CRYSTAL SPRINGS, Miss. – First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, Miss., has publicly apologized after an African American couple was barred because of their race from holding their wedding at the predominantly white church.
“Both the pastor and those involved in the wedding location being changed have expressed their regrets and sorrow for their actions. This wrong decision resulted in hurt and sadness for everyone,” the church said in a statement read at the end of its Sunday (Aug. 5) worship service and posted on its website.
The congregation drew negative publicity when pastor Stan Weatherford told the couple he could not perform their wedding at the 150-year-old church because a few members objected to blacks being married there. Instead, Weatherford married Charles and Te’Andrea (Henderson) Wilson at a nearby African American church.
“We are seeking forgiveness and reconciliation with our Lord Jesus Christ, Te’Andrea and Charles, family and friends of the Hendersons and Wilsons, our church family, and our community for the actions and attitudes that have recently occurred,” the church said, one week after town leaders, other First Baptist members and various observers expressed outrage.
The pastor and congregation apologized for the “hurt that was brought to [the Wilsons] in the hours preceding their wedding and beyond.”
“We the membership of First Baptist Church Crystal Springs, hold the position that we should be open to all people. Our desire is to restore the church to be a spiritual lighthouse in doing the Lord’s will in Crystal Springs and in Mississippi,” the church said.
A church deacon read the statement aloud at the end of the worship service and worshippers approved the statement by standing to their feet, said a church representative who declined to give his name to Baptist Press. The church has not released the names of those who objected to the wedding, but in its statement encouraged members to “bear one [another’s] burdens.”
The church did not issue the apology directly to the Wilsons, the church representative said.
“They’re not members. They don’t attend. It wouldn’t be delivered to them because they weren’t here,” the representative said. “It was given to our congregation and read aloud … and it was affirmed by the congregation that they agreed with that.”
Before the wedding, 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.
The church presented itself in the statement as “like any other church … made up of sinful, redeemed, but flawed saints who intentionally at times choose not to follow the Lord’s will,” and called for reconciliation.
“We encourage our pastor and staff, leaders and members to help one another, to bear one [another’s] burdens, and forgive one another for our faults and failures,” the church said. “We are determined to lift one another up so that the hurts of yesterday will not prevent the blessing and victories of tomorrow. We commit to pray for one another, love one another, and work to enable our church to be everything Christ would have it to be and to reflect His love and grace in every way, in every service, and to everyone.”
Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), with which First Baptist affiliates, said last week that the decision to forbid the wedding in the church did not represent the views of the SBC, which affirms in Article 15 of its doctrinal statement – the 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,’” Sing Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville, Tenn., said just days after the ceremony was relocated. “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.”
The churches affiliated with the SBC are autonomous in leadership.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)