Steve Walter, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Forrest City, Arkansas, publicly apologized Tuesday after a black woman alleged that she and her family experienced discrimination from two unidentified white members, one of whom allegedly called black people "coloreds," when she tried to attend a worship service on Sunday morning.
The woman, identified on Facebook as Donna Mac, 34, did not immediately respond to a request for an interview with The Christian Post on Wednesday. She detailed in a viral post on the social media platform how the encounter happened and noted that she had been invited to the service at the Southern Baptist Church.
"I've never in my 34 years of living witness a church turn someone around because of the color of their skin. Walking up we was met on the steps by the 1st member (older white guy) stated 'Well what you want to come in for?' We responded, 'Church.' He stated, 'Church doesn't start until 11am.' (Mine you other members are entering church at this time.)," Mac wrote.
"After speaking with the 2nd member (older white lady) I stated, 'Is everyone not welcome here?' She stated, 'We've had COLOREDS here before.' I asked, 'What do you mean Coloreds? Do you mean Black people?' Her response, 'No COLOREDS! When I was growing up we always called them COLOREDS!' We just looked at her and left! My feelings are so hurt!"
Mac's post has been shared over 9,000 times on Facebook as of Wednesday morning and elicited thousands of negative reactions from the public, some claiming the church is racist. In a follow-up statement on her Facebook page, Mac made it clear that she wasn't trying to brand the entire church as racist.
After CP reached out to the church and Southern Baptist Convention for comment, Walter released a statement on the church's Facebook page acknowledging Mac's account and offered an apology. He asked for forgiveness for the encounter. It is unclear if Mac and her family received a personal apology.
"On Sunday, June 26th, a family seeking to worship at FBC Forrest City had a racially-insensitive encounter with a member and left without attending our morning worship service. The Bible teaches the value and dignity of every human created and calls us to love our neighbors," Walter wrote. "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."
Dahleen Glanton, a former columnist for the Chicago Tribune, explained in a 2020 op-ed that while it is now acceptable to address the collective group of non-white people as people of color today, it is "offensive" to refer to black people as "colored" because of the term's connection to the Jim Crow South. Glanton noted that not everyone is aware that the term is considered offensive.
"It is offensive to single blacks out as 'colored.' That, in part, is because of the painful segregationist history associated with the term prior to the mid-1960s," Glanton wrote. "'Colored-only' restrooms and water fountains are examples of harmful relics of the Jim Crow South that black people had to fight, and die, to remove from American culture."
Walter vowed that First Baptist Church of Forrest City will work towards ensuring an incident like this doesn't happen again and asked for prayers.
"The Bible calls us to repent, to offer healing for those we've hurt, and to work toward ensuring this doesn't happen again. While FBC Forrest City is committed to those ends, much more work is needed to heal the racial divide in our community and our country," he stated. "We are calling on others to pray for this family, our church family, our community, and our country that we, as one people under God's rule, will be reconciled through Christ and His saving grace."
In her follow-up post, Mac said she will not allow the encounter to turn her away from Christianity.
"I'm not saying the church as a whole exemplified racism I'm speaking on the individuals we encountered. I never wanted to be anything other than who I am! I am a proud AFRICAN AMERICAN/ BLACK Woman! I absolutely love the skin I'm in. I love it so much I took my time to defend it against racism," she wrote. "Where some would've tucked their tail and took that 'L' I decided to speak up! I'm NOT a racist, therefore I'm not just going to sit back and allow anyone to downplay my race or my decision to speak out [whether] they're white, black, or etc. Lastly and certainly not least I believe in CHRISTIANITY and I will never give up on the power of God and His unchanging hand."