When I read the article on the Internet where a black couple was denied the opportunity to have their marriage ceremony at the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, Mississippi, I responded with a yawn because many Baptist churches in the South have little cliques who control what goes on a daily basis.
The key to the whole sad story is that the Wilson’s were only attending the church as visitors – they never formally sought membership at the church.
Even though the minister agreed to the wedding taking place in his church – did the couple feel comfortable at First Baptist? Did they establish some friendships? Did they feel accepted by the congregation when walking in and when exiting church after a service? Did some of the more influential members keep their distance? Any of that should have been a clue for the Wilson’s.
There are more games that go on in Baptist Churches than are going on at the London Olympics.
No matter how big or small the Baptist Church, there are committees made up of the most senior members of the church. Some Baptist churches are spun off from other Baptist Church’s because a clique did not like how things were going at the other church, so they defected to start up another church. On a more positive note, some Baptist churches, as they get larger, help sponsor a new church and members in good standing leave to start up the new church.
Either way, the people who start up the new church are powerful, very powerful. They quickly become heads of the important Finance and Personnel committees and they control the pastoral search committee that has been formed to search for a new minister.
When someone new visits a Baptist church they will be either warmly greeted by members or they will receive a cooler reception – that all depends on the cliques – whether these visitors appear to “fit in” – maybe race is a factor – another factor is what do these “new people” do – are they professionals, where did they come from – maybe another Baptist Church? Are they visiting the area because they are students at a local university or are they sort of nondescript – someone who does not appear to bring a lot to the table?
If you appear to have resources – money, and even past experience serving at other Baptist churches, you will be heavily recruited – yes recruited. Church members will call up and invite themselves to your house or apartment and they will usually bring cookies and they will report back as to how they think you will fit in the congregation. All the visits will be synchronized – believe that.
In addition, if you are a school principal or a lawyer or a dentist or a doctor or a realtor or an accountant, they will give you a full court press – one of you might be offered a position on one of the committees – especially if the church is experiencing a growth spurt and needs someone on the Building Committee or the committee that will work on encouraging members to ante up and make a long term commitment to a building fund for the new expansion.
Playing a piano or organ or having a voice like a canary also helps speed up the process toward joining the church – Baptist churches are always looking for good prospects who sing bass or soprano.
Regarding Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson, I do not know the demographics of First Baptist of Crystal Springs, so I do not know if the reason for not permitting the wedding was strictly because the Wilson’s are black – but given that the church is in Mississippi and they are black – race, by itself, might have been the deciding factor.
One thing a lot of people might not know is that the Minister of a Baptist Church is not in charge of the church, so to speak.
The Personnel and Finance committees are in charge because they control the purse strings and they control who does what in the congregation.
If the Minister stood his ground and said the wedding will go as planned, the Minister could have been voted out and the committees would be looking for a new Minister – and that is a fact.
It might have been something simple like the couple not offering enough money to the church itself – in effect, the couple needed to rent the church and also pay the minister – it might also be that the couple wanted to have a reception at the church and some of the senior members did not want to have a “black” reception in their community center. Some of the elderly members might still be mad that Rosa Parks took a stand in Montgomery, Alabama.
My guess is the couple, because they are black, were not wooed to become members and as a result, they were considered outsiders and the older white members of the church were reluctant to have their church used for a wedding attended mostly by outsiders – black or otherwise.
To me, it is obvious that those people in the church who were okay with the wedding taking place in their church were either in the minority (head count wise) or none of them were senior members on any of the important church committees.
Also, even if half the people were okay with the wedding, the stubborn one’s who were opposed to the scheduled wedding would have raised so much hell, it would have resulted in some members leaving the church. In addition, it might have caused a split and it might have forced a vote where a power struggle would have taken place.
I have always been told that you must pick your battles – and this might have been one case where those who were okay with the wedding felt this was not a time to draw a line in the sand.
On a personal note, when my wife and I lived in Alabama while I was in the Air Force, we were outsiders to most of our neighbors. Some of them accepted us even though we were in the military but others were standoffish because we were also from the North – two strikes against us.
The third strike came when we purchased a Basset Hound from a breeder out in the country. While picking up our dog, we met a young black couple who were picking up their new dog as well. We exchanged phone numbers and agreed to catch up some time in the future.
We received orders shortly after getting our new dog and we had a “For Sale” sign outside our house. The young couple called and we invited them over for lunch and they brought their dog so the dogs could have fun in our fenced back yard.
We all had a nice visit and after the young couple left, our Baptist neighbors rushed over and asked, “Are you considering selling your house to those nig*ers?”
Keep in mind that these neighbors were born and raised in Montgomery and were very religious Baptists – and they attended Wednesday night, Saturday, and also went to Sunday school and attended services on Sunday. They had two cute little kids. The father was an average hard working guy and his wife was a tall striking blonde who spoke like a southern bell. She was the one who made the racial slur.
All we told her is that the young couple purchased their dog from the same breeder we did and it was a social visit and had nothing to do with buying our home.
Our neighbor closed with, “Praise the Lord” as she went back home.
I have read numerous comments made by members of the church in question but I have not read where any of them, a committee or a small group, offered to visit the Wilsons to apologize or better yet to invite them to become members.
I believe their collective comments are superficial in nature and many feel embarrassed and are trying to save face.
The Mississippi Baptist Convention executive director, Reverend Jim Futral, said. “It’s just a step backward. … It’s a sad thing. It’s not reflective of the spirit of the Lord and Mississippi Baptists,”
I do not agree with his comments. I believe there are those who vocalize their racism out loud while others speak of it in normal conversations privately. There are others who do so in whispers and others just express their racial bias with “looks” or by ignoring those of a different color. In church, those last two groups will nod or smile at someone new, yet different – but they will never approach them to extend a warm welcome, share a hug or even a handshake – and that is their right and their choice.
For the Executive Director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention to say that this is a, “step backward”, is naïve at best.
Personally, I believe it is the responsibility of each of us to find a place to “hang our hat”, where we feel comfortable, wanted, needed, and accepted.
People need to shop for a church as seriously as they shop for a mate or a car or house or for a university to attend. Visit one church for a while, assert yourself, get involved, gauge the congregation and how you think you are fitting in, and if you are not, try to determine if you are doing enough yourself or if the congregation collectively does not appear open to you as a visitor or as a potential member – and if either of the latter is true, then it is time to take your search elsewhere.