Southern Baptist leaders on Monday urged a Mississippi church that refused to wed a black couple to reject racial discrimination.
Just one day before Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson were set to be married at the First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, Miss., the pastor there told them they would have to find another venue because congregants were uncomfortable with a black wedding ceremony.
After outrage mounted locally and the Wilsons' story went viral online over the weekend, officials at the Mississippi Baptist Convention chastised the Crystal Springs church for its refusal to marry the pair.
"Our entire country, and especially here in Mississippi, has been on a long journey for right racial relationships," said Mississippi Baptist Convention Board executive director Jim Futral in a statement.
City officials in Crystal Springs are planning a rally for racial unity in the town Monday evening, according to The Associated Press.
Since its founding in 1883, the church, in a Jackson suburb of about 5,000 people, has never been the site of a black wedding. Pastor Stan Weatherford said congregants felt so strongly that the Wilsons' wedding should not be the first that he feared he would lose his job if he went forward with the ceremony as planned. Instead, Weatherford, who is white, performed the marriage at a black church down the road.
"My 9-year-old was going to the church with us. How would you say to your 9-year-old daughter, 'We cannot get married here because guess what sweetie, we're black'?" said Charles Wilson in an interview with ABC's Jackson affiliate, WAPT-TV.
Most Crystal Springs residents, both black and white, were "blown away" by the church's decision, according to lifelong resident Theresa Norwood, 48.
The Wilsons were not members of the church, though they often attended services there. Te'Andrea Wilson's uncle is an employee of the church, and her father is a member. Charles Wilson told WAPT that the couple had planned to join as members after their wedding, which was planned for July 20.
Weatherford told WLBT-TV in Jackson that he wanted to marry the Wilsons at his church, but decided he needed to address "a need within our congregation."
The church is now meeting internally to determine how to handle future requests by black couples to be married there, Weatherford told WLBT-TV.