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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. R Herrin

    Why in God's name would these people, and any other people, even consider continuing their affiliation with this so-called church??? I too believe that not all opposition to the couple marrying in the church was anonymous. I also believe that Pastor what's his name was motivated to change the venue by the fear of losing money, again reaffirming that the LOVE of money is indeed the root of all evil.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Tom

      Yep, 30 pieces of silver.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  2. Nunya

    Stepping up and making clear that their ministries are open to everyone is something they should have done *before* the wedding, not after.

    If the pastor doesn't know who made the calls, then there is absolutely no reason that he should have been making decisions based on the calls. And if the calls were such nature that he was afraid for the safety of those involved, then he should have reported them to the police.

    In any case, while there may be many individuals in the church who really had no idea what was going on until after the fact, there undoubtedly are people in the leadership who knew all about it and did nothing to stop it. They should be removed from leadership, by whoever has the power to do so whether local or top level. And if that isn't done, then the congregation should remove the church from their rolls. Without this sort of action, 'amends' are incomplete, and they're just begging for such shameless actions to be repeated in the future.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
  3. Alex

    Yet another reason I do NOT go to church. HYPOCRITES.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  4. Hypatia

    Jesus would not have done such an evil thing and they know it. But since they subscribe to the myth of Jesus=god, they've reinvented Jesus into a KKK aficianado.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  5. Bootyfunk

    churches and racism go hand in hand, always have.

    go to a small southern town on sunday morning. you will see a town divided by race. the blacks in one church, whites in another church, and latinos in still another church.

    religion is one of the most divisive forces on earth.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  6. will

    This is the biggest sham I cant believe it!! They said the church is open to everyone!!! NO ITS NOT if it was they would have allowed the couple to get marreid!!!! And in the statemnet I have yet to hear a PUBLIC APOLOGY TO THIS COUPLE!! The pastor said he was peace maker....you dont make peace with sin!!!!! You call it what it is....They say it was only a small ananoymous gourp!!!!!!! WHAT REALLY if that is the case then the pastor is more spineless than thought!!! So you are gonna tell me he let a small nameless faceless group scare him off from doing the wedding???? What is he going to do when a real problem comes up!! He knows exaclty who it was, and so does the rest of the church! They just wont call them out!!! They should aplogize the couple and remburse them for any expneses they had becasue the church changed on them!!! The Director of county is no better!!!!! Trying to make it all sound like its ok!!! I am from MS and IM WHITE AND A PASTOR AND THIS IS A JOKE!!!! Racism on so many fronts is bogus in todays PC world....this one is not and its getting white washed over!

    July 30, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • Tom

      I repeat, this congregation needs to clean house and start over with real Chrisians

      July 30, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Tom

      sorry, typo, real Christians

      July 30, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  7. Why_Bother

    How "radical" can an idea of not allowing blacks to marry at their church. Radical ideas aren't 150 years old, a radical idea would be allowing gays to marry in the church. The pastor states the church grows and the devil inevitably is there, so to eliminate the devil, eliminate your lame excuse for a church. The pastor seems sincere, he should quit

    July 30, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Blame the deserving

      I shouldn't judge, of course, but I would think a sincere man of God would have stood up for what is right.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • Tom

      I don't think the congregation should give him the opportunity to quit. He should be fired, then all of the deacons should resign. A good old fashioned do-over.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  8. Jesus was not white

    Racism in churches is nothing new. I remember when the first black family began to go to my childhood church in the 1980's to support an African exchange student who was attending. The church split, and the racists all moved to another church. The black family stayed, as did the tolerant members. More black families began to place membership, and it became the first multi-racial church in our area. It's still going strong today.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Anonymous

      This is common strategy within the Southern Baptist Church. If a church starts to attract an interracial congregation, then the original members move to a more "convenient" location to start a new church, with a slight variation in the name. This is done out of the "goodness of their hearts", gifting the old church to the newer congregants.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  9. Blame the deserving

    What kind of minister lets racist thugs push him around. Way to stand up for your faith Pastor.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Truth

      Blame naggers.

      July 31, 2012 at 6:41 am |
  10. whoopitydoo2

    I love reading all the comments from liberals! I disagree with what the people in this ONE church did, but that's their problem to deal with. However, the same liberals who voted for Bloomberg, the very man who is now taking freedom away from millions at an alarming pace, are commenting...and they still have the nerve to comment in here. You liberals are nothing but hypocrites.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • lsgyrl

      Nevermind. Too easy.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Jesus was not white

      You're probably one of those who thinks one has to be Republican to go to Heaven.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Water to Whine

      Are you a Christian? Because Jesus was not concerned with party politics.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  11. Rahn Emanuel

    They should get married at a Chik-fil-a!

    July 30, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  12. tkret

    It's people like some of the congregants of this Church who keep racism alive.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Tom

      the only religion that hates more Americans than the Southern baptist is the Muslims

      July 30, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      studies show that atheists/agnostics are generally less prejudice than their religious counterparts. religious people generally hold the most prejudice views - the bible belt, for instance. the bible has numerous examples of racism and bigotry. christianity has always promoted prejudice, h.omophobia and misogyny - this story isn't really that surprising. people just usually do a better job of hiding their bigotry. these people are just stupid. and this pastor is a coward.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  13. ffacts

    why would any black person want to get married at a place who does not want them?

    July 30, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Rahn Emanuel

      To rouse the rabble.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • lsgyrl

      They said they attended the church regularly. Obviously they were not mistreated or they would not have wanted to be married there.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  14. paul s.s.

    The rationalization of southern baptists is truly mind boggling – the idea that each church is 'autonomous' as justification for outright racism is pitiful in this day and age – if the Southern Baptist convention had come out strongly and adamantly against this kind of behavior, I'd have at least a measure of respect for them – but to shrug off a blatant act of discrimination as the 'work of the devil' and ignore the deacon's cowardice in wanting to avoid 'controversy' is laughable – if it weren't for people having the courage to fan the flames of controversy, women and african american would not have the right to vote today – more evidence of the ignorance of most bible thumpers, and Mississippi in particular

    July 30, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  15. Carol

    Who wrote this headline? It sure doesn't sound like this church has "reaffirmed" its committment to equality. They are still lollygagging around.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Tom

      They are not sorry it happened, only that it made headlines. Of course, once its not news they will go back to their inbred bigoted selves with their spineless minister.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  16. Carol

    Anonymous calls are an invitation to be ignored. My guess is they weren't all anonymous. The minister's fear of "controversy" is disgaceful. Controversy in this case means "losing money".

    July 30, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  17. Blog Me Blog You

    What s a Christian?

    July 30, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  18. Blog Me Blog You

    oops i am not , make that second

    mwa hahahaha

    July 30, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  19. Blog Me Blog You

    What' s a wedding ?

    Bwa hahaha

    i am the 1st poster

    July 30, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    The Southern Baptist branch was based on segregation when it formed, splitting from its parent Baptist Church which apparently could not in theory subjugate individuals to being less than human based on skin, eye, and hair color and features. The Southern Baptists have never had a problem with considering themselves to be God's chosen people, sent to save the souls of anyone either desperate or brain washed enough to join their fascist cult of "salvation". The Southern Baptists are a pathetic disgrace to the message of love and universal humanity that Christianity advocates.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:29 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.