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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. mike smith

    Meh, what a bunch of wimps. If you are going to make a decision stand by it. Don't collapse to popular pressure and end up looking like even bigger wimps by caving. Stand by your convictions.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  2. Name*mat mat

    All I can say that most white american Christians are racist other wise prove me wrong .well I can say this.. and I know and you know
    If we think we are Christians we better act like it
    Judgement day is coming , to let every one know those who know the truth and know the Bible and Christ , still behaving like this will not get you anywware near heaven , and the hell is not a fun place either ,
    So for me to put in plain English so everyone can understand must repent now or face the reality no matter how much you think you know about bible or the versus in them

    July 31, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • niknak

      Or not.
      I say your are wrong, and that you are not going to heaven, or hell, as they don't exist.
      And the best part is, you will never know.
      Do you remember what is was like before you were born?
      That is exactly how it is going to be when you die.
      But go ahead and keep believing in your fairly tale, and buy more guns to show how much you love jesus.
      It is the christian way.....

      July 31, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  3. Who invited me?

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    July 31, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Name*mat mat

      Did you ment to say 666 or KKK

      July 31, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  4. W.G.

    It´s all B.S. till that church invites that couple back and remarries them in that church and throws a big wedding party
    for them . Till then it´s business as usual in missisippi .

    July 31, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  5. trex

    ............and to celebrate, THE ENTIRE CHURCH WENT TO.............................CHICK-FIL-A............................and stoned some gays while walking over..........................

    July 31, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Linda

      You read my mind! I was mentally saying all sorts of sarcastic things like you posted! Thank you-I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees it this way.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  6. Tony

    Support your local church, donate to the KKK. Sheeshh!

    July 31, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  7. jazz648

    stayxsie johnson: We know who you are. A racist. Nothing you say from this point will matter. You are not seeking to understand. Your statistics lack sources and are irrelevant. Continue to stew in your racist juices.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  8. Nwuke Emmanuel

    Are you guys really following christ footstep? What a racist congregation!repent now or see yourselves in hell fire.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  9. cutedog2

    The pastor should take full responsibility of cowering to bigots. How can one lead a flock when they choose to do what is popular rather than what is right? He should have never denied the couple to marry in that church.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Stayxsie Johnson

      Why is this a surprise....they are bigots towards the gays too........why would you not expect them too hate the coloureds too?

      July 31, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  10. Name*partypeanut

    This white girl is ashamed of these racist bigots! Who the H- do they think they are?? And WHY did this church allow this to occur? No balls, no spine.....too little too late. But only God can judge.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Stayxsie Johnson

      Who do the H- you think you are you dumb albino? King Faruk??

      July 31, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  11. Stayxsie Johnson

    Radicals?? Hmmm...what do you do when 6% of the population (black males younger than 25) are responsible for 66% of all murders? you ban them....duh!! And throw their looney, Michelle Bachman, fat a$$e$ in prison and make them do hard time.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Mel

      You must not be aware of all the white serial killers? Geez

      July 31, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • jazz648

      You are a "zero". No insight, no thought, nothing. A troll.

      July 31, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  12. Name*juana padilla

    It's sad that people who are supposed to be Christians still donot understand the message of Jesus. To love one another because we are all the creations of God. These people need our prayers so God may open their minds and hearts to love not hate.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Stayxsie Johnson

      Hallellujah, i agree with you, we need to start loving the murderous black men, maybe that will help lower the murder rates......right on man!!

      July 31, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Stayxsie Johnson

      LOL...sky faeries........what a kook you sound like!!

      July 31, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  13. Brathead

    I hope this couple has decided to change their place of worship. I am a gay woman and refuse to attend church because of how society views my lifestlye. I have my own personal relationship with god and I live my life as a christian. Only God can pass judgement. Why do I want to go and sit in a church full of hypocrites. I might be gay and in your eyes I will go to he ll for that. meanwhile all of the non-gays that attend chuech are adulterors, theives, drug addicts, etc. Sorry but I refuse for people who are more of a sinner than I feel I am to judge me just because I am with a woman. All of these so called "Christian" folks need to take a step back before they spew their hatred. CHRISTIANS ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO HATE AND NOT SUPPOSED TO PASS JUDGEMENT!!

    July 31, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • LivinginVA

      There are churches that will support you and sanctify your marriage. The Unitarians, for one.

      July 31, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Achie

      Well I agree with your statement about how Christians should not judge but aren't you judging yourself by saying "all of the non-gays that attend chuech are adulterors, theives, drug addicts, etc" I am not gay and I've never done drugs, never cheated, never stole anything...yes I sin but we all do so maybe we all need to be a little less judgemental not just us nongays

      July 31, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Frank

      Read Romans 1:18-32. Also God loves the sinner, but hates the SIN! After he was sacrificed for all of us! Let us all re-examine ourselves before being so hateful!!

      July 31, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  14. Boomer in Mo

    I woke up and it was 1960 all over again.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • Stayxsie Johnson

      LOL...no you didnt you creepy little drama queen...get over yourself!!

      July 31, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  15. Barbara

    To Charles and Te' Andrea Wilson,
    You are a beautiful couple and I wish you much love and happiness. May your rough start strengthen you and fortify your love in each other. I hope that you can rise above the bigotry that has victimized you. The challenge will be to not repeat it to others, though, it would be understandable if you did. I am white and was truly shocked that this type of bigotry was still so blatant. Your pastor took the easy way out. Shame on him. This would not happen (I surely hope) in New Jersey. I am so sorry that it happened to you and I feel very angry that it did. Best wishes, Barbara

    July 31, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  16. herego60

    bla bla bla bla bla bla bla........usuallly they protest if it's a white and non-white married. This is reidiculous. If i were the pastor.. Iwouldnot officiate any marriages. not just be selective. just because of a few iracist

    July 31, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  17. Jane

    Not one for commenting on many forums, but a couple things need to be said:
    1. This does not represent the entire state. When this news broke, my entire circle of friends (young Mississippians) all reacted exactly the same – with humiliation and exasperation. A bigoted minority will likely continue to impact national perception of our state, and given news coverage (rightly) afforded to such, I cannot fault the perception. However, it is not wholly indicative. No one I know my age in Mississippi thinks this type of exclusion is normal, acceptable, or permissible. It's awful.
    2. The nation needs to stop saying, "Of course, it's Mississippi," and patting themselves on the back, soothed that they are better and superior. The couple rejected in this situation are Americans first, Mississippians second. Empathize with them. Hurt for them. Encourage positive change in the state you love to bash. If you are interested in change, sadness will be your first reaction. If you're interested in feeling comfort with Mississippi being the standard by which you soothe your own conscience, then equality is not your goal.
    3. Southern Baptists have a bad history with racism. No one can deny that. But they have gotten better. While I do not attend an officially southern baptist church, I know many people who do. And they are not racist. Many of them have dedicated their lives to Christian principles of equality and humility. Again, people in these forums, painting with such broad brush strokes, do not hint at the common goal of equality. It hints at superiority. And as the minority in Crystal Springs has shown us, we already have enough blatantly bigoted people in existence; we don't need any more racists masquerading as social problem solvers while they themselves cut down an entire group of people.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Evensong

      Jane I'll share with you my experience of Mississippi. I am of mixed race(Black &white) I was in the Air Force an went to Biloxi for training. When I went down town I was impressed at how beautiful the state was. I was surprised when I told that blacks still lived on one side of the rails road tracks an whites on the others. I went an visited the Casinos barges on the river. While visiting the casino I was called "boy" by the bathroom attendant. I was called the "N" word by employees so casually as if it was my name. I eas deeply offended soni caught the us back to base on the bus I sat next to a caucasian person, only to have him get up an sit some where else. I went back to base an never left until my time there was up. I have travelled the world an visited 20plus countries an I've never felt more un- American, discriminated an pre judged then my time in Mississippi. I will never visit that state again.

      July 31, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  18. How Disgusting.

    Its crap like this that made me do my praying at home, much cheaper and I am still a good Christian.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  19. Big_D

    Was this group of radicals named the Tea Party members of Crystal Springs, Mississippi? I bet every one of the racists is a tea party idiot.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Brad

      Well Big D have you looked in the mirror lately? Looks to me you woyuld see exactly what your are looking for.

      July 31, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Pepper

      You can't read a comment on any subject without someone blaming the Tea Party. The Tea Party was also blamed for the Movie Theater Massacre by a member of the press the day after the tragedy (They had to retract it later). For a group that many in the media describe as mostly senior citizens, it is amazing they can do so much imagined damage. The Tea Party members I have seen on television are not idiots. They are either retired or still working middle income people who care about their country and the lifestyle they have spent years working to achieve.

      July 31, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  20. Ebenezer Akrong

    This has nothing to do with Christianity, it is a deep , very deep dislike for the coloured man, no matter how or what they do atleast for every one so called white man who will like, ten will show their dislike because they are Black, maybe it is time so called whites start to look at people from their hearts to their hearts and say they are like us not because or from their skin but from their hearts, they come to church like you give some offering at least a dollar even if little something yet have no rights like you, The President was right to give equal opportunity to even GAYS,. We have to learn to change our ways because or for the sake of our CHILDREN, Mix marriages are sometimes signs of protest to parents or relatives who hates the other RACE

    July 31, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Brad

      There are times I really wonder which race has the bigger percentage of racists. Any way take your speach and go home Britt

      July 31, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • hateyourlife

      Mix marriages are the sign of love if you don't know love I suggest you find it it well make your life peaceful

      July 31, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
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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.