|CRYSTAL SPRINGS, Miss. (BP) -- The inability of an African American couple to wed at predominantly white First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, Miss., is not indicative of Southern Baptists, denominational leaders said.
The pastor's decision to change the wedding venue, after a few members' reaction because of the couple's race, is an unfortunate, isolated incident from which pastors can learn, Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter said.
"We just have to be aware that the enemy will use anything he can to come against our churches and our ministries with something like this. And so we've always got to be aware that the enemy is out to kill, steal and destroy," said Luter, the first African American elected as SBC president. "It's unfortunate that it happened, but we've got to learn from it, and be able to go on and do what God has called us to do.
"What we can learn from it is that we need to talk to our membership about issues. I think if the pastor would have talked to more members about this … when this situation occurred … it probably would not have happened the way it happened," Luter said.
Jim Futral, executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, said the state and nation have long worked toward racial healing.
"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," Futral said. "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."
Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee, said the SBC affirms in Article 15 of its doctrinal Baptist Faith and Message that racism is against God's will.
"The convention's position on race relations is clear: 'In the Spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism,'" Oldham said. "We are all saddened when any sin, including the sin of racism, rears its head in our midst. It is equally unfortunate when a group within a church seeks to determine church policy without giving the church an opportunity to discuss the matter and take formal action as a congregation."
First Baptist Crystal Springs is in the headlines because a black couple, Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson, was forced to move their wedding to a second location just one day prior to the event. The church's pastor, Stan Weatherford, conducted the wedding July 21 at a nearby African American church, telling the Wilsons some members of the 150-year-old First Baptist objected to the wedding because it involved a black couple.
"This had not, had never been done here before, so it was setting a new precedent. And there were those who reacted to that because of that," Weatherford told WLBT-TV in Jackson. "I didn't want to have a controversy within the church and I certainly didn't want a controversy to affect the wedding of Charles and Te'Andrea. I wanted to make sure that their wedding day was a special day."
According to news reports, "five or six" church members, who had not been identified as of press time, objected to the wedding. Weatherford's job was on the line, according to the Wilsons.
They "had decided that no black couple had been married at their church and that if he went on to … marry us, then they would vote him out and he would be put out of the church," Charles Wilson told WLBT.
The couple had been attending the church -- she one year and he one month -- but had not officially joined. Te'Andrea's father was a member of the church and her uncle was a custodial employee, according to news reports.
Richard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said that while there may be valid reasons a couple may be denied a church wedding, "the race or ethnicity of that couple is never a valid reason." Continued...