Alabama Baptist leaders said they were “grieved” after learning that Pastor Will Dismukes of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Prattville had offered prayers at an event celebrating the 199th birthday of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a leader in the Confederate Army and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Dismukes, who's also a Republican state representative, was subsequently forced to resign from his role as pastor.
The statement comes as Dismukes, 30, is also being urged to resign from political office.
Dismukes sparked the national controversy when he shared a post on Facebook from the July 25 event along with a photo of him surrounded by confederate flags.
The event was held at Fort Dixie in Selma and coincided with ceremonies honoring the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, an Alabama native who is an icon in the civil rights movement, The Alabama Baptist reported.
“Had a great time at Fort Dixie speaking and giving the invocation for Nathan Bedford Forrest annual birthday celebration. Always a great time and some sure enough good eating!!” he wrote.
As outcry grew over the post which was removed by Dismukes but not before several people took screenshots of it.
Leaders of the Alabama Baptist Convention State Board of Missions also spoke out.
“We are saddened and grieved to learn of the recent Facebook post by State Representative Will Dismukes who also serves as a bivocational pastor. In the wake of tremendous controversy, we reaffirm our opposition to any kind of racism. On July 27, each of us affirmed a June 4 blog article ‘A Personal Credo Concerning Racism’ written and posted by Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist Convention State Board of Missions,” the Alabama Baptist Convention leaders wrote.
Keith Hinson, associate for public relations at the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, which is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, explained to The Christian Post on Friday that SBC churches are "entirely autonomous in decision making, including about the choice of who may or may not serve as a minister," which leaves the door open for Dismukes to be rehired as a church leader.
"Southern Baptists are somewhat unique in that there is no denominational credentialing of ministers," Hinson noted. Pastors within the conventions are not licensed to preach through the state or national organizations.
The Pleasant Hill Baptist Church did not immediately respond to a request from CP for further comment.
Mel Johnson, lead mission strategist for Autauga Baptist Association, of which Pleasant Hill is a member, told The Alabama Baptist that he attended a deacon’s meeting at the church on Wednesday, a day after they decided to part company with Dismukes.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to have met with the church’s leadership for prayer and encouragement as many, through no fault of their own, have found themselves caught in the midst of this issue that has drawn national attention,” Johnson said.
“Scripture is clear that all people are created in God’s image and therefore equal in every way before Christ and our personal need of Him as Savior and Lord. Immediate effort was made to connect with Will on behalf of our leadership with commitment toward a biblically based process to mitigate controversy surrounding this issue,” Johnson noted. “He was open and receptive to our call and subsequent in-person meeting on Tuesday afternoon (July 28).”
On Monday, the College Republican Federation of Alabama called on Dismukes to resign from political office.
“The College Republican Federation of Alabama calls for the resignation of State Representative Will Dismukes. Representative Dismukes’s Facebook post of him at an event that celebrated former KKK Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest is unacceptable and has no place in the State Legislature or the Republican Party,” the group said in a statement.
Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party Chris England echoed those sentiments in a statement on Twitter Wednesday, along with damaging copies of documents advertising the controversial birthday celebration.
“Hard to believe that Rep. Will Dismukes will be able to equally represent all of his constituents when he attends KKK Grand Wizard Birthday Parties that feature PICKANNINY Freeze Watermelon Stands. He shouldn’t have a place in the Alabama Legislature. #alpolitics #resign,” England wrote.