Baptist Pastor Apologizes After Black Woman Says Church Turned Her Away

Por Sarah Einselen
Forrest City Church
First Baptist Church in Forrest City, Arkansas.

The pastor of a Southern Baptist church in Arkansas has publicly apologized, after a Black woman posted on Facebook that she’d been turned away from a service because the church doesn’t accept “coloreds.” The pastor said he’s hoping the church can learn something from the experience.

In the Facebook post, a Black woman says two people at First Baptist Church of Forrest City, Arkansas, turned her away last Sunday morning. TRR reached out to the woman, known on Facebook as “Donna Mac,” but has not heard back.

The woman wrote that when she asked “Is everyone not welcome here?” one of the people responded that “we’ve had coloreds here before.”

The term “colored” is inappropriate given its association with Black people’s treatment under slavery and Jim Crow, linguist John McWhorter opined.

The woman wrote that she then asked whether that meant Black people. The other person insisted on using the derogatory term, according to the post, and reportedly said that was the term used “when I was growing up.”

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“I’ve never in my 34 years of living witness(ed) a church turn someone around because of the color of their skin,” the woman wrote.

The post has been shared more than 9,200 times as of midday Thursday. In a follow-up post, the woman wrote that FBC Forrest City is located in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

“I’m not saying the church as a whole exemplified racism,” she added. “I’m speaking on the individuals we encountered.”

The woman also wrote that she’s a lifelong resident of Forrest City, a town originally llamado for Confederate general and KKK leader Nathan Bedford Forrest. But the woman had “never experienced racism to this extent” there, she wrote.

 

FBC Forrest City’s Pastor Steve Walter soon found out about the incident and addressed it for seven minutes near the beginning of the morning service.

Walter said he believed the incident was due to a “misunderstanding” and the term, “coloreds,” was not used maliciously, though he acknowledged the term is offensive.

He added, “I will resign this morning if we are not a church that will receive any and everybody into those doors to worship with us.”

He told El Informe Roys (TRR) on Thursday that in retrospect, he thinks he could’ve worded some of his comments differently, but “it was raw and immediate.”

Social worker Melrita Johnson, a Forrest City native, noted how quickly Walter addressed the situation publicly—about half an hour after finding out about it. In her experience, she said, people “don’t take ownership that fast” if they aren’t really trying to make things right.

 los mensaje cristiano reportado that after a CP reporter contacted the church, Walter also posted an apology on the church’s Facebook page acknowledging the “racially-insensitive encounter.”

“The Bible teaches the value and dignity of every human created and calls us to love our neighbors,” Walter’s apology read. “Sadly, that is not how this guest and her family were treated. There is no excuse for the offensive language used toward her and her family, and I am sincerely sorry that this incident took place. On behalf of FBC Forrest City, I would like to ask for forgiveness.”

Walter also wrote that “much more work is needed to heal the racial divide in our community and our country” and called for prayer.

Apologize Pastor Forrest City Black

Walter has since deactivated the church’s Facebook page due to the volume of comments, he told TRR. He also said the church has tried to contact the woman directly, but had not yet spoken with her as of Thursday.

Johnson, who’s also a Christian, told TRR the situation isn’t unique to Forrest City or the church, which Walter said averages 130 on Sundays. Johnson noted that Sunday morning has long been “the most segregated hour” of the week.

But she also emphasized that this is an opportunity for residents of Forrest City to seek peace and fair treatment, overcome communication gaps, and better understand historical context.

It’s an opening “for all of us to come together, regardless of what color we are, to make positive changes in our community,” Johnson said.

“Let’s open up conversation, let’s start with respectful conversation—active listening. Let’s not listen to respond. Let’s listen to digest.”

Walter and Johnson said the local mayor put them in touch this week and they have spoken several times to discuss solutions going forward.

“We’re walking through some steps of sensitivity training as necessary,” Walter said of the church. “We want to provide that, certainly, for the community, to engage in further conversations. . . . I’m of a mindset that I want to see the Gospel infused into our conversations.

“We’re really praying that the Lord will use this as a Christ-glorifying transformation in our community,” he added.

Sarah Einselen es una escritora y editora premiada que vive en Texas, EEUU.

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32 pensamientos sobre “Baptist Pastor Apologizes After Black Woman Says Church Turned Her Away”

  1. “Colored”? Was the person that said that 90 years old? That’s what religion with no Jesus produces. I’m not saying the entire congregation thinks that way by any means. Back in the late 80’s I had a friend that was in a service in a church in Louisiana. Before the service began, a deacon gave some announcements and then said, “You know how to keep a black man poor?
    Hide his welfare check in his workboots.” Yep, dead religion.

  2. día del escocés

    ““We’re walking through some steps of sensitivity training as necessary,” Walter said of the church. “We want to provide that, certainly, for the community, to engage in further conversations. . . . I’m of a mindset that I want to see the Gospel infused into our conversations.”
    —————————

    I’m so very sorry, Donna Mac.

    I’m curious what the pastor means when he says “I’m of a mindset that I want to see the Gospel infused into our conversations”

    The Gospel (noun) / gospel (adj) are used to mean so many things these days, as some kind of ultimate marketing power word in order to sell something to gain influence, a following, control, generate revenue, build a brand and a relative empire.

    (could be selling an idea, a doctrine, a book, a conference, a political agenda item, etc.)

    how can christians really know what it means anymore?

    How does one infuse the Gospel into conversations, and how does it help with ‘sensitivity training’ and a legacy of discrimination?

  3. Cynthia Norbeck

    Sorry to have to say this, but it sounds like a set-up to me. If it happened, it’s disturbing, but if it didn’t actually happen…..Even more disturbing.

    Be wise, pastors. Trust but verify. This report states the woman has lived in the community for years. Why did she suddenly turn up at this church? And why has she not responded to attempts to contact her?

    1. All sounds a little sus, so I’d hope a careful investigation is done to understand what happened. But the comment about ‘gospel infused conversations’? Sounds like a glib motherhood fluff ball without the real action that needs to underpin all relationships and encounters. And that is the Spirit through Paul in Philippians 2:1-4. Nothing more is needed.

    2. Good grief. What’s with this victimization mentality? This is the same kind of false flag nonsense talk that allowed people to live in denial about atrocities like Sandy Hook and 9/11. Conspiracy theories are going to be the downfall of this country.

    3. Marin Heiskell

      Cynthia –

      I must call out a pattern here. Why do you continue to deny racism when it happens? We had a shooter post a racist manifesto before killing people in Buffalo, and you “ignored” it and said “it’s not racism! it’s mental illness…not everything that happens to Black people is racism!” (BTW, mental illness and racism can coexist….and extreme racism/bigotry can actually be considered a mental illness).
      And now this.

      I have lived in communities for YEARS, then changed churches due to a number of reasons: outgrowing a ministry, seeking an opportunity to serve in a different ministry, preferring a larger or smaller church, God calling me elsewhere, etc. I’ve shared that I’m praying about changing churches now due to emotional and spiritual exhaustion of trying to confront the political idolatry and subtle racism that has infected the congregation. As a Black woman who attends a predominantly white church, it is hurtful to have those who are supposed to be my brothers and sisters in Christ deny, downplay, and defend racism – especially when it shows up IN the church! That is SUPPOSED to be a safe space – after all, everyone’s ready with those great Christianese phrases about loving all, color not mattering, blah blah blah. Yeah, that’s how it sounds when it isn’t actually true: blah blah blah.

      This is why churches will remain even more segregated than our neighborhoods. Trust me, it takes a LOT of love, humility, grace, and forgiveness to continue to worship among those who won’t confront and eradicate such harmful behaviors and attitudes in the body. I mean, I guess as long as it’s aimed at people who look like me instead of you, it’s not that bad, right?

      1. People like Cynthia are why I left Christianity. If the gospel can really change people’s hearts, why does it produce SO MANY Amerikkkans like this? Julie Roys has also helped expose the evil men running churches and parachurch orgs for power & sexual gratification. I know I’m not alone in my decision to leave Jesus behind.

        1. Stu, while the racist views of some Whites are clearly wrong, you are even in more trouble if you “left Jesus behind ” as you say, as Jesus did not disappoint you or let you down. It sounds like you never knew Him, and that is the reason why you could so very easily “leave Him behind”. Trust me, there are thousands upon thousands of Believers who have been hurt and disappointed by the actions of other professing Christians, Julie and myself included, but our focus and anchor is in Jesus, not fallen and broken human beings!

        2. Cynthia Norbeck

          Marin and Stu:

          It sounds to me like you both misread my post. Try re-reading it. If you see racism everywhere, I truly pity you. Having lived around the world, I can tell you that the United States is one of the least racist nations on the planet. China comes to mind as an example of extreme racism…

          This, of course, is not to deny that racism exists here in the USA. It does. Those of us who love Christ seek to love others regardless of what they look like.

          And, Stu, if you leave Jesus behind, that’s on you. He has given you everything you need to know about his love in the Bible. If you choose to ignore it and use others as an excuse, you have only yourself to blame.

          Marin: Being a black American does not entitle you to victimhood status. It simply doesn’t. If you choose not to forgive others for what you believe they have done against you, that is, again, on you alone. Christ calls us to forgive others the way he forgave us. It may take time, but I will pray that you get there some day. If you don’t, you will live the life of a victim. Do you think that’s what Jesus wants for you? I don’t. I think he wants a victorious life for you, not a victimhood one.

          Be well.

          1. día del escocés

            Cynthia Norbeck,]

            Neither Marin nor Stu remotely hinted that they see racism everywhere. Your entire comment is riddled with shocking presumptions you’ve foisted on each of them. It is extremely unkind and unfair in outsized proportion.

          2. Marin Heiskell

            Cynthia –
            The challenge I posted to you is how you DENY the blatant racism in both incidents. You posted about the Buffalo shooter not being racist. And now you are here denying that this incident mentioned in this article even happened. So I go back to my original question, which you did NOT answer: WHY is that? You see posting racist manifestos or referring to Black people as “colored” as ok? I encourage you to pray about that, given your claim to “seek to love others regardless of what they look like.” Loving others is standing up for them when racist language is used against them.
            Now, China – one of the most racially homogenous nations in the world – is more racist than the US? Based on what data? I get South Africa, given it eliminated apartheid just 30 years ago (even so, the US refused to divest from South Africa, indicating we were ok with apartheid). But China is known to be friendlier to Black travelers and ex-pats than many other nations.
            And finally, here’s what I have to say to “being Black does not entitle you to victimhood status.” Cynthia, given THAT is where you went when you read I’m a Black American, I’m going to pray for you. That is insulting, degrading, and FAR from “seeking to love others regardless of what they look like.” As a Black American, I am a grateful descendent of SURVIVORS – those who THRIVED by the grace of God despite of generations of slavery, segregation, violence, and outright hatred. Sounds like you have a problem with that, so I’ll leave you with Genesis 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

      2. Rabindranath Ramcharan

        If people want to go to church with their friends and relatives, I don’t know how to get them to stop. Do you?

        1. Marin Heiskell

          Rabindranath –
          No, I don’t know how to get them to stop. But I DO have an idea: expand your circle of friends to include people of other races and ethnicities. THAT would sure help some of our congregations to look a bit more like the kingdom.

    4. Rabindranath Ramcharan

      I read Ms. Mac’s Facebook post twice, and I didn’t see where anyone “turned her away ” from the church. I saw a reference to an “older lady ” using a term that has fallen out of use some years ago. If someone had said, “Go away. This is a white church,” I would think Ms Mac would have said so.
      Maybe it was racism, maybe it was an old lady with dementia. But if you’re looking for something, you’re going to find it.

      1. día del escocés

        it was a devastating thing to hear.

        shades of being greeted with “We’ve had fat / bald / ugly / people with no personality here before.”

    5. tricia russell

      “Sorry to have to say this, but it sounds like a set-up to me. If it happened, it’s disturbing, but if it didn’t actually happen…..Even more disturbing.”

      And what if it actually happened but people don’t believe that it happened? What amount of disturbing would that be?

      1. Cynthia Norbeck

        Tricia:

        Donna Mac has already forgiven the church and its members. You should probably move on. In future, you might want to consider the exercise of discernment whenever a news story appears. I always read everything in the media with a grain of salt, which should explain my reaction to the Donna Mac story.

  4. One more thing. If the two people who are greeters actually said that and I was the pastor. I would really push to have her return and point out the two people that said that. Then I’d remind those two people that this is the 21st century and maybe there greeters job is no longer a position the church needs you to do.

  5. Rabindranath Ramcharan

    One of the things that happens with an older congregation is that sometimes people say things that were perfectly acceptable when they were coming up while LBJ was President but would get you set on fire in the parking lot today. Add the possibility that some level of dementia might have been in play and the incident looks a little different.

  6. Brian patricio

    The SBC is a complete joke of a church whether it’s the good ‘ol boys right or the new, woke left. Real Christians, please ditch this train wreck of a denomination and go somewhere more Biblical.

  7. Has anyone asked the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for their assessment of this matter? BIPOC replaced Black which replaced African-American, which replaced people of color which replaced black which replaced colored people which replaced Negro… Which will be the correct nomenclature in 2023? Perhaps the women were churlish and intended offense, perhaps they had not kept up with the AP Manual of Style and reverted to an older term, or perhaps, prophetically they used next year’s nomenclature. We may never know.

    1. Marin Heiskell

      Really, Arthur? Anything to just excuse being unwelcoming to a person because of skin color?
      Your sarcasm over what to call people of color says a lot about what you think of us, not to mention your ignorance over why those references have changed over the years.
      Please pray about that. We are God’s creation, worthy of value in His sight (and SHOULD be worthy of value in your sight) too. Ironically, it seems the church is the last to figure that part out.

  8. Peter Maxwell

    I hope this never happens again. That is why I really pick the churches I go to carefully. I only have https://lhhouston.church/ to attend services at because of their great pastor. The church is always open to all who want to hear God’s message of salvation!

  9. I know this is off-topic, well sort of, because the picture of the church premises is part of the report. Their building represents an unfortunately typical low in the architecture of church buildings. A hideous, fortress like authoritarian monolith. At least gothic cathedrals were full of light and color. Churches and their architects need to think about the message of their edifices: light, joy, openness, delight in worship, God who is love, need to be the themes reflected in our buildings. As well as sheer artful design.

  10. Marin Heiskell

    Scottie –

    I really appreciate you. Thank you for acknowledging that there should be no room for excuses and explanations for language and behavior like this at a church. If ANYONE referred to me as “colored” in 2022 – especially if I’m in a former Confederate state – I would truly be in shock and immediately know I am not welcome.
    It’s good to know that someone would stand up and say that’s unacceptable.

    1. Cynthia Norbeck

      Marin:

      My point regarding the Buffalo shootings was quite simple: Mental illness seems to surround many of the young men who participate in mass shootings. Obviously, this does not mean that they cannot be radicalized by racist people and ideologies. Of course they can! What I have observed recently in the USA is that many are trying desperately to capitalize on the George Floyd tragedy. This has led to groundless claims of racism, countless DEI departments, and newly minted positions for black and brown people who want to dismantle the founding principles of this great land, including its capitalistic traditions and its emphasis on individual talents and abilities.

      Racism exists around the world. I brought up China because I knew your response would inform me of your stance on other matters. It has.

      I can only recommend that you dig deeper when it comes to Communism. It has resulted in the greatest loss of life the world has ever known.

      1. Marin Heiskell

        Cynthia –

        I don’t see what China or George Floyd has to do with calling a Black person “colored” or writing racist manifestos. And you’re changing your story. You “corrected” posters by saying the Buffalo shooting “was not about racism at all” but about mental illness (as if both can’t exist). After you made a glib remark on “not seeing racism in every act of violence against people of color” and “discerning the truth”, you conveniently stopped posting when others called out his racist manifesto. Was that against the truth you were trying to discern? Isn’t it true that a racist manifesto is, well, racist?
        Cynthia, my prayer for you is that when you spot racism, you don’t try to deceive others into thinking it’s not racism, nor do you prioritize your political views by talking about China or George Floyd. My prayer is that you know it’s wrong and show compassion towards the person hurt. Because racism hurts. Having been called “colored” (and a lot worse), I can tell you it hurts. It also hurts to see my sister in Christ refuse to admit that was wrong. I mean, your response to a sister in Christ being called “colored” in 2022 is to doubt, gaslight, and talk about China. ZERO concern over if she has been encouraged and reassured as our sister.
        It makes me wonder if you just don’t think it’s wrong to call a Black person “colored”. Which is why I’ll simply return to: I’ll be in prayer. Not just for you, but for me, too, for it is VERY hard for me to be unified in Christ with someone who is ok with that.

  11. Cynthia Norbeck

    “Isn’t it true that a racist manifesto is, well, racist?”

    Did you actually read the manifesto? It was a complete mess – a screed copied, pasted, and put together by a mentally ill (schizophrenic?) young man. He filled it was anti-Semitism as well.

    Whenever I read anything written by those whose minds are scrambled, I read all of it with a grain of salt. If I aim for intellectual honesty ( I try hard to do this! ) I can only conclude that the Buffalo shooter was not in his right mind when he wrote it. Stated differently, the real “him” was not there when it was written. THAT was my point. If an elite athlete broke his or her leg and then ran in a race, I would not expect that person to win the race. Indeed, I would expect that person to fail completely because – please listen here- the REAL person, the real racer, would be so incapacitated as to be incapable of being his/her true self.

    Get it yet?

    Of course racism is wrong and hurtful. Doesn’t that go without saying? Why do you feel the need to continue to press this point? I have been hurt by others as well, but I have forgiven and moved way beyond their sin.

    I will pray for you. In the meantime, my point regarding other countries and George Floyd is two-fold:
    1) Other countries are far less diverse and far more racist than the USA. if you travel abroad, you will find this out quickly.
    2) George Floyd’s death was a tragedy. Exploiting it for personal gain is sick. I hope and pray you are not doing that.

    1. Marin Heiskell

      Cynthia –
      Yes I read the manifesto. It was hot mess full of signs of mental illness and racism. (See what I did there?) It says a lot you can call out the anti-Semitism, but dismiss the racism as “he wasn’t in his right mind”. I guess he was in his right mind for the anti-Semitism and not the racism? Or perhaps you view one as acceptable?
      It is my prayer that instead of dismissing these sorts of manifestos “with a grain of salt” that we as a society start seeing them for what they are: cries for help. Perhaps then we can give help before they hurt themselves or others.
      If you REALLY understand racism is hurtful, perhaps you’d spend more time tending to those hurt by it than deflecting, downplaying, dismissing and denying its sting.
      And forgiveness goes in multiple directions. Horizontal forgiveness requires response. I forgive those who acknowledge and apologize. This follows Jesus’s example, as He requires response (through repentance) to forgive. Vertical forgiveness requires handing it over to God. I do that in ALL cases, espcially if there has been no acknowledgement or apology. That is for me and the offender.
      You are not the only one who has lived all over the world. I have lived in the US, UK, UAE, France, Chile, and Japan. I am preparing for a stint in South Africa in 2023. I have experienced racism all over the world. It doesn’t “hurt” any less or deserve any less acknowledgment when it happens in the US.
      YOU brought up George Floyd. It is my concern that you are exploiting your dislike to the responses to his death to deny and dismiss other acts of racism that are still permeating and hurting others. And THAT is sick.

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