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Ala. Pastor Resigns After Celebrating KKK Leader’s Birthday

An Alabama pastor and Republican state representative has resigned from his church following controversy over his invocation at a birthday celebration for Nathan Bedford Forest, a Confederate Army general and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Will Dismukes stepped down as bivocational pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Prattville, July 29, The Alabama Baptist reported. His resignation came three days after posting a photo on Facebook of himself standing at a podium near various Confederate flags and a picture of Bedford Forest at the event in Selma this past weekend.  In the July 26 post, Dismukes said, “Had a great time at Fort Dixie speaking and giving the invocation for Nathan Bedford Forest annual birthday celebration. Always a great time and some sure enough good eating!!” The post has since then been removed.

Dismukes drew swift rebuke from many, including both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, with some calling for him to resign as state representative. As of July 30, Dismukes hadn’t announced any plans to resign his post.

Only intensifying the controversy, the birthday party was held the same weekend as friends and family were gathering at ceremonies in Selma to remember the late civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis. The longtime Georgia congressman and civil rights leader is known for being beaten in 1965 while leading a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on a day known as “Bloody Sunday.”

Dismukes responded to the controversy earlier this week saying that the post  “in no way intended to seem as if I was glorifying the Klan or any party thereof,” the Montgomery Adviser reported. “The very atrocities and actions they committed are a disgrace to our country.”

Terry Lathan, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, said Dismukes’ statement did not go far enough in resolving the issue, Baptist Press reported.

“[Dismukes] offered no explanation for why he participated in a birthday celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest,” he said. He described Dismukes’ statement as “shallow in understanding his activities are deeply offensive to so many Alabamans. His constituents will be the final decision-makers of his political future.”

Lathan noted, “It is one thing to honor one’s Southern heritage, however, it is completely another issue to specifically commemorate the leader of an organization with an indisputable history of unconscionable actions and atrocities toward African Americans.”

Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said, “We are saddened and grieved to learn of the recent Facebook post by state Rep. Will Dismukes … In the wake of tremendous controversy, we affirm our opposition to any kind of racism.”

Mel Johnson, lead mission strategist for Autauga Baptist Association, of which the church Dismukes pastored is a member, was among those who met with Dismukes on Tuesday (July 28) and accepted his resignation. Johnson was quoted in the Washington Post saying Dismukes described his decision to attend the birthday celebration as a “lapse in judgment.”

In an earlier statement reported by the Alabama Baptist, Johnson said, “I am grateful for the opportunity to have met with the church’s leadership for prayer and encouragement as many, through no fault of their own, have found themselves caught in the midst of this issue that has drawn national attention,” Johnson said. “I am also thankful that Autauga Baptist churches can move forward and remain focused toward Great Commission efforts to communicate the gospel and reach our world for Christ.”

Johnson noted, “Scripture is clear that all people are created in God’s image and therefore equal in every way before Christ and our personal need of Him as Savior and Lord.”

Shawn Hendricks

Shawn is a writer, editor and communications strategist living in the Nashville area. He has covered faith-based news for more than 20 years. Among his most recent roles, Shawn directed the daily operations for Baptist Press as its editor. Hendricks accepted the position of Baptist Press managing editor in 2013 after serving two years in the same role for the Biblical Recorder, newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Before that, he served for nearly 10 years as a staff writer -- and later senior writer -- at the International Mission Board.