Days before they were to be wed at First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, Miss., Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson were told the wedding would not be permitted. Some members of the congregation didn't want a black couple to be married there.
JACKSON, Miss. -- A Jackson couple had their wedding rehearsal last week, two days before their scheduled big day at the Crystal Springs church where they were planning to get married.
But the couple's dream of exchanging vows in the church they had been attending was dashed when the church pastor relayed to them that some members had complained about the black couple getting married in the predominantly white First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs.
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Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson said it was devastating having to move their wedding to another church only days before the July 21 wedding.
Charles Wilson said that he and his wife sent out invitations and the printed program with their wedding date of July 21 at First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs.
Insiders say five or six members went to the Rev. Stan Weatherford after seeing the couple's wedding rehearsal the Thursday night before their Saturday wedding.
The church pastor said he was surprised by the reaction of some church members.
"I didn't want to have a controversy within the church, and I didn't want a controversy to affect the wedding of Charles and Te'Andrea. I wanted to make sure their wedding day was a special day," Weatherford told WLBT-Channel 3.
Charles Wilson said it was a huge disappointment that he and his wife couldn't get married at the church they attended because of the color of their skin.
"I feel like it was blatant racial discrimination," Wilson said Friday.
The 150-year-old church hasn't had any black couples married there in modern times. Weatherford married the couple but moved the ceremony to a nearby church.
Wilson said he had been attending the church for about a month and his now wife had been attending for more than a year. His wife's father also attended the church, and her uncle was custodian at the church.
"Prior to this, I had been telling people how nice they were here," Wilson said. "It makes you re-evaluate things. We were doing everything right. We wanted to get married."
Wilson said he understands Weatherford was caught in a difficult position and he still likes the pastor, but he also thinks the pastor should have stood up to the members who didn't want the couple to marry in the church.
"If you're for Christ, you can't straddle the fence," Wilson said of Weatherford. "He knew it was wrong."
Casey Kitchens, 37, attends First Baptist Church where she married her husband, Matthew, the son of Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Jim Kitchens.
Justice Kitchens was out of the state on Friday and couldn't be reached for comment.
Casey Kitchens said she and other members of the congregation are outraged by the church's refusal to marry a black couple, a decision she says most of the congregation knew nothing about.
"This is a small, small group of people who made a terrible decision," Kitchens said. "I'm just ashamed right now that my church would do that. I can't fathom why. How unfair. How unjust. It's just wrong."
Kitchens said though nothing can be done to change what happened, she hopes those responsible for it will make an effort to fix it.
"The men and women who did this thought they could sweep it under the rug," she said. "If two people love each other, they should be able to get married whether they're black, white, green, purple or yellow. It's just that simple."
Justice Kitchen's son John Kitchens, who was in Chicago with his father, said in an email message that he stopped attending First Baptist over two years ago.
"In fact, we requested our letter to be moved to another church earlier this week. Moving our letter this week is a coincidence, as we intended to do it well before learning of how Mr. and Mrs. Wilson were treated," he said.
When you "move your letter," you officially change your membership to another church.
Mississippi Baptist Convention Executive Director the Rev. Jim Futral said it was unfortunate what happened.
"It's not reflective of the spirit of the Lord and Mississippi Baptists," Futral said. "It's just a step backward. ... It's a sad thing."
Futral said that when he was marrying couples he had no restrictions on marrying anyone. "I realized I have never seen anything like that," Futral said of a church not wanting a couple to get married there because of their race.
"I wonder what brought that on? Who said that and how did that come about?" Futral asked.
He said immeasurable progress has been made in Baptists of all races working together. "We take several steps forward and one backward," Futral said.
Last month, the Southern Baptist Convention elected its first leader who is African American. The Rev. Fred Luter Jr. of New Orleans was elected president of the nation's largest Protestant denomination.
The denomination has been trying to expand its appeal beyond its traditional white Southern base. Membership has been generally declining in recent years.
Luter was at a married couples retreat on Friday and couldn't be reached for comment.