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. Kebos

    With god's laws, segregation and discrimination are the rule of the day. But when mankind works together, there is no place for these in our society.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  2. Denis

    I am of Christian Faith and support its values. I just need to comment a little bit on equality. Why did Rv. Billy Graham comment on the Gay issue in support of Chic-Fil-A president's comment... which I agree with but did not, or has not commented on the Baptist Church denying a black Straight couple a chance to get married in the place they called their church? I guess that does not warrant discussion from mainstream church to chastize when necessary and support when required?

    July 30, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Gush much

      All the Grahams are just media wh0res. They're not True Christians™

      July 30, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Accept the fact that all of you and your leaders are hopelessly lost, unable to face Life on its own terms , and you cling to a ludicrous fantasy that you are somehow "in the know" about Eternal matters. Add selfishness to the mix, and it's no wonder this ugly discriminatory event has taken place. No wonder Billy Graham is thinking about Chicken while this ugly discriminatory event takes place. I would advise this couple to run far away from these "in the know" types, and accept that NONE of us could not ever -ever -EVER possess first hand knowledge about Existence, except the beauty of our lives as they unfold. Quit the pathetic fairy tales and the ludicrous Books that promulgate generation after generation of stupidity, and get on with loving. You don't need the Baptists for that, and that's the truth. You are just a minority sect of misinformed people clinging together, afraid to think for yourselves. I am sorry for this couple's experience.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  3. s kel

    All I have to say to people on here like"black people meet.com & nothern deomocrat " along with many other like minded examples in racist inbreeding on here that your so called humor is not funny! The pastor of this church is a coward for giving into the so called " small minority" of racists.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  4. Appalled

    This is surreal. This is like something from a century ago. Oh wait, it's the south.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  5. NODAT1

    we saw the headlines at work on the conference room monitors (video only, no sound) and jokily I said only in Mississippi sad thing i was right

    July 30, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  6. Tim

    I have to agree with Mr Wilson, the groom. The time to stand up to bullies/cowards/ radicals is when the "radicals" first called. Tell them they are wrong and they would not get their way. That's what we as Christian leaders must do.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  7. Tom

    I am astonished that anywhere in the United State's, this day, as far as we have came on this issue, that any church claiming to be of God, would do such a horrific thing.

    Before anyone ask, I am white. This is not a God like action and I am appalling that a church would take such action, that a pastor would continue to preach in such a church. Any state, that would allow such a prejudice act to take place, should lose federal funding of any sort.

    The association affiliated with this church should revoke there membership.

    This is a crime against God, and man!

    I would be ashamed to say I was a member of such congregation!

    July 30, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Gush much

      The fact that you felt a need to proclaim your skin color makes you just as racist as any member of that congregation. If you proclaim that you're not racist, then neither are the church members. To do otherwise would make you a hypocrite.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Kebos

      It's a crime against man, yes.

      It's not a crime against god because god doesn't exist. And if he did, I'd be one of many in line to give him a kick in the gonads!

      July 30, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • James

      You are absolutely correct!!! My stomach turned after reading this story and I am absolutely appalled that this act is still going on in this great nation of ours.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  8. Kulow Ali

    You know this people are here in Africa preaching about God that they themselves don't believe. This is a wake-up!!

    July 30, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • jungleboo

      Kulow, I appreciate you post, and I believe you are giving an account of missionary types who infiltrate countries around the world on someone else's dime, and "spread the word", knowing that they couldn't possibly take it seriously. Humanitarian works are fine, but beware of the preachers who come into your community claiming to know more than you about something they call GOD. No one is in the know about anything beyond this beautiful life, not even the Pope. It's just a money scheme, disguised as a saint. That is exactly why it works so well, and that's why the Pope has such a bizarre and expensive wardrobe to parade around in.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  9. NODAT1

    radical now equals racist nice when did that change take effect

    July 30, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  10. Kweso

    I wonder what those back pastors of the baptist Church who condemn gays and lesbians think about this decision by another Baptist congregation? This Jewish concept of a God, who supports slavery and considers women properties of men has taken over American spirituality. What did early Europeans believed before Christianity?

    July 30, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • risefrombelow

      Jewish concept? I hate to break it to you but Israel, a country with a lot of Jews, has had gender equality since its founding in 1948.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • DefyTheGods

      LOL...My thoughts exactly! This story is so ridiculous, that it doesn't even merit the attention of an offense. It's hilarious, and should be looked upon as a joke.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • Dubhly

      polytheistic religions based on a PIE ( Proto-Indo-European) base, same base that Hinduism came from. It would have also influenced Persian areas. People and Culture spread out of a common cultural area in differant waves. Warrior culture, priest very revered set to the side. women had equal rights in most cases, although contact with other cultures did sway that some.
      the Hebrew faith is very male dominated this did influence christianity which is also a male dominated religion, and later influenced islam, once again a male dominated religion.
      it really is too big of a topic to discuss in a comment area, but you should investigate for yourself the history of religions in europe.
      I used to be an anthro major years ago, was going to go into northern europeon archeology.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • jungleboo

      @risefrombelow: You couldn't be serious. You are making us laugh.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  11. kwahn meredith

    The rest of the country dont matter you in Mississippi now!

    July 30, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  12. Gush much

    I think the church or pastor (whichever) was exactly right to deny this couple a wedding in their church. This is a white church, not a black church. Let the bride and bridegroom go to a black church in their neighborhood to get married. This church has never had a black wedding in its history, and they shouldn't have to start now just because it's politically correct. Black people are different from white people – it's a fact and can't be denied. They are right to try and keep the separation.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • risefrombelow

      Go away.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Kulow Ali

      I thought a Church was a place of worship regardless of your skin color. How can they say then they believe in Jesus, when clearly they discriminate ppl.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Huh?

      Segregation was outlawed. Go away, racist.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • overthefalls

      So, to your mind, it's ok to allow them to attend on Sundays, and give their offerings to the church. But then, when they would like to receive acceptance from the church to wed, it's ok to deny. hmmm.....

      I suppose I'm just feeding a troll here

      July 30, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • habitman

      Reality check for you! It's against Federal law to discriminant based on color or race. Churches are not an exception to this, no matter what you claim is their tradition.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Gemini

      For your comment about blacks and whites being different. Last time I checked Heaven is not segregated. These people are member of this church, they attend church there. That is like saying it is ok to come here and pay your money here but don't do anything else. Wake up people when other countries declare war on us they don't see color they only want to kill Americans. Also God is a God to all people. The United States is the Land of the Free. Leave the Ignorance where it belongs if you call yourself a Christian

      July 30, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • jungleboo

      gush much coo coo

      July 30, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  13. risefrombelow

    Good lord. This is about as blatantly racist as it gets. They didn't even try to pretend or come up with some excuse. They just flat out said it was because of race. I hope the couple sues and the feds investigate.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • HollywoodPR

      You're our hero, Captain Obvious! Your philosophical and original musings have given us all so much to think about.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  14. txjew

    I belong to a congregation and I can tell you that a few "radicals" can't do what was done unless they pull serious weight in the congregation. The minister and board/elders had to be pretty cowed to let a P.R. death-spiral this egregious happen over an otherwise routine lifecycle event. The racists in this church hold power, organizational or financial.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • elvis costanza

      Exactly. Ever notice how people like this are only sorry when they're caught at doing something so blatantly wrong?

      July 30, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  15. thegadfly

    Christians sure aren't very good Christians.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • HollywoodPR

      Did you steal that from tee-shirt somewhere?

      July 30, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  16. Roy Ussery

    Thankfully. What color is a Christian?

    July 30, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • NODAT1

      green is the color or Christianity or in some cases plastic (visa/mastercard)

      July 30, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  17. Kulow Ali

    I am glad that I worship true God that deserves to be worshiped; not some Western Biblical God. Surely if this Pastor believed God, he would have told those people to go to hell, and let those black couple got married.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  18. Doctor Gonzo

    How long are we going to allow a fairy tale to pollute our nation.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  19. SNU71

    America has learned nothing from the tragedy at Penn State. While the country reels in horror at the lack of moral backbone from the power elite at PSU – putting their "image" above the safety of young boys – the pastor of this church allows himself to be pushed into an act of moral (and Christian) cowardice by the sinners in his midst. Where was this guys moral compass?

    July 30, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  20. Kells

    This is an atrocity to any affiliate of God and his son Jesus. God is a God of peace for humankind and beyond acceptance but he either loves or hates sin. As for the person, they are a spirit, not cute, ugly, tall, small, white, black, fat or skinny. Those who wished the couple to not be married because of their race, YOUR HEART IS PERFECTLY VISIBLE TO GOD AND YOU WILL HAVE TO ANSWER TO HIM FOR IT. What a sad, sad, SAD time that will be.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Kebos

      Me answer god? I don't think so. He's got a heckuva lot of explaining to do.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:24 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.