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. Realdirect

    Racist amerikkka...what else is new!!!

    July 30, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  2. Dan

    Funny. They seemed to want to talk about it enough when they told the couple to find another church. Suddenly they're all shy? It's amazing what shining a spotlight onto vermin will do....

    July 30, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  3. sf

    yet ANOTHER reason why i do not belong to any religion! they're nutty! and disgusting!

    July 30, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  4. On my knees for God's pleasure

    Some of those sheep may be surprised to learn what Jesus' skin color and appearance was.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  5. godzilla

    Once I heard that this happened in Mississippi, I could honestly say I was not surprised. In 1970, the state of Mississippi banned Sesame Street from being aired on their local PBS stations, because black and brown kids were playing with white kids, and this would have offended some of the families of that state. Oh well, to hear that this type of behavior still exists in that state is sad; but what else do you expect from a state that finally received color TV and indoor plumbing in 2009?

    July 30, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Ira Radnick

      They have indoor plumbing out there? Since 2009? When the hell did that happen? I guess running water is next, eh?

      July 30, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  6. Andy Christensen

    As a member of a church in the Southern Baptist Convention I'm shocked and upset that this happened. The wedding should have happened as the couple hoped and dreamed it would. The church should have welcomed the opportunity to marry an African-American couple. The pastor should have rejected the pressure to do something so hurtful to this couple. I'm not there and I don't want to sound judgemental but there is something wrong with this picture.

    This is not over. Good can still come out of this situation. If the church goes to the couple and apologizes and tries to make amends with them, and squarely tackles what has happened, the faith of the couple can be strengthened, the relationship between them and this church can be restored and the spiritual maturity of other church members can grow. All this by the power of the Holy Spirit. God is in the business of reconciliation, and so should we be.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  7. John

    How did the wedding turn out? Are they happy together? Did anything special happen?

    July 30, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • Toki Wartooth

      That man ems robbings the cradles!

      July 30, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  8. Ira Radnick

    Racist pigs. I find such behavior beyond disgusting. I have seen such bigotry in several forms with organized religions (allegedly christian faiths), ranging from ugly racism to excluding anyone who is deemed to not be righteous because of problems, personal decisions or being poor. Those are the chief reasons I have turned my back on any religion, as all of them have proven to be self serving operations that strive to derive wealth from other believers who act in the worst ways imaginable. The only good thing that has come of this situation in the article is it reaffirms I made the right decision for myself in having left all religions in my rear view mirror. I do the right thing for the right reasons, treat my fellow citizens (and non-citizens) well, unless they encroach on my right to a peaceful life, and donate to various charities I feel represent my outlook in serving our fellow humans.

    Shame on the members of this one congregation for showing us the ugliest side of our human experience.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  9. rational minnesota

    Interesting how they church wants to make amends NOW...
    No one was willing to step in and make sure the wedding could be held as planned?
    Even the minister backed down (though he claims it was to make sure the couple's day was special)?
    How convenient to be able to claim you want to do the right thing after the fact.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • PsiCop

      You're right. All of this is fully "after the fact." The admissions that this was wrong, are entirely too late. Sure, people notice is now ... but once the spotlight has moved on, everything will be as it was once again, in Crystal Springs. The racists in that church will remain as racist as they ever were, and will still be members in good standing (and not thrown out). The cowardly pastor who caved in to them will remain as craven as before. No one will have been confronted, no hearts will have changed, the amount of bigotry in Crystal Springs will not have been reduced.

      This is how the racists win. And won they have. Guaranteed.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
  10. joe

    why do you people who hate like to hurt others

    July 30, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Toki Wartooth

      Because you is do.uchbags Joe. Quit beings such tools and learns to by nice!

      July 30, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  11. Truth

    Equality, Prosperity, Blacks. You must choose two, and only two.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Bozobub

      Nah. No one is limited by YOUR demands, sorry. Crawl back in your hole, troll.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Truth

      Liberals are always trying to distort the TRUTH.

      July 31, 2012 at 6:36 am |
  12. trex

    .........................GOD IS LOVE....................................except in Mississippi Baptist Churches......................

    July 30, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  13. Name*Dovves

    And these people that run this church think they are on their way to heaven. So sad . You say you love the Lord whom you have not seen , but can't love your neighbor who you see every day. The bible says you are a lie and the truth is not in you.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  14. Tom

    Not being a Southern Baptist, could someone please clarify this for me. If each congregation is responsible for the actions of their church, who certifies the ministers credentials. I mean, doesn't the SBC oversee who becomes a minister. That being said is there no over-site as to their performance or does one failed minister just go ply his wares at the church down the road.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  15. Truth

    Why naggers get married is beyond me....love, religion and commitment in a monogamous relationship is for humans only, not animals.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • sherry sanders

      the same reason hoonk$$ get married

      July 30, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • Andy Christensen

      On the day of judgment each of us will have to give an account for every careless word we have spoken, and what you say is worse than careless. Jesus commanded His followers to love each other. There will be people from every nation, tribe and language in heaven. When do you plan on starting to love them?

      July 30, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Truth

      I have love for all human beings.
      Naggers are simply not human beings.
      Look at how they all act, how they live.
      A completely different species altogether, clearly.
      It is wrong for the people in charge to force human beings to live amongst feral animals.
      Think of our children's safety and future.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Bozobub

      So, apparently you're not married then, "Truth"... lol

      What a maroon.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • Bozobub

      Pff. I'd damn well rather have my family completely surrounded by black (and brown and greenish and etc.) people than hateful little twits like YOU, "Truth". Go back to cutting eyeholes in sheets and leave honest folk alone.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Jesse

      So this makes you either an invertebrate or an alien.

      July 31, 2012 at 6:33 am |
  16. ReligiousPoopShoot.com

    Any religion based on Jesus Christ is gonna lick balls, because Jesus does in fact lick balls.

    Fuk Jesus and Mohammed, fuk them up their stupid as.ses.

    Jesus and Mohammed are one-note jokes that only retards follow. They’re fuking clown shoes. If they were real I’d beat the sh.it out of them for being so stupid.
    Doctor Gonzo

    July 30, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • ReligiousPoopShoot.com

      All you motherfukers are gonna pay! You are the ones who are the ball-lickers! We’re gonna fuk your mothers while you watch and cry like little whiney bi.tches. We’re gonna make you eat our sh.it, then sh.it out our sh.it and then eat your sh.it that’s made up of our sh.it that we made you eat!

      Jesus and Mohammed

      July 30, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • ReligiousPoopShoot.com

      Thank you for posting on ReligiousPoopShoot.com!

      July 30, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • Tom

      vulgarity is a strong expression of a weak mind. Better to be quiet and have people think you a fool than to open your mouth and confirm it.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • therealprinceofdarkness

      Lighten up Francis.

      Speed up the process and off yourself tonight.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • ReligiousPoopShoot.com

      Hello Tom!

      Thank you for posting on ReligiousPoopShoot.com! We appreciate your feedback.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • ReligiousPoopShoot.com

      Hello therealprinceofdarkness!

      Thank you for posting on ReligiousPoopShoot.com! We appreciate your feedback.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • Toki Wartooth

      Jesus is a tools and he can licks my balls LOL's!

      July 30, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • ReligiousPoopShoot.com

      Hello Toki Wartooth!

      Thank you for posting on ReligiousPoopShoot.com! We appreciate your feedback.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Bozobub

      No, actually you're going to do nothing but rant and rave, troll. Hop up and down more, maybe that will help.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • ReligiousPoopShoot.com

      Hello bozobub!

      Thank you for posting on ReligiousPoopShoot.com! We appreciate your feedback.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Jorge

      You seem like a pimply tween who's always wringing his hands, who his sisters and female cousins avoid and who gets fed on a little metal folding table during family dinners...in another room with linoleum flooring.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  17. On my knees for God's pleasure

    Good job with your flock there pastor.

    I thought the shepherd was supposed to lead his naturally obtuse sheep, but it seems that he is just another one of them.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Tom

      I'm sure after he relocated the ceremony, there was a little something extra in the collection plate. O he who places manna before the lord.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  18. Henry

    Previous articles noted this occurred as a result of some type of vote by members. How does that translate to a 'small group of radicals'?

    July 30, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Kiffer

      no f****ing doubt

      July 30, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  19. avlisk

    To quote Phil Ochs from "Here's To The State Of Mississippi some 50 years ago, "Here's to the land you've torn out the heart of. Mississippi find yourself another country to be part of." What century are these people living in. What morality are these people being taught?
    What I'd like to see is President Obama ask them if he and Michelle can renew their vows there. That would send a message and knock those backwards so-called human beings upside their heads and maybe, just maybe knock some sense into them, too.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • J.C.

      I have no religion, but even I think that the Obama thing is a good idea. F those racist retards. They are an embarrassment to southerners who have moved past all the racist b.s. and moved into the 21st century.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  20. Dave

    Simple. One of two things needs to happen, if not both. First, the church and its FULL congregation need to host an African American couple's wedding. Lets take it a step further and make it an African American marrying someone of a different race. Second. On one Sunday when the majority if not all the congregation is expected to be there have an unannounced special pastor deliver the sermon...say Al Sharpton...and make it a long sermon... See who walks out... Nothing in the article or the responses by the church says that they would allow African American couples to wed in the church. All it says is that they would "be available to minister to anybody..." BS...

    July 30, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • Matt

      Are you reading the same article as I am? The entire church condemns the act of preventing a couple to wed based on race.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:57 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.