(Photo: The Christian Post)
Religious leaders, including the Southern Baptist Convention's newly elected African-American president, have spoken out against a Mississippi Baptist church that refused to host a wedding because the bride and groom are black.
The Rev. Fred Luter, first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), told the Baptist Press Monday that this case was "an isolated incident from which pastors can learn" and is not indicative of the SBC's beliefs.
"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," Luter, who was elected to his position in June, told BP.
"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," he continued. "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."
Roger S. Oldham, spokesman for the SBC, told BP that "the convention's position on race relations is clear: 'In the Spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism.'"
The Rev. Stan Weatherford of predominantly-white First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs near Jackson, Miss., chose to perform the wedding of Te'Andrea and Charles Wilson at a different church on July 21 after some congregants complained about the couple being African-American.
The Wilsons were not members of the Crystal Springs church but Mrs. Wilson had been attending worship services there for a year and Mr. Wilson for one month. Mrs. Wilson also reportedly has family ties to the church.
"I feel like it was blatant racial discrimination," Charles Wilson told the Clarion-Ledger.
"He had people in the sanctuary that were pitching a fit about us being a black couple," said Te'Andrea Wilson. "I didn't like it at all, because I wasn't brought up to be racist. I was brought up to love and care for everybody."
The controversy began when reportedly a handful of congregants complained to Pastor Weatherford after witnessing a rehearsal at the church two days before the actual wedding ceremony.
Weatherford has been criticized for pandering to the small number of congregants who complained about the African-American couple's wedding. The pastor argues that his primary concern was keeping peace at the church and finding a "win-win" situation.
"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. I wanted to make sure their wedding day was a special day," the pastor told a local news station.
Some congregants at the church have come forward to challenge the claims of racism.
"We have been portrayed as a racist church, we're not! We welcome anybody that wants to come through those doors," said Barbara Marck, a member of First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs.
On Monday, congregants of the Crystal Springs church held a prayer rally in support of the Wilsons in an attempt to bridge racial reconciliation between the couple and the church.
Charles Wilson told Go Upstate that he won't allow the racism to be ignored.
"Prayer works, but only if you want it to work, only if you want it to work in your heart," Wilson said.
"There are some that won't change and I accept that. But I won't stop talking about it. We're still hurt," he added.
Taking heed of SBC President Luter's words, Pastor Weatherford vowed to reflect on his decision and pray for wisdom at Monday's prayer rally.
"They say hindsight's 20/20," Weatherford told the local newswire. "I'm going to continue to pray to the Lord for wisdom in my life."