A whites-only pastors' conference in Alabama concluded Friday with a disturbing ceremony – the burning of a cross, or what organizers prefer to call the "Sacred Christian Cross Lighting Ceremony."
Local residents, the NAACP, and national media outlets have quickly denounced the annual event as racist and drew a connection between the lighting of the cross and the notorious white supremacy group Ku Klux Klan's tradition of cross burnings.
Earlier this week, a flier promoting the three-day event was found in Winfield, Ala., which upset the city's mayor.
"Business people are upset. The city is upset. The city of Winfield does not condone this," said Winfield Mayor Wayne Silas to the local Fox News station WBRC.
The flier carried the title "Annual Pastors Conference" in large, all-caps, bold font. Then underneath in bold letters was the message, "All White Christians Invited." The event organizer, the Rev. William J. Collier, denies that his Church of God's Chosen in Lamar County, which hosted the event, is a hate group, but also states that he believes "the white race is God's chosen people."
Organizer Christian Identity Ministries' website reads, "Yes, we believe that the Europeans and their descendants are the chosen people of God."
"We believe this, not because we think that the white race is superior, but because there is overwhelming proof in support of this belief. We do not back down from this belief, because we are certain."
Despite the heavy criticisms against the group for excluding other races, Christian Identity Ministries founder Mel Lewis argued that he is the one being wronged. Lewis told local WAFF TV that Winfield Mayor Wayne Silas violated his freedom of speech.
"The mayor ordered our flier to be taken down," Lewis complained. "When did they start religious censorship?"
He continued, "We are not breaking any laws. We're not violating any ordinances. We're bringing the Word of God to people who want it, obviously, or they wouldn't be here."
But WAFF TV reported that the building housing the event had KKK flags and white supremacy slogans hung outside its facility. Organizers said that while there are KKK supporters at the event, the white supremacy group was not a sponsor.
This is the fourth year the annual event has been held.