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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. bluemalak

    I think the question would be, who would want to be married in such a hatefilled church, regardless of what color they are? The actions of this church were unchristian, against the very foundations of faith. You couldn't pay me to visit there, much less get married there. If it wasn't for the net, they'd go on being evil without anyone calling them on it.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  2. fritz

    The mortified and shamed always do the 'back step'. I'm guessing the rest of the congregtion are angry at these 'radicals', as they cleverly put it, for humiliating them in the face of the public. I'm sure they got some nasty phone calls from more moderate behaving christians for 'spilling the beans' about their nasty little secret with something like, "...and remember! The Devil made you do it! Not us! We love everyone! Even Dawkies! Or else! Got that!?" ;op

    July 31, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  3. talkic social change

    Disgusting that racism like this is still so prevalent in society. Where in this church's bible does it condone racism?

    July 31, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Chicago

      "Disgusting that racism like this is still so prevalent in society?"

      Where have you been? Just read any Barack Obama story.

      July 31, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  4. Chicago

    It's amazing how racists clean their act up when their tax-exempt status is compromised.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  5. partisanhack

    Is it bad that i already had guessed which state this took place in before i even clicked on the story? Maybe allowing the confederacy to secede wasn't such a bad idea.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  6. Charlton

    You can't blame this on Christianity. I am Christian and would NEVER allow this to happen to someone. They have every right to married in their church. The only thing that should be asked of the couple is when to make sure that their date is already taken by another function. This is horrible and I can't believe in this day and age we still have to put up with this nonsense from some people.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • TheMendicantBias

      I agree, you can't blame Christianity for this, just as you can't blame Islam for the bad things a minority of its supposed "followers" do.

      July 31, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • bluemalak

      The saddest part is that this was this couple's regular church. They can go there and put money in their collection plate, but not get married there???? I don't blame it on christianity either, I blame it on arrogant bigots who don't even comprehend that they are anything but real christians.

      July 31, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  7. fritz

    "Awe, we sowwy! We didn't mean to be so mean to you! But it wasn't our fault! Da Devil made us do it!" ;op

    July 31, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  8. Name*Norbert Herriott

    Those members who called are gutless Christians! Every Christian is not like them but I forgive them. I won't forget them and what they've done to hurt this couple during their special time. The racist should be suspended or punished for their actions by the church!

    July 31, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • mbspringer133

      "The hierarchy of the Ku Klux Klan was drawn exclusively from the hierarchy of the white Southern Baptist church. There were no Catholics, Jews or Jehovah's Witnesses in the Klan. There were a few Methodists in their ranks but their Kleagles, Exalted Cyclopses, Grand Wizards, etc., were all deacons, Sunday school teachers, ministers and preachers of that violent religion. The Klan was the enforcement wing of that white Southern Baptist church." -http://www.mississippidays.com/murder

      July 31, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  9. max3333444555

    give them a little credit for trying to right a wrong and clarifying a proper position for their church to follow going forward.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • K-switch

      Too little, too late. They would have done nothing had they not been busted. If the only reason you apologize is because you got caught: not a real apology.

      July 31, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  10. cashmeremafia

    I wonder what reason they gave that was so convincing, or do you even need a reason to do this?

    July 31, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  11. Paul

    Absolutely hideous, disgusting, horrible people to do this to the couple. Further proof that organized religion and "Christianity" are the stupidest things on the planet. Idiocy like this makes me unproud to call myself an American.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • fritz

      Actually, I want to see more of this. How else are we going to tear down this aweful belief system and bury it for good? Ridicule and derision along with sympathy for the wronged or 'martyred' is a most powerful weapon against these bigoted christians.

      July 31, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  12. W Kangas

    Ghandi had it right.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  13. Name*john p dinhet

    Just one more reason I reject religion as a whole. Hatred is never the answer.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  14. Gryla

    They must have found a loophole in the Confederate States Law Doctrine that forbids black couples from mating without their owners consent.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Chicago

      Yeah, the loophole is called racism.

      July 31, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  15. Carolyn Young

    I would tell them kiss off. They would never have said anything if it had not gotten in the new. Too late. Christians like to be holier than thou even with their own. They get a little power and then no one is good enough for them. They need to read their bible more about humbling themselves and being servants of god. They need to stop reading into it things they are not there.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  16. Sunday

    I want to join bbc sport

    July 31, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  17. Sunday

    I want to join

    July 31, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  18. Snow

    Too little too late.. Sad thing is, they are not having a change of heart here, they are just trying to cover their ass against a slam of law suits that are sure to follow after their dick move.. and they DO know it is a dick move, yet they do it. When they face a little resistance, they do not have the courage to back their convictions.

    Sad bunch and typical religious hypocrites, really..

    July 31, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • houstonwehaveaconniption

      Indeed, such hypocrisy has become the norm. They aren't fooling anyone: not allowing a couple to marry in their church because of their skin tone–shouldn't that have sent up some red flags? And since when does the pastor have to bend to eery whine and cry of the congregation? If this had not reached the news, nothing would have been done about it. There is no change of heart. But now, I'm sure the Klan will fund their building project.

      July 31, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  19. KeyWester

    Too late.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  20. Dennis Daniels

    Christians are such awful people.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:04 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.