When a couple in Mississippi recently set their wedding date, they thought they were looking at dates in July of 2012. But some members of their church looked at the calendar and thought it said 1965.
Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson had been attending the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs together and had planned to join the congregation after they were married. They reserved the church for their wedding weeks in advance and invitations were sent. Then the couple got news that no one in 2012 would have expected.
The Rev. Stan Weatherford told them that some people in the congregation objected to a black couple being married there. They were told that no black couple had ever been married by the church since its founding in 1883. The pastor said certain powerful people in the church had let him know he would be fired if he went ahead with the wedding.
The couple were married on the day they had chosen and Weatherford still married them, but the ceremony was moved down the street to another church — one with a black congregation.
I think about disgusting stories such as this one whenever I hear people talk about whether race relations are better or worse in the country today. When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, some people heralded it as the dawn of a new day, one when race no longer mattered. I feel as though I’m listening to fantasies when people talk that way, because race will always matter to some people. It will always be a dividing line and reason for hate and distrust — at least for some people.
The Mississippi Baptist Convention has called for the church to reject racism, but it’s too late for the Wilsons and this church which was their spiritual home until a few days ago. They’re not going back. Roughly 20 percent of Southern Baptist churches are now “majority minority” of some kind. The denomination just elected its first black president. National leaders strongly moved to separate themselves from this abomination. Yet despite all the efforts of many good people to mend old racial wounds, the actions of a few hateful bigots in Crystal Springs, Miss., overshadowed it all.
We’re not living in a post-racial world, as I’ve written about before. Unless the human race becomes so mixed that it’s just one tan-colored race of people, race is going to remain a point of contention, because some people will always need some excuse for hating other people. If we ever all look the same in the racial sense, they’ll find something new to be a point of contention.
Racial bigotry is ugly anywhere, but it’s especially ugly in the church. When it happens, it’s because sinful humans have brought their bigotry somewhere that it’s way out of place. There was a lot of this kind of racial discrimination in southern churches during the turbulent ’60s, and it’s not over, despite the fact that I like to think it is. I see blacks commonly at my own church. I’ve seen black elders serving alongside other elders in the church leadership — and it’s no big deal. But all of that progress is put into jeopardy when things such as this incident in Mississippi happens.
In most ways, I blame the bigots in the church who forced the pastor to move the wedding, but I also blame the pastor. By all accounts, he wanted to do the wedding at the church. As I said, he even ended up marrying them in another building. But this was one of those times when a leader is required to stand up and be counted for something more than just his immediate job.
For me, it would have been an easy decision. I’d have married them and let the church fire me if it wished to. If a church body is so bigoted that it would dump a pastor over this, what pastor would really want that job?
We all have a lot of problems that can be traced back to original sin. In the case of this local congregation, they have a very specific sin in their midst that they need to repent of. And there’s a certain couple they owe a sincere apology to.