The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, has kicked a rural Oklahoma church out of its membership after photos and videos of their pastor impersonating singer Ray Charles in blackface emerged on social media.
A spokesperson for the organization said the executive committee ruled that the Matoaka Baptist Church in Ochelata, Oklahoma, was “not in friendly cooperation” with the convention. The decision came after the church, led by the Rev. Sherman Jaquess, failed to “cooperate in resolving concerns regarding discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity,” according to CNN.
Jaquess, a white man, was seen in a video dressed in a Jheri curl wig, black body paint (face, neck, hands), and red lips during a Valentine’s Day talent show in 2017. The preacher said he was trying to honor the late Grammy Award winner.
The incident was highlighted on Facebook in April by local activist Marq Lewis.
The activist published screenshots of pictures from the talent show and said, “You can honor anyone by not putting on blackface, and he is ignoring the historical references and all of the satirical types of caricatures that African Americans have gone through in this country.”
Lewis also said the preacher’s actions were “actually a slap in the face of African Americans and all people of color.”
The pastor said earlier in the year that he thought the hoopla about the costume was misplaced.
“We have people [who] are offended by a lot of things, but it’s hard to play Ray Charles if you don’t play a Black man; it wasn’t anything,” he said.
The clergyman was shocked at people being offended despite him looking nothing like the brown-skinned Charles, who wore his hair for most of his career in a military-styled crew cut.
During a sermon, he said, “I just want to publicly say I don’t have a racial bone in my body. I’m not racist at all.”
Jaquess added, “There wasn’t anything racial about it. I was singing Ray Charles ‘Seven Spanish Angels,’ and I said, ‘I love Ray Charles’ music. How can you portray Ray Charles if you’re not a Black man?’”
The Oklahoma chapter of the SBC attempted to intervene. They advised Jaquess to remove the controversial photos from circulation. But the pastor refused.
Mike Keahbone, an executive committee member for the SBC, said to KTUL, “He was not cooperative.”
“Did not take it seriously. Didn’t think it was a big deal. Didn’t think it was racist in any way, shape, or form,” Keahbone said.
“It was grievous; we hate to disfellowship any church,” the SBC member said. “But this was an egregious act of racism in my opinion, and so we voted to disfellowship them yesterday.”
The pastor has a history of dressing up as different races. Once, during a cowboys-and-Indians-themed event at the Falls Creek church camp, he appeared as an indigenous woman in brownface.
Lewis took to social media to congratulate the convention.
“Way to go @SouthernBapCon for kicking this racist out. Thank you supporters for keeping the pressure on,” he tweeted.
Wilkes stated that the expulsion decision is open to appeal, but it won’t be easy.
In the annual convention meeting held in June, delegates voted to deny appeals from three churches whose memberships were revoked. One of those churches was Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, which was ousted because it allowed a woman to serve as a pastor.