I feel sorry for us all because God is tired and he is coming back to judge us. We have to fix our heart. Church people shouldn't have to go through this especially if they are members. My suggestion to this couple is, STAND STILL AND KEEP THE FAITH. PRAY FOR THESE PEOPLE AND KEEP YOUR HEARTS PURE AND GOD WILL DO THE REST. CONGRATS TO YOU BOTH FOR YOUR NEW LIFE TOGETHER!

    July 31, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  6. Glenn Baker

    This is a very, very sad situation. Especially in this century!
    Pastor Weatherford and the Board/Deacons should agree to have the phone records supoenaed so they would know exactly where those phone calls came from. They should have everyone of those people come in, stand in front of the congregation and offer an apology to them for bringing shame upon them as a congregation. They should be required to do the same to Charles and Te' Andrea Wilson.
    Here's the difficult part: The congregation and the Wilson's should forgive those people. Why? Because Jesus told us that if we do not forgive one another then (1) we will not be forgiven and (2) our prayers will not be heard until we do forgive.
    Further, there should be an in-depth series immediately on Acts 17:26-28 which reads, "And He has made from one blood[a] every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ The sacrifice at Calvary was an act not only for past sins but for present and future sins. It's time the Church started walking in forgiviness one another and started loving each other the way the Spirit of God within us is compelling us to do.
    Those callers acted foolishly and are racists because they are broken people and they carry the sins of their ancestors in them and those things are hard to shake loose – no matter what that sin may be. But the love of fellow congregants and the love of that couple for their fellow saints can heal all brokeness within that body of believers.
    Should there be an additional outward act to begin wiping this slate clean? Yes. The First Baptist Church and Copiah County Baptist Association should split the difference and pay any rental costs the Wilsons for the other venue they ended up using and pick up the costs for the reception as well.
    What if those who made the calls don't want to repent and refuse to come before the congregation and the Wilson's? Forgiveness does not require acceptance of that forgiveness on the perpetrator's side. God will deal with them in His way.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  7. Winston5

    bunch of rats...

    July 31, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • pockets

      RELIGION POISONS 'EVERYTHING'

      July 31, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  8. Demo Joseph

    When you call a racist a racist – It's like WHO ME? Then they try to fix it up. Or the other feel shame and try to speak up.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Bubba™

      At least they didn't get married in a frickin' Chick-Fil-A.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  9. DeFace

    It is the South.. they are de-evolving in front of our eyes.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  10. Bubba™

    I live in Georgia, where our state's motto is "Thank God For Mississippi."

    July 31, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • fintastic

      Now THAT's funny!!

      July 31, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  11. Marni

    Some people complained anonymously and they caved. If you are willing to protest about two people in love getting married but not willing to put your name on that protest, you should not be taken seriously. As far as they know, it could be local klan who is protesting and no one in the church. They never should have moved the wedding.

    What would Jesus do? I think that nice Jewish boy would slap the hell out of the idiots.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Tameka Vironet

      I AGREE I THOUGHT THE SAME. I THINK THE CALLS SHOULDN'T HAVE BEEN TAKING SERIOUSLY BECAUSE THEY COULD HAVE BEEN SOME OTHER PEOPLE. YOU ARE RIGHT ON TARGET

      July 31, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  12. Demo Joseph

    That wrong can't be made right. I am catholic and many years ago in a little community in Louisiana called Malet we went to church with whites and sat in different areas of the church. Until one white lady spoke up. NOT THE MINISTER, a woman. RACE has always been a part of the Catholic Church and all churches. It's what they do, divide and conquer. See how the Tea Party and the Republicians do it so well and they use God to do it. Because we are fools. We want to hear that mess "We are better" "They are not believers" Hell, people grow up. Who are leading these religions and church?

    But the people in that community did nothing so the whites moved on and they are still doing that today. Keeping running and one day you will be like Isreal pushed up against a wall.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  13. James

    I'm a SWM, grew up in Alabama, and left the Baptist church for this exact type of hypocrisy. Stereotypically speaking, southern white baptists are the most prejudice, hypocritical, and judgemental people on the planet. My congrats to the newly married couple! Consider yourselves fortunate that you did not get married in that environment.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  14. sts_121@hotmail.com

    If the church was true in not wanting a controversy they would ave told the racists that the wedding was going tohappen and if they didn't like it they should find another church to attend.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  15. Do What's Right

    Why is Mississippi even considered a state? It should be it's own island with the residents who WANT to stay, never be able to leave, they can all hate as much as they want without sharing it with the sane.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  16. ronjayaz

    Simply not believable in this day and age.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  17. wcb2009

    There is not much that can be said at this point. We all know they are racists and the church leadership's is not very interested in confronting the "radicals"

    July 31, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Blah blah blah

      The pastor said "radicals" not "racists", which makes me wonder what the REAL REASON for not wanting them to marry in their church. I see nothing that says the phone calls or decision was racially motivated.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Bubba™

      " I see nothing that says the phone calls or decision was racially motivated." You have a bad case of eye-scales. Ride up and down the road to Damascus and hope they fall off.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  18. Dennis

    Mississippi is still caught in te 60's.Ignorance will not allow them to move forward.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  19. noteaparty4me

    I really love how white media and white people are coming up with new code words to disguise plain all American as apple pie racism. This couple wanted to marry in a church where the young bride prayed and worshiped. I blame the pastor for caving in to the hate. And I do not think for a second it was a fringe radical wing of the church. It was a pastor appeasing major donors. If you want to know who the real radicals are in that church and many more like it in this country, follow the money. White people think we are stupid. And they use the white media like CNN to prove their point.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Dennis

      This is not mainstream "white people"..this is "white people" still living in a very segregated,racist past.Are all "black people" like the "New Black Panther Party"?...Not good to stereotpe an entire race to make a point.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Blah blah blah

      White people think we are stupid. And they use the white media like CNN to prove their point.

      We are stupid to allow the media to stir up race problems. Seems like that's the only way they can get people to read what they write! How many interesting links did you follow only to find out the topic had nothing to do with the content? I am begining to believe that CNN and other media will not be happy until there are race riots happening again! I didn't like it first time around, how about you?

      July 31, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Chrisnot

      When people can't find a target for their stones, the "media" , not the white media, not the black media, or the Chinese media, is a great bullseye. This reported situation is one of many shameful incidents in what we would like to refer as a civil society. For some reason, racism does seem to hover in and around churches of whatever denomination.., some, it seems, more than others.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Bubba™

      "White people think we are stupid. " Yeah, you said that a couple of times. Don't make it true. I know plenty of black surgeons and professors and writers and artists; none of them are stupid. I think YOU are probably pretty stupid, though. Quit posting that nonsense.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Blah blah blah

      Bubba,

      I copied and pasted that "white people . . ." bit and forgot to add the quotes before submitting it. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to correct it now.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Lori RN

      @noteaparty4me,
      You are absolutely right! I am a white woman living in Mississippi in a near by city to Crystal Springs. You hit the nail on the head. Racism is alive and well here in Mississippi.

      July 31, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  20. bluemoon1

    The church, the pastor and the congregants should all be ashamed of themselves. Nothing but a group of racists hiding behind the church. Hope this couple can see past the ignorance of these people and live a long, happy and healthy life together.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:40 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.