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Southern Baptist Convention expels Oklahoma church after pastor defends performing in blackface while impersonating Ray Charles

By Justin Gamble, CNN

(CNN) — The Southern Baptist Convention expelled a rural Oklahoma church from its membership Tuesday after resurfaced pictures and video show its pastor impersonating late singer Ray Charles in blackface at a talent show, according to a convention spokesperson.

The executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention – the nation’s largest Protestant denomination – approved a recommendation that the Matoaka Baptist Church in Ochelata, Oklahoma, be deemed “not in friendly cooperation” with the convention after the church failed to “cooperate in resolving concerns regarding discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity,” spokesperson Jon Wilke told CNN.

Matoaka Baptist’s pastor, Sherman Jaquess, posted a video on his Facebook page in 2017 showing himself impersonating Charles – a legendary Black musician – at a talent show. Jaquess is dressed in full blackface during his performance, including a wig and dark makeup covering his face, neck and hands.

Blackface is a practice that began over 200 years ago when White performers painted their faces black using polish and cork, put on tattered clothing and exaggerated their features to mock Black people. The practice is widely considered racist and offensive.

The incident was highlighted in April by local activist Marq Lewis, who published screenshots of pictures from the talent show that had been posted on Matoaka Baptist’s Facebook page in 2017.

As a result of the expulsion, the church will no longer be able to seat voting delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention or give donations through the organization’s cooperative program, according to Wilke.

Jaquess told CNN he had “no comment,” on his 2017 actions or the convention’s decision.

Jaquess told The Baptist Press, a prominent news outlet for Southern Baptists, that he is not racist and denied there was anything “derogatory” about his impersonation of Charles.

“My whole life’s work, I’ve worked with multiple different types of racial people. I don’t have a racial bone in my body,” Jaquess said.

Jaquess told the Baptist Press his face “was not black, but the flash on the camera made it look black. It was just brown.”

“Any defaming act is repugnant,” Jaquess told the outlet, adding, “But I don’t get offended when Black people play a part in a movie, or a comedy act and they act like a different race. I know my heart. I didn’t have anything hateful or derogatory toward any race.”

CNN has sought comment from Lewis. In a post on social media on Tuesday, Lewis wrote, “Way to go @SouthernBapCon for kicking this racist out. Thank you, supporters, for keeping the pressure on.”

Matoaka Baptist can appeal the expulsion decision, Wilke said.

During the convention’s annual meeting in June, delegates voted to deny appeals from at least three ousted churches, including the southern California congregation of Saddleback Church – led by pastor and author Rick Warren – which was expelled because it allowed women to be pastors.

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