JACKSON, Miss. – Recently many Southern Baptist leaders have urged a Mississippi church to take a firm stance against racism after action from some congregation members resulted in a black couple being denied the right to be married there.
Representatives from both the Mississippi Baptist Convention spoke this past Monday along with leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention stating that barring Charles Wilson and Te’Andrea Wilson from having their marriage ceremony at First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs was an act of racism and that it was inherently wrong. Baptist churches are well known for being autonomous entities, but that does not mean that they will not receive attention when they make a misstep as in this case.
The Mississippi Baptist Convention Board’s executive director is Jim Futral. He stated that his organization has been praying for the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs and stands ready to assist them in whatever way they can. Up to this point, none of the members of the church have reached out to state officials for help.
Futral released a statement discussing how the United States and Mississippi in particular has been working towards proper racial relationships for quite some time. He expressed that Mississippi Baptists “reject racial discrimination” but also explained that individual local Baptist churches are allowed to be autonomous and “deal with difficulties and disagreements under the lordship of Jesus.”
Officials from the town of Crystal Springs have planned a rally to promote racial unity.
The First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs is led by the Rev. Stan Weatherford, who did marry the Wilsons, but not at his home congregation due to the opposition of some congregants to allowing a black couple to be married at their church. The marriage was held at a predominantly black church in the same town.
Reverend Wilson expressed that members of the congregation threatened that they would fire him if he proceeded with the wedding as planned. He stresses that he moved the wedding in order to avoid any future conflicts in an attempt to create peace for all parties involved. Other members of the church stated that they did not agree with the choice to block the wedding and expressed that they were not consulted in advance of the occurrence.
The Southern Baptist Convention does not have a history of always being welcoming to non-whites, although the last two decades have seen tremendous improvement. Today there are around 45,000 Southern Baptist churches nationwide and around 3,500 of those churches have a majority of black parishioners. That is a very promising development for a body of churches that began as the south and the north split just before the Civil War.
This year in a bold step, the convention elected the Rev. Fred Luter Jr. as their first black president. Reverend Luter is the pastor for Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana. However, it is clear that the convention still has a long way to go in respect to race relations, as the same meeting that saw Reverend Luter elected president also included a vote where delegates decided to allow churches to change their label to Great Commission Baptist churches if they no longer wished to align themselves with The Southern Baptist Convention.