Alabama state Rep. Will Dismukes. Photo via the Alabama House of Representatives

Alabama Southern Baptist pastor resigns after speaking at party for a KKK leader

(RNS) — A Southern Baptist bi-vocational pastor who gave an invocation at a celebration honoring the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, stepped down from his rural Alabama church earlier this week.

Will Dismukes, who is also a Republican state representative for the city of Prattville, 14 miles northwest of Montgomery, boasted on a Facebook page that he participated at an annual birthday party for Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a prominent figure in Southern history.

“Had a great time at Fort Dixie speaking and giving the invocation for Nathan Bedford Forrest annual birthday celebration. Always a great time and some sure enough good eating!!” read post, which has since been taken down.

The Facebook post appeared on Sunday (July 25), the same day the body of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis made its final crossing over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where 55 years earlier Lewis was brutally beaten after a march known as Bloody Sunday. Lewis, a 17-term Georgia congressman, died July 17.

Dismukes’ post drew outrage from many Alabama state legislators, both Republican and Democratic, with some calling on him to resign.

Forrest (1821-1877), the Confederate general Dismukes was honoring, is infamous for his role at the Battle of Fort Pillow in April 1864, when his troops massacred Black soldiers following a Union surrender. After the end of the Civil War, Forrest joined up with the newly formed Ku Klux Klan to oppose Reconstruction efforts. 

Dismukes’ legislative office phone number did not accept messages on Thursday.

On Tuesday, a group of Alabama Southern Baptists met with Dismukes, according to The Alabama Baptist newspaper. The following day, at a deacon’s meeting at Dismukes’ rural church, Pleasant Hill Baptist, he resigned.

Although each Baptist church is independent, Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, earlier this month issued a “personal credo” saying he was opposed to racism. The post was affirmed by the officers of the Alabama Baptist State Convention and State Board of Missions on July 27.

“Everyone of all races and backgrounds is made in the image of God!” wrote Lance. “Those words should never be considered as ‘cheap talk’ but as an unchanging and non-negotiable core value.”

Lance declined to comment for this article.

This is not the first time Dismukes’ actions have drawn calls for his resignation. Last month, his support for continued state funding for a Confederate Memorial Park north of Montgomery also drew controversy. So far he has not resigned from the state legislature.