Miss. church apologizes for barring black marriage

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By JEFF AMY, Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A predominantly white Mississippi church has apologized for its refusal to allow a black couple to marry in its sanctuary, though the couple said Monday they knew nothing of the apology until a reporter called.

The First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs posted the apology on its website Sunday, saying it was seeking "forgiveness and reconciliation" with Charles Wilson and Te'Andrea Henderson Wilson, their families and friends and God.

"This wrong decision resulted in hurt and sadness for everyone. Both the pastor and those involved in the wedding location being changed have expressed their regrets and sorrow for their actions," reads part of the six-paragraph statement.

However, Charles Wilson said no one from the church had contacted him or his wife.

"I can't believe they think they've apologized," Wilson said. He said only one or two people from the church have contacted him in recent weeks, and they did so personally and not as representatives of the church.

"You put a thing in the media and say you've apologized?" Wilson asked. "That is an insult."

Church officials did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking further comment Monday.

The Wilsons had planned a marriage ceremony at the church July 21, but some members objected to the Rev. Stan Weatherford after the couple's rehearsal. The Wilsons have said that Weatherford, the pastor, told them he could be fired if the wedding was held in his church.

The couple's wedding was held in a predominantly black church, where Weatherford officiated.

Some church members have said that most of the hundreds of congregants didn't learn what had happened until well after the Wilsons' wedding.

Crystal Springs, a town of about 5,000 people about 20 miles south of Jackson, is more than 60 percent black. The Wilsons live in Jackson but started attending church there because Weatherford has been a personal friend of Te'Andrea Wilson's family. Some members of her family have continued to attend church at First Baptist, though the Wilsons have not.

Town officials held a racial unity rally July 30, with Weatherford, Mayor Sally Garland and others praying for racial reconciliation. The Wilsons attended, but Weatherford and the Wilsons did not speak. Weatherford told reporters there he was trying to avoid conflict by moving the wedding and denied that his job had been threatened.

Southern Baptist leaders had called for the church to reconsider, noting that the Baptist Faith and Message, a statement of what Southern Baptists believe, says that "Christians should oppose racism." State and national leaders of the denomination, though, noted that each church is autonomous, and said the church had to work out its own response.

After being slow to reach out across racial lines, Southern Baptists have made increasing efforts in that direction in the past two decades. Nationwide, about 19 percent of 45,000 Southern Baptist churches are majority-minority, including 3,500 that are majority black.

Earlier this year, the convention elected its first black president, the Rev. Fred Luter Jr. of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. At the same meeting, delegates voted to give churches the option of calling themselves Great Commission Baptist churches, for those who wish to break free of the Southern Baptist name to seek more followers.

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Online: http://www.fbccrystalsprings.org/

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