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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. ladytlh95

    Her husband has to be at least 20 years older than her. She will probably be getting married again soon. I really do not see the big deal about this and I am AA myself. It not a big deal just get married somewhere else which what happen anyway. Like I said he appears way older than her. I will not be surprise she will be back in the news again.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • Vincent

      why do you even type.Please dont say you are AA again. It sets us back.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Truth

      I agree. Don't ever say you are AA. Your credibility goes right out of the window when you let everyone know just how primitive you are.

      July 31, 2012 at 6:31 am |
  2. Margaret

    Hmmm, seems like they said a lot words that don't really say much. Whatever happened to we were wrong and we are sorry,. We will welcome everyone. We truly regret any inconvenience to the couple, and we wish them a long and happy marriage and hope they will continue in fellowship with us. We hope that everyone has learned to turn away bigotry, and stand strong against it. I guess that is asking too much.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  3. Dorothy

    Why wouldn't a church deny a black couple from getting married in it? Or an interracial couple? Or a gay couple? Prejudice is prejudice and as long as we tolerate it in the name of religion it seems nobody can object.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • wayne

      why do gay rights activist always wanna attach there movement to that of african americans. It is different. You had me at black and interacial, you lost me at Gay couples. Different issues that should not be lumped together

      July 30, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Jessica

      The sad part is that churches have long moved pass this nonsense but radical parishioners plus their spineless pastor allowed this to happen.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  4. Christian Hate?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAvDtPz33w0

    July 30, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • Fletch

      I don't even need to click play on that video to know that it's nothing but more anti-white, anti-Southern, anti-Christian, anti-conservative drivel from a hypocritical windbag.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • Bozobub

      AH, I see; you ADMIT you judge that which you know nothing about. How interesting.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Fletch

      I admit that most everything I have ever heard Bill Maher say is one of those things. So tell me, Pythagoras...since you listened to it, am I wrong?

      I also admit that you're a d-bag.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  5. Dennis

    Give me that old time religion, that old time religion

    July 30, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • Jonah

      It was good enough for me.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  6. Mark

    I keep thinking I live in the 21st century, and something keeps happening to remind me I'm wrong.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Jessica

      Mark, It's Mississippi, they are still in the 1800's...

      July 30, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  7. Fletch

    So what about all of the non-religious racist people living in California? Don't think they exist? Try Long Beach, try Orange County. I mean, seriously, at least in Mississippi blacks and whites coexist. Do white people live in Compton? What black people live in Newport Beach? Outside of Kobe, I mean. I know, I know...you lazy-minded d-bags like to play racism with a Southern accent. So whatever – you know when you lay down with your own thoughts at night that you're no better.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • Mark

      Agreed. Racism is stupid, no matter what it's form. Those on these boards that pretend that only religious people can be racist, are bigots. Learn to judge an individual as an individual. The fact that members of this religion stood up and spoke out against this policy would indicate something to someone with any real intelligence.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • Fletch

      Thanks, Mark. Funny thing is that I'm not even religious – it's just not for me. I think I get that lit up by the hypocrisy I see from these so-called "enlightened" and "progressive" people. I guess bigotry is acceptable as long as the target is white, religious, and Southern.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  8. Hmmmm1234567

    Any religion that teaches hate of anything but what God hates such as fornication idolotry or murder is not a true Christian there is only one Christian faith that has never been accused of doing nothing but teach people the bible going door to door but this is why people ridicule them for doing what the bible says they dont charge for their material they dont have communions they dont pay their members for 2 years or send them to a college for doing so they dont pay the speakers like other churches and they dont hate anyone based on any reason they only give them bible knowledge then once they know the knowledge its their choice what to do with it.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Can you translate this into something that's actually readable?

      July 30, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  9. t3chn0ph0b3

    This is the kind of thing that comes with the resurgence of the ultraconservative movement. Disgusting. The Tea Party should be ashamed.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  10. Truth

    Naggers gonna nag 🙁

    July 30, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • Bozobub

      Sorry, troll, but you fail some more. I'm a lily-white Irishman, by descent (both sides of my family), and you repulse me.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Truth

      By defending naggers, you become one. You have just shed all pure Irish blood you may have had, for some feral animals. Congratulations on your de-evolution.

      July 31, 2012 at 6:35 am |
  11. alpeaston

    Good people will do good deeds, evil people will do bad deeds, but for good people to do bad thing you need religion!

    July 30, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • Fletch

      Or bad people hide behind religious...as they would hide behind anything to perpetrate their evil.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  12. Vincent

    did you know that the most hatred comes from within a religous organization.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • Frisco, TX

      Most hatred comes from WITHIN. The period goes here. Hate is an absence of love. The only thing that overcomes and triumphs over hate is Love.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:48 am |
  13. Kane

    Racist white christians? Unheard of!

    July 30, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  14. not buying

    Sheeple

    July 30, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  15. Bhawk

    And this group is the average Christian. Psuedo-christian!

    July 30, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  16. JWC

    Racism is ugly. We might change their stand through shame and they'll back down. What if this had been a gay couple? Would we still think the congregation was wrong to say no? I would, but would you? Should we shame or force a church or congregation to host weddings they oppose? I'm not sure we should.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  17. funkatellic

    One of those "I have a black friend" mixed race churches.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Frisco, TX

      No, actually we are a Catholic church of the Latin rite.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  18. Frisco, TX

    3 or 4 years ago I was running late on Easter morning & arrived to a packed building with standing rrom only. During the the liturgy of the eucharist, my thoughts wandered as I noticed our differences. We were white haired elderly, some with canes,walkers & wheelchairs. We were singles & familes with children from infancy to young adult. During comunion I watched as each walked from the alter back to the seating while noting the faces that passes; Anglos & Hispanics, Asian, Polynisian, African, Indian

    July 30, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • Frisco, TX

      (got cut off on the 1st part of the post...) All of us were there for the same reason...to come together as the body of Christ; to love, praise and worship God in unity, to confess our sins and ask for forgiveness , to offer forgiveness and to reconcilliation, to share in the Body and Blood of the Lamb, to love one another and to take the commandment back out into the world to "Love and serve the Lordl". How beautiful. We do in inside the doors. We can do it in the larger world too, it just takes more love that we seem to usually give.

      ,

      July 31, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  19. Jeff in Oregon

    Hate, intolerance, racism, and now back peddling. The Baptist organization has been and is rotten at the core. I just don't understand what is going on in our troubled south. If there are good people in the south, where is their shock, their voice and their strong action towards condemning this type action to ensure it never happens again? Just don't see it.

    Religion is not a good thing.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Vietvet6869

      There are no good people in the south, they're all like this, have been since before the civil war, if there were any good ones this never would have happened, and this is actually mild compared to what they have done in the past, and even what they are capable of doing, including their religious organizations.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • BK

      Not true; I was a good person in the south.
      ...
      Then again, that's why I moved away.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • joshteag

      Of course you don't see it because you live in Oregon and base your uneducated decisions about southerners from news sources you read. I couldn't agree more that religion is a problem but maybe you shouldn't bash one group for being judgmental while you yourself are. Oh and by the way this Georgia State alumni would love for you to come down to Atlanta and march with us for gay rights... maybe it would open your eyes to us poor stupid southerners down here fighting for social change... but by reading your blind ignorant probably not.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • Fletch

      Troubled South? That lady that created "Obama Bucks"? She lives in an expensive neighborhood in Orange County that you couldn't touch. Largest Klan population? Indiana. Ever been to Long Beach? Tons of skinheads. Go to Boston...go to Long Island...go to Idaho. If you're ignorant to think that racism is the exclusive domain of the South – or even the United States, then I hope to God you aren't breeding.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • D-Mac

      Would love for you to check out our response – as pastors in the South – Faith2.com

      July 31, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  20. Southern Girl living in NM

    Those "Christians" who objected should be ashamed of themselves. Racism has no place in our world, and especially in the house of God. Remember the Sunday schools lyrics "...red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight...". What hypocrits! Luckily for those few idiots, Jesus does love us all.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:00 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.