Five months after Pastor Sherman Jaquess of Matoaka Baptist Church in Ochelata, Oklahoma, defended his decisions to wear blackface mimicking legendary singer Ray Charles and dress like Native American figure Pocahontas, the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee has expelled his church from the nation's largest Protestant denomination.
In a statement to The Christian Post Thursday, the SBC Executive Committee said the Credentials Committee of the denomination recommended during its Sept. 18-19 meeting that Matoaka Baptist Church "be deemed not in friendly cooperation with the Convention based on a lack of intent to cooperate in resolving concerns regarding discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity."
Jaquess did not immediately respond to calls for comment from CP. But he told The Tennessean that his church had been part of the SBC since 1880, when many Baptist leaders still defended slavery, and called the decision to expel his church "repugnant."
"Their decision is repugnant," he said. "They made a decision and recommendation on something they don't know anything about."
The church has the right to appeal the recommendation of the Credentials Committee, but Jaquess told The Tennessean he was not sure he would.
According to the SBC, "A church which has been found not to be in cooperation may appeal the decision to the Convention by submitting a written appeal to the chair of the Credentials Committee at least 30 days prior to the Convention's annual meeting."
The appeal must be accompanied by evidence showing that the issues that led to the finding that they are not in friendly cooperation with the denomination have been addressed.
"If a church which has been found not to be in cooperation with the Convention addresses the issues which led to that finding, it may apply to the Credentials Committee for a reconsideration of its status. If the circumstances warrant, the Credentials Committee may recommend to the Executive Committee that the church be once again considered a cooperating church," the denomination explains.
Jaquess was photographed wearing blackface at a church Valentine's Day event in 2017. Another photo from 2014 also shows him dressed as Pocahontas.
The images sparked significant outrage, and Jaquess told his congregation he received death threats after the photos were made public and had to hire security guards for a period. It was unclear Thursday if this protection is still in place.
The 58-year-old pastor said in a phone interview with The Oklahoman that he did nothing wrong and that the paint he wore "was more brown than black."
He contends he is not "racist in any way" and stated that he had "several diverse racial people living in my home."
"Frankly, I think the Southern Baptists have never even heard my side. It's just flabbergasting, and I'm just blown away what they've done — that they would de-fellowship, excommunicated me or whatever you want to call it, without even talking to me because of a photo."
According to the History Channel, blackface is considered offensive due to its "historic use to denigrate people of African descent."
"It's an assertion of power and control," David Leonard, a professor of comparative ethnic studies and American studies at Washington State University, told the network. "It allows a society to routinely and historically imagine African Americans as not fully human. It serves to rationalize violence and Jim Crow segregation."
Rev. Mike Keahbone, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lawton who is also a member of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, told The Oklahoman that in their review of the church's online posts, they found other photos that were troubling, including one in which former President Barack Obama face was superimposed on that of a baby monkey. Another photo showed a Muslim woman and her three children with the words, "These people don't eat pork, but we do."
"Oklahoma Baptists, they sent letters, they contacted him, they had phone conversations with him, and he was not at all remorseful. He didn't think it was a big deal, did not take it seriously, and so every attempt that they made amounted to nothing," Keahbone said.
"If you're not racist, then you understand if somebody approaches you and says, 'Hey, this is not being received well, and maybe, maybe, this was a joke that somehow fits in your neck of the woods, wherever you're at, but we've had reports that people are offended by this, hurt by it," he added. "Would you just take it down?'"