A Mississippi church is coming under fire for blocking an African American couple from getting married there two days before the ceremony was due to happen.
Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson had been attending the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs for months and had planned their wedding for July 21. The invitations had been sent out, the rehearsal was set up, and then Charles Wilson received a phone call. Some of the predominantly white congregation had complained to the pastor, Stan Weatherford, who agreed to block the couple's wedding. According to Charles Wilson, the pastor had received “all sorts of phone calls [and] text messages, and it was just not going to happen.”
The pastor later married the couple at a nearby Methodist chapel. But Charles Wilson is upset and angry at what happened. “If you're for Christ, you can't straddle the fence. [The pastor] knew it was wrong,” he said, adding, “This is not a matter of color for me, it's about God, and what better place to get married than God's sanctuary. God's love is color blind.”
According to some in the church, the objections were made by a small number of people who didn't want a precedent being set, as no African American couple had ever been married at the church.
Q: How should the pastor have handled this situation?
(Editor’s Note: After this question was sent to our In Theory panel, the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs issued an apology to the Wilsons, acknowledging that its decision ‘resulted in hurt and sadness.’ The Wilsons called the church’s statement “an insult” and “misleading to the public,” according to a CNN report.)
“Well, that's the bar rag in the face,” was my first thought upon hearing of this incident, and that seems a good description for such undignified, blatant discrimination. Even for Mississippi, it is shocking. So much for Southern hospitality, plus I thought congregations were in need of every member they can get.
But in case I was missing some subtle theological point, I called on an expert, my pastor brother, who quickly pronounced Weatherford a “chicken liver” and said that the story was old news, before hustling me off the phone to return to “Perception” on TV.
I agree with my brother. I question only his negative reference to those yummy little gray morsels, equally delicious chopped kosher-deli-style or breaded and fried in bacon fat, a la back on the farm.
So thanks, Mississippi, for this can of corn right in our ethical wheelhouse. If you ever want to try that secession thing again, don't let the door hit you on the backside on the way out.
Refugees, religious or not, who prefer fair treatment, rational behavior or even just good manners are welcome to resettle here.
Bring your chicken liver recipes.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a standing rule that one person does not take another person's “inventory.” But at the risk of doing exactly that, here's what I think: First of all, racism is alive and well in the United States of America; today's issue points that out in an obvious way.
Secondly, I agree with the groom on this one: The pastor should have stood up to his board, or whoever didn't want “those people” in their church, and married Wilson and his bride anyway. True, he might have gotten fired, but now, by his backing down and not doing the wedding in his own church, as agreed upon by all when the wedding was booked, the minister is laying open his church to what could be a horrendous lawsuit. Contracts are contracts, even in Mississippi.
And I have to agree with the groom: God is colorblind.
Another thought: the minister, in trying to have it both ways, “straddling” the issue, as Wilson put it, now may have neither side. The church could still fire him for marrying the black couple, and the church, whether the pastor stays or goes, could get sued. It would have been a courageous act, but I think the minister should have proceeded and married the couple in his church.
Jesus says in one of the Gospels that you can't love God and Mammon, meaning essentially that if you're going to follow Jesus, you're going to follow Jesus, and the rest of the world can go to hell.
The late Max Robinson, an African American anchor on the ABC News program “World News Tonight,” once told some journalism students that all you really have is your integrity — so don't sacrifice your integrity, regardless of the cost. Pity the poor pastor in the Magnolia State: he has no integrity, and he may soon have no job.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Canada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge
Weatherford should have shown some courage and integrity. Based on this incident, I assume that the good people of Crystal Springs First Baptist Church give him plenty of hassle about everything, and in that context, he decided not to choose this battle. You can choose not to fight about paint colors and meeting times and hymn choices, but you can’t give in to hate and racism. This decision actively does harm to this couple, insults their guests, and says to many of the neighbors that they are not welcome.
Hospitality was a central focus of Christ’s strategy. He ate and stayed with all kinds of people to make sure that the world would know that all people are welcome.
The Rev. Paige Eaves
Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church
As someone who was an active participant in the Civil Rights movement in Atlanta in the ’60s, I had hoped that things had improved in the South. But the story of Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson being denied the right to be married in the church they had been attending because of the color of their skin reminds me that things must not have changed very much. Further, it reminds me of the reasons I left the church where I had grown up — because of the racial prejudice that tainted that congregation.
Several people from the Mississippi church were quoted as saying that those who objected to the wedding were only a small group out of the congregation. If that is true, I find it incomprehensible that they could have wielded so much power. The minister obviously believed that they had enough clout to split the congregation and likely cost him his job. And those who stood by and let this small group call the shots for them are certainly not blameless when they did not stand up for the values of love and brotherhood/sisterhood that are basic to the Christian tradition.
One thing that is obvious to me is that there were those in the congregation who knew a wedding of the African American couple would cause an uproar among some of the members. If not, why was the planned wedding seemingly kept secret until two days before it was to be held? And although it was certainly commendable that the minister performed the wedding for the couple, he had to hold it in a church other than his own — a church where the bride and groom did not attend. Jesus would have wept.
I am convinced that until we speak and act according to the highest values we profess to believe, we have no right to call ourselves people of faith. My hope is that we will find ways to live lives of justice and truth and help to bring about a world made whole through our love.
Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
It’s easy to be armchair quarterbacks and say that Weatherford should have gone ahead with the wedding as planned and ignored the hypocritical, bigotry-inspired campaign against it. I do believe he should have performed the wedding at his church. In Jesus Christ “...there is no [ethnic] distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon him” (Romans 10:12).
Every person who has faith in the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is born again, “a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). Jesus’ love truly is color blind.
But Jesus warned us all that following him means denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily. Certainly Weatherford should have taken up his cross and borne the wrath of his unloving congregation members. But are we in the position to demand that of him? Are we right now willing to put our own livelihoods on the line for the sake of doing the right thing? Are we taking up our crosses every day?
Strange how things become less cut and dried when we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes — no matter who that person is.
Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church
Weatherford should not have forced the Wilsons to move their marriage to a nearby United Methodist Church. Context is always important in judging others, and understanding the pressures on Weatherford allows me to understand his decision. But once an action is taken, it is hard to walk back and say it never happened.
The pastor made a decision to move the marriage. Decisions are difficult and have consequences. I think everyone would agree it was the wrong decision. The pastor and the congregation will live with their decision and hopefully the future will change for the better for all concerned.
For me, the whole incident is unconscionable. While racism unfortunately still exists in our culture, the last place that it should be tolerated is in the church. Scripture repeatedly tells us that God is not a respecter of persons, and that he expects us to love and respect others without distinction, just as he does. In fact, 1 John 4:19–21 states, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he is not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
I was encouraged to read that most of the members of this Mississippi church were not in agreement with the protests of a few, nor with the compromise that their pastor made in attempting to appease those protesters. I think that every pastor is called to live a Christ-like life as an example to his or her congregation. This is my primary responsibility. I am not called to win the approval of people, but to be a servant of Jesus Christ. After listening to the concerns of a few in his congregation, I think Weatherford should have reminded them of their calling in Christ to love one another, and then gone ahead with the wedding as scheduled.
Every Sunday when I look at our congregation at HRock Church, I thank God for our multicultural church and the heart of Jesus that has taught us to love all, irrespective of nationality or race.
Pastor Ché Ahn
While contemplating the pastor’s decision, other stories came to mind where ministers opposed the will of their employers, the congregations, and rather than being respected for their uncompromising faith, they were summarily shown the door. Clergymen have bills to pay and mouths to feed, like everyone else, so imagine being told, essentially “do this and we’ll starve your family!” It happens.
One pastor caught his deacons having occultic (i.e., devil-worshiping) Freemason rites in the church basement, and he reprimanded them. The offenders called a secret congregational meeting to oust him, and they succeeded. I imagine those church leaders are not even really Christians, they’ve merely created a pagan social club exhibiting a veneer of spirituality. They’ll probably never keep a pastor.
In the current case, it appears that such a group was going for a Caucasians-only venue. They couldn’t legally keep blacks from entering the premises, but I’m guessing they directed them to the back pews. In any event, they didn’t want their lily-white marriage rolls besmirched.
So I understand this current pastor’s predicament, but I can’t say that he did right. He was likely grieved that his parishioners were bereft of Christian virtue, but conceded to their will because it’s their building. He still married the couple as planned, just elsewhere, but it sent the wrong message to everyone regarding Christianity. Instead, sin, fear, manipulation, injustice and compromised faith were displayed.
Had the church immediately repented and rushed to reconciliation, we might all grant that people make mistakes, and God had used this shame to mature his saints. Unfortunately, it seems that the church simply went to damage control, using Bible verses to deflect its guilt. And the newlyweds report no personal contact for restoration and forgiveness thus far. I’m guessing their future presence will be found in a more sincere church.
Meanwhile, it behooves the wider church to assail First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs with letters. Not everyone, just Christians. This is a family matter, and we need to speak to it, in a Christ-like manner.
“Judgment must begin at the house of God” (1Peter 4:17).
The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
What's remarkable about this case is that blacks, including the bride and members of her family, had been attending the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs for some time. Many of the church's white members, according to reports, accepted them.
Weatherford said he told the couple to find another church in order to avoid “controversy” within his congregation. Instead, he has created a much larger one that has attracted the attention of news publications around the world.
I'm not familiar with the employment relationship between professional clergy and their congregations, so it's not clear to me how much power the opponents of the wedding actually held. I'm sure that Weatherford made his decision in a moment when he felt alone and threatened. However, I would guess that had he chosen to proceed with the wedding, many of the white members of his congregation would have rallied behind him.
LDS congregations differ from most others in that they are led by unpaid lay clergy who are called to serve for a limited period of time. Members don't select their leaders, and they can’t fire them.
When I was 5 years old, my family moved from Indiana to a small town in the segregated Southeast. Blacks were forbidden access to public places until 1964, the year I turned 10. I can remember clearly the separate restrooms and water fountains, the restaurants where blacks could order takeout, but could not sit at a table. The wedding of a black couple at a white church would almost certainly have been out of the question.
We have made a great deal of progress since then. The incident in Crystal Springs reminds us all that we haven't come far enough.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
I believe the pastor should have insisted on holding the wedding at the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs as originally planned, and if that meant losing his job, so be it. There can be zero tolerance for such blatant bigotry, anywhere. And it is especially upsetting that this ugly incident occurred in a house of worship that claims to inspire people with spiritual ideals and morality.
When I first read this story, I needed to pinch myself and ask whether I was still living in America in the year 2012. For a moment, I wondered whether I didn’t somehow get transported back to 1925, when many buildings displayed signs stating “Blacks, Jews and dogs not allowed.” I just cannot believe that this kind of thing is still happening in today’s day and age, and in a country that has supposedly come so far as to elect an African American president.
To Weatherford, I say: shame on you! You should know better than to kow-tow to those small-minded haters in your congregation who are so warped by racism. Surely you recognize that religion is about kindness, compassion and acceptance. Behavior of this sort is completely antithetical to the beliefs you claim to defend, and only serves to set you back from God and everything that is holy. You need to spend some serious time contemplating your actions and reflecting on the hurt you have caused. Perhaps then you can figure out a meaningful way to redeem yourself.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center