Reverend refuses to baptize baby, says unwed parents are ‘living in sin’

Kamri Mclendon and Tristan Mcphail with their daughter, Presleigh.
Kamri Mclendon and Tristan Mcphail with their daughter, Presleigh.(Savannah Knight)
Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 5:54 PM EDT
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SUMRALL, Miss. (WLBT/Gray News) - A young couple in Mississippi who recently tried to have their newborn baptized said they were refused by the reverend.

Kamri Mclendon lives with her boyfriend of two years, Tristan Mcphail, in Sumrall. In May, the 18-year-old gave birth to a girl, Presleigh. She said the pregnancy was not planned, but her daughter has become the couple’s “greatest blessing.”

Mclendon said she grew up in the church, and thus wanted to have an infant baptism performed on Presleigh in the Hickory Grove United Methodist Church. Her family has been attending the church for “generations,” and it is where Mclendon herself was baptized.

Presleigh's parents wanted to baptize her at Hickory Grove United Methodist Church.
Presleigh's parents wanted to baptize her at Hickory Grove United Methodist Church.(Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church)

The couple told WLBT they had only been attending the church sporadically lately due to their new responsibilities with a newborn. Even so, they were in communication with the Rev. Dewayne Warren, who they said had agreed to perform Presleigh’s baptism.

“He knew all of the information of us not being married, all of that,” Mclendon said. “And he agreed to it. He was like, ‘Yeah, that works.’ His wife sent us the material of what would need to be said at the service. He even announced it to the congregation. My grandmother and my aunt and uncle were all there. And then he sent us that letter.”

Mclendon said the letter, addressed to her, was sent by Warren on Sept. 15 to inform her and Mcphail that the baptism would not be happening.

The reverend gave the following reasons: Mclendon and “the baby’s father” were living together “in sin,” Presleigh was conceived before marriage, Mclendon’s mother was living with a man “in sin,” and the couple were not in regular attendance at the church.

According to the letter, Warren said that if he were to perform the infant baptism, it would set a bad example for the youth and children of the church.

“It would be saying to them that the lifestyle that you are living is OK for a Christian. That is not so,” the letter said.

Mclendon and Mcphail said they were both shocked by the letter.

“I say all of this in Christian love,” the letter said in its final paragraph. “I know it is harsh, but it is the truth. I was trying to wait for the Holy Spirit of God to convict you on this, but we were running out of time.”

Mclendon said it wouldn’t have been a big deal to her and her boyfriend if Warren had turned them away from the very beginning.

“Like, we know what the Bible says,” she said. “We did, in fact, sin. But he knew all of that and he still agreed to it. If he had been straightforward from the get-go, this wouldn’t have been a problem with either of us.”

Rev. Warren wrote that the letter was written "in Christian love."
Rev. Warren wrote that the letter was written "in Christian love."(Kamri Mclendon/Facebook)

After a discussion with her boyfriend, Mclendon said she posted the letter on Facebook, where it was shared more than 400 times.

“When people ask why there are no young people in these churches[,] this is why... How are we supposed to raise a new generation around the Lord if churches turn away the younger parents who are trying? You simply can’t,” she wrote in the post.

Mclendon said later that the Facebook post was not to “bash” the Christian faith or the church in general, but to bring attention to what she called “church hurt.”

The post soon reached the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodists Church. The group said that the incident was being handled “in a grace-filled way in accordance with the Book of Discipline.”

The conference also said Rev. Larry Hilliard, the District Superintendent of the Seashore District where Hickory Grove United Methodist Church is located, had spoken with all parties involved.

Hilliard said he could not offer many details about his conversation with Warren given the “supervisory nature” of his role, but did say that the parents of an infant being unwed would not be reason enough for a United Methodist pastor to refuse to perform an infant baptism.

Hilliard also said that he felt his conversation with Warren ended harmoniously. Warren declined to speak to WLBT, and referred to his conversation with Hilliard instead.

Mclendon said that her conversation with Hilliard also went well, and that he apologized for the way the situation was handled.

Mclendon said during that conversation, Hilliard told her that Warren wanted to apologize “but wasn’t comfortable reaching out.” Warren, according to Mclendon, wanted her to reach out to him first.

WLBT reports the two of them have not yet spoken.

As for Presleigh, her parents said she will not be baptized at Hickory Grove United Methodist Church and they are now in the process of finding a different church. They said they want to find a church “that truly welcomes us with open arms.”