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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. tony

    I wanna tax exemption for all my income, so I can refuse Tea Party members access to my driveway on religious grounds.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Think Like a Floridian

      Use "stand your ground" to keep them off your driveway. It takes too much paperwork to get a tax exemption; bullets are faster and cheaper.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  2. albro

    Speaking as one who's often tired of hearing about how poor and oppressed the black people in America are, some things are just WRONG!!! This how a church practices the word of God? By being racist? Wrong is wrong: it's that simple.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • merridee

      Oh honey, don't you know? The racists in this country have been given carte blanche to be just as out there, as abusive and oppressive as they can be! This... this was just a little thing that can be written off as an "isolated incident" until things really get cooking. My prediction is folks got about 2-5 years and then you're gonna see stuff that hasn't been seen since the 50s... and it'll be back with a vengeance.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  3. JWR

    This was a total failure on the part of the Pastor, deacons and the congregation. Don't they realize or understand that they represent God? They have done harm to the Christian community, and counterfeited the testimony of the Christian church as a whole. I doubt the sincerity and the doctrine of this particular church.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • kica

      I agree, the minister was a coward and if they really wanted to "thwart the devil" he would have performed the ceremony at HIS church.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Kate

      I don't question their sincerity at all, nor is my place to judge their sincerity – that's God's job. I agree that the pastor should have responded differently to the small group who annonymously called and bullied him, but the way the church is handling it – asking forgiveness and working as a body – it is the Biblical way of handling this. Christians are still humans and still stumble and hurt others, but forgiveness and repentance goes a long way.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Nette

      Well said, JWR!

      July 30, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • David & Susan Fletcher

      The pastor should have the the moral backbone to have told the church members he would marry the couple or replace him.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  4. Michael

    Church of the dead god they worshipping

    July 30, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Kate

      Prove there is not God or that God is dead.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • ChristardMingle.com

      kate, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. There is no proof of god. The burden of proof is on you and you have none.

      July 30, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  5. G2

    The devil made me do it!......Yea right.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • John Stone

      Nah George W Bush made me do it !!

      July 30, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  6. Charlotte

    Weatherford is an unprincipled coward to have knuckled under to these hatemongering bigots in the first place.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • PS

      Exactly. They let the petty, small-minded, bass-ackwards racists win. Sickening.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • brandon

      Engh. I'm black and I'll be the first to say that working for a church is very, very hard. The guy was scared for his job, I'm sure, and apparently afraid that the couple would have their wedding day ruined. Sometimes standing for what's right is the smart thing. Sometimes the smart thing is to just ignore what's wrong, which is what the pastor seems to have done. They couple had their wedding day, he performed the ceremony, and now the conversation is being had that needs to be had wihtin that church.

      I think what he didn might have been a little bit of wisdom.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  7. yannaes

    Love to go to Chick fil A's now and I am not religious...

    July 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Alpa Chino

      Wrong article, cray-cray.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  8. Chris

    Why was a black couple going to a white church in the first place? Those blacks knew they weren't wanted or liked and knew they weren't going to have a wedding there, this was simple provocation on their part and on CNN's part, everyone knows CNN is a left wing and black propaganda network.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Alpa Chino

      So you know these folks personally, go to their church? No? Ass. Go sit your five dollar ass down before I make change.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • JWR

      They, and other black Christians in the community, with some of their relatives are members of the church. They didn't just wander in randomly seeking to start trouble. Please get the facts before accusing innocent Christians of seeking to obey God's word!

      July 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Larry

      You clearly have a very LOW IQ. Please try to evolve mentally.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Tina

      This is unbelievable that in 2012 this type of racism is taking place. That is the only thing it can be called. What does it matter what church u attend and what eh congregation is majorly made up of. God doesn't see color, when is everyone else going to open there eyes and see people like they should. I at first said I would never attend that church again if I was the couple, but you know what I would. God would want it that way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      July 30, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Stefanie

      ...sincerely hope you were trying to be funny or something.... if not, the comments posted are pretty offensive.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • rws

      If you know the definition of church, you wouldn't ask your question because there would be NO question as to why anybody would go to any church. However, we all know churches are mostly social orgs and have not much to do with God or Jesus!

      Dear God, please protect me from your followers– AMEN...

      July 30, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • vilma

      you should be ashamed of yourself

      July 30, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Charlotte

      Brainless Chris: Your question ranks up there in senselessness with "what were those Pepsi drinkers doing going to a church that mostly drinks Coke anyway?" Skin color has nothing to do with religion, except it seems mostly whites like yourself do even use houses of worship to display your lack of a brain, a soul and anything resembling cohones. Were you born a troglodyte or did you have to work really hard to become one? It's beyond your pay grade to even question what house of worship another person chooses to join, perhaps you should just go back to charm school and work on dusting off all that you have clearly forgotten.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Trent

      Because racism is wrong, regardless of where it takes place, idiot.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • G

      If you only knew the history of why there were black churches in the first place, then you wouldn't sound so ignorant.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Kate

      God's church isn't ruled by skin color. The article says the majority of the church was white, not completely white. Also, a small group didn't like that this black couple was marrying in that church – they do not represent the whole congregation. How do you know this couple was not wanted – are you in the hearts and minds of every person who attends this church? Perhaps you're one of the cowardly annonymous callers who contacted the pastor of this church...

      July 30, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • kica

      oops....my bad oh ignorant one. Didn't realize that in 2012 churches still had "color" *rolling my eyes*

      July 30, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • skpfrmdc

      That was an incredibly dumb thing to say. Are you one of the protesters? Opinions like yours are why things like this still occur today.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  9. *jakewagin

    Curious for Alan Dershowitz opinion on this.. He's supportive of chik fila discrimation against gay marriage. Assume his logic would support SBC's initial decision to not allow. Crazy I know but so is his comment today saying Mayors have no right to keep.hateful businesses out of their cities.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  10. Apologetics

    "we are sorry 'this' happened. would you forgive those (evil doing narrow minded racist) christians?"
    Sure , we're sorry , lets forgive those fanatics. Won't you join please to forgive them a bit more?
    No mention of the couple that was rejected....
    WWJD?

    July 30, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • John Stone

      WWJD = Protest the church the wedding took place in

      July 30, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  11. sftommy

    "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."

    ""The deacons made an affirmation that First Baptist Church would be available to minister to anybody in the church or the community"
    **************************
    The Devil won.

    The Good Chiristians got married elsehere and the bad heathen-christians are still in he congregation and the deacons think they beat the devil and will continue to minister (avoiding the promsies of actually marrying).

    The Devil beat the SBC this go around and still lingers in he church.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • kica

      Great minds think alike!! I just left a comment like this on another site. devil -1, this so called church -0.

      July 30, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  12. Idalis

    Aren't all churches in MS black?

    July 30, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  13. rainbow cadet

    Just curious, whether you are white, black, Asian, Hispanic or other, if the couple getting married isn't a member of the church (or at least one of the couple) why would they even want to get married there anyway? Why not ask to be married in the church where you are member? If the couple's home church isn't big enough, then why not ask their pastor to refer them to a church that could accommodate them? If the couple doesn't belong to a church (or attend one even semi-regularly), why even bother to get married in at church at all?

    July 30, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Alpa Chino

      I thought it was their church...

      July 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • jojole

      IDIOT! They DO belong to this church and had to be married ELSEWHERE. Can't you READ?

      July 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • James

      Didn't this story say they attend there regularly? The Pastor has the right to deny them if they're not members, but he clearly didn't agree since he married them in another church. All I have to say is hope they're reading the Bible correctly because I don't know what verses say be evil and hateful to your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Charlotte

      A question from a closet bigot, for sure. Right, right, attack the victim. You're kind of like all the soulless monsters who attack the couple who brought their baby to the theater in Aurora, rather than blaming the shooter. You don't fool anyone. Completely irrelevant to the issue but a clever cover for someone who really approves of racism.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • rws

      You could at least read the article and get some facts before making so many assumptions. They were members of the church. The pastor was just too cowardly to stand up to his KKK members. So much for the power of God's love to overcome evil! I wish christians would practice just 1% of what they preach because this world would be a much, much better, peaceful and loving place.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • tnwoman

      rainbow cadet:

      You and Chris are not too bright from your silly comments. The now Wilsons WERE members of this church, and people join churches because they feel at home in a particular church, they believe the doctrines taught by that particular denomination, and other reasons, so evidently this couple felt at home in this church.

      I blame "Pastor" Weatherford for this travesty. Someone on this discussion thread called him "feckless", and I completely AGREE. He gave into the evil doings of some of his members who were guided by motives other than God's. In other words, these members were influenced by the devil. In a perfect world (Heaven) color, culture shouldn't matter.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • kica

      Hey genius......this was their church!

      July 30, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  14. Ray

    And folks thought that Gay marriage was the only sticking point in churches. Words of advice: Seek out a justice of the peace and have a reception afterwards. It will save you a ton of money and spare you the pain of dealing with religious dogma.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  15. JLS639

    "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,"

    Mission not accomplished.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  16. Ungodly Discipline

    I am saddened by all those who cling to religion and continue to endorse it as reality and insist that it somehow should govern morality and law-making. One can lay out all the evidence and build (and have built) an airtight case against every single religion on Earth past and present, but still believers will not budge from their point of view, even when presented with the lies and contradictions in the very scriptures they base their beliefs on.

    Understand, I am not talking about a belief in God. I do understand that. I am talking about religion. Every one of which has been empirically proven false but yet clings like moss to ancient rocks.

    I believe the single most important factor in this inability to see through the foolishness of religion is fear. Children’s stories of heaven and hell. The initial indoctrination for many, simply cannot be undone.

    Secondly, there is a feeling of community that comes with any “club” Naturally this is not relegated to religion so it does not qualify as an excuse.

    Lastly some minds are unable to think creatively enough to imagine the more plausible alternatives. What are those alternatives? Well we have to turn to science, but also we have to accept what we don’t know and keep looking. And in truth, we don’t really know anything about how the universe came to be, what came before and where it is going. If there are multiple universes and time lines through which we move, these would be marvelous discoveries. There is a wonderful article in Scientific American this month regarding a new spin on the Quantum theory. That being the quantum universe could have foamlike fluctuations that rule spacetime, not unlike the 0’s and 1’s that are the foundation of computing and storing information.

    If we wish to believe in the supernatural, we have to make things up. Hence religion. It doesn’t mean there is no god, or gods, or aliens, but it does mean that we don’t have the answers and most likely never will.

    Now we arrive back at fear. What will happen to me when I die? For me, I look forward to an eternity of nothing. Others fear this prospect and prefer to believe in fairies and fantasies and are not even ashamed that their mental description of an after life is akin to that of a 5-year-old’s picture book.

    I believe the Universe and the “everything” are FAR more bizarre than we could ever imagine with the faculties we have thus far obtained via evolution on this planet. And I wonder how many millions of civilizations across the vastness of space and time have pondered likewise.

    Finally, the entire planet is affected by the irrational belief systems of the various mainstream religions. It affects the global economy, it affects world peace, it affects our secular life style in the United States. These ancient belief systems are based on superst.ition and mythology. One would think humans would have moved forward by now but instead we as a species behave in the same self-destructive manner now as we did thousands of years ago with more at stake then at any other time in history. It matters.

    Religious nuts are dangerous fools. Religious leaders far more so.

    Mono-Theistic belief systems are necessarily immoral. Tyrants are not to be worshipped.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • *jakewagin

      Nicely said. I would say most individuals have moved on from fantasy land but theyre scared to death to admit it in public based on upbringing of us born before 1980. Broader society is programmmed to shun you for disrespecting religion that is theoretically perosnal. In another 50-75 years, we'll be dead and along with it will be all the nonsense. Same thing with gay rights. We dont really give a beep privately but god forbid we admit it for fear of being accused of being gay. Like supporting african americans was in the 70's and before.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  17. derp

    "Church affirms commitment to equal treatment"

    Yes, they will now openly treat blacks as equally poorly as they treat g ays.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • *jakewagin

      amazing the level of censorship by cnn. too funny.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  18. ME

    I would love to know exactly who the racist was in this church.
    He/she should be forever barred from even claiming to be a Christian.
    He/she should pay for the wedding ceremony of this couple
    He/she should step up to the plate and take the blame for being the racist that is so obvious in this act.
    He/she should publicly announce their hypocrisy.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      ME, what is more Christian than being a racist bigot? That is the MO.

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

      I'm pretty they all are. The orange streamers on the cross in the front lawn with the fans blowing up from below can only be interpreted so many ways. As a hate group, they'll hopefully get a little more attention from the IRS now.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      Why stop there? Lets have the names of ALL the bigots across the country that hide their bigotry inside of churches, like those who own, patronize, or support CHick-Fill-A?

      July 30, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  19. Al

    "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."

    He could have simply said, "I have no integrity".

    July 30, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • ME II

      rAmen.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      TOP rAman.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • ME II

      @Ungodly Disciple,
      Generally that is the intended play on words, correct.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  20. wanda

    The preacher is the leader of the church , along with the deacons – where was their backbone?? It was not right to deny their marriage and neither is it right to sue the church – (it sounds like that is their plan.) Two wrongs do not make it right !! Forgiveness is Gods answer – read your Bible !!!

    July 30, 2012 at 6:06 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.