December 5th, 2011
02:01 PM ET

Church reverses ban on interracial marriages

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Two weeks ago, Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church in Pike County, Kentucky, voted 9-6 to ban couples in interracial marriages from attending or participating in the church.

But on Sunday, the small church reversed its course.

Pastor Stacy Stepp told CNN affiliate WLEX on Sunday that the church voted unanimously to "accept all people regardless of race, creed, or color and to accept everyone into the fellowship of Christ."

"I tried everything in my power to try to resolve the matter before it got to where it did," Stepp told WLEX.

The problem began in June when Stella Harville, who grew up going to the church, brought her fiance, Ticha Chikuni, who is black, to the small church, where on average about 40 people meet for Sunday worship.

Harville, who goes by the nickname Susie, played the piano, and Chikuni sang a song during the service.

Her father, Dean Harville, a decades-long member of the church, told CNN affiliate WSAZ he was counting the offering when the pastor at the time, Melvin Thompson, came up to him and said, "Susie and her boyfriend are not allowed to sing in this church anymore."

"He said, 'Furthermore, Susie can take her fella back where she found him from,'" Harville said.

Engaged couple Stella Harville and Ticha Chikuni

That led to the vote on November 27 on a church policy banning interracial couples from attending or participating in services.

"It's racist, that's all you can call it," Harville told WSAZ. "I treat him like he's my own son. You won't find a nicer person," he said about his daughter's fiance, who is originally from Zimbabwe.

Chikuni told CNN affiliate WLEX, "For someone who, like Stella, has been going to that church for all her life, expecting some support from them. But you know, everyone just fell off the bandwagon and passed a really hard judgment on her and on us and the family too."

Stella Harville told CNN's Erin Burnett on Friday, before the church reversed the policy, "I still don't know how to process all this."

Harville grew up in the church but left Pike County to attend college. She told CNN she had known all nine church members who voted to ban interracial couples "since I was a little kid."

The ban led to a massive controversy.

The National Association of Free Will Baptists in Tennessee released a lengthy statement condemning the church policy.

"The National Association of Free Will Baptists does not have an official policy regarding interracial couples because it has not been an issue in the denomination. The Free Will Baptist Treatise neither condemns nor disallows marriage between a man and woman of different races," the statement read in part.

"Free Will Baptists have historically championed the rights and dignity of all people, regardless of race," it continued. It said that national and state officials from the denomination were working with the local church to overturn the policy.

On Saturday, the Sandy Valley Conference of Free Will Baptists, the regional body of the denomination, released a statement saying the church policy was "Null and Void," because the vote was not held in accordance with proper parliamentary procedure.

"Furthermore, Pastor Stepp has advised the conference that he and his church will hold a vote of solidarity for the purpose of welcoming believers into their fellowship regardless of race, creed or color. The Sandy Valley Conference will continue to work with the Gulnare Church to rebuild what has been damaged by this tragic error," the statement continued.

“We will be working with the church if they accept our help,” Keith Burden, the executive secretary of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, told CNN on Monday.

Burden said churches within the denomination govern themselves autonomously and the national denomination cannot impose rules or sanctions on the church, but can only remove a church from the national group.

Burden said he spoke with Stepp before the vote on Sunday and told him the denomination would provide educational materials to “better equip their leaders.” He also encouraged Stepp to take the corrective measures that the church eventually did, with the new vote on Sunday.

“We are genuinely sorrowful and repentant for what happened,” Burden said. “We hope to continue to work to try to prevent this from ever happening again.”

The young couple at the center of all this had not planned to get married at the church, but this incident settled any doubt on the matter, Stella Harville told CNN.

As far as whether she and her fiance would ever return to the church, she said, "I won't say never, but it's going to take a while."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Baptist • Belief • Christianity • Church • Kentucky • United States

soundoff (613 Responses)
  1. 999 Plan

    A tremendous breakthrough! Now that's progress. So...where are all the white women at?

    December 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  2. annebeth

    I was born in Pike County KY and nothing has changed here. They reversed their position on interracial members but these people still have hate in their hearts. They got upset because everyone in the nation knows just how raciest they happen to be and this is only a PR move to make the issue go away.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Mike

      Very well put. I just can't grasp how people can act/think this way and still refer themselves as "Christians". Good, honest Christians (and all others) should be ashamed and embarrassed. I know I am.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:24 am |
    • Ben

      Yeah, I live closer to Lexington, but I've spent a lot of time out there. I think the problem is the insular nature of the area. They just don't really see too many people that aren't born and raised in eastern KY. And sadly, education is pretty poor out there, too.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Chris

      I thought the same thing-the only difference between then and now,is everyone knows how they really feel. Reversing their decision was just to save face. Kinda ironic coming from a church named "Free Will". This is why I laugh when people say "there is no such thing as racism in 2011!"

      December 6, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  3. 999 Plan

    Cool. Now let's start working on inter-planetary relationships.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  4. r.ortiz

    boycott this church, they are not following god's preachings racist teachings still exsists in this country.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • McJesus

      Read the bible a bit more carefully... they are following the teachings. Literally.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • J.W

      I don't think the Bible is racist. At least not as far as just skin color. People just hated people of other religions than them.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  5. Gregory

    Anyone who says racism is alive in the South is right... but I have news for you. Racism exists in the North too. And the West. And everywhere in between. As a Georgia citizen who recently moved to upstate New York for school, I'm shocked at the racism that exists here. It seems sometimes like Georgia was MORE accepting. It's time to be serious about the problem as a whole and stop blaming geography.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • orangeotter

      I grew up in the North and I live in the deep South now. I can tell you that people are 7,000x more racist in the North.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Yo!

      "I can tell you that people are 7,000x more racist in the North."

      Prove it jerk.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • orangeotter

      Lol, it's common sense.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Yo!

      "Lol, it's common sense."

      Now you've just proven you're an idiot with no facts to back yourself up.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • orangeotter

      That's very likely, yo.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • J.W

      How is it common sense? So you are saying somewhere like NYC is more racist than say Birmingham?

      December 5, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • orangeotter

      When you hear people up North speak about racism and then you hear someone in the South talk about it, it's no comparison who is more open about being a racist jerk.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Yo!

      "When you hear people up North speak about racism and then you hear someone in the South talk about it, it's no comparison who is more open about being a racist jerk."

      What a load of crap, you are definitely talking out of your ass with no proof whatsoever, you’re as bad as a racist.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • J.W

      I have never seen evidence of that at all orangeotter. Generally it is the other way around as far as I have seen. But I think bigotry is more correlated with things such as age, or education level.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • orangeotter


      Unfortunately for me there is no way to prove what percentage from which area of the country is the most racist. But what I can say from personal experience and growing up in the Northeast is that people up there are way more open to being racist than people in the South. But there's no way to 'prove' racism, silly.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Yo!

      "Unfortunately for me there is no way to prove what percentage from which area of the country is the most racist. But what I can say from personal experience and growing up in the Northeast is that people up there are way more open to being racist than people in the South. But there's no way to 'prove' racism, silly."

      That's right you can't prove your racism theory, that was the POINT moron. You're spewing crap you can't backup up, just like a racist does, your prejudice is against Northerners. 😉

      December 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • orangeotter


      You figured me out 🙂

      December 5, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Dave in Portland

      Yo! – Grow the he11 up punk. You came out fists swinging to someone with their own opinion. You tried to be all macho and manly when you're probably a cave troll in mommy's basement. Rather than attack people on the net, why don't you go try to find a girl, if you even like them.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • WJOnes

      I grew up in the North and my husband is from the South. Yes there is racism everywhere but it is alive and well, very well in the South.

      My husband is from Arkansas. The tracks divide the town. It's such a sad place. I could never, ever live with all those ignorant white people.

      And I am white and my husband is black. We have been together 27 years and only experience the racial hatred when we go down South.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • my name here

      Yo! is actually gerald who we already know and hate. Don't be surprised when he ducks and runs away from simple questions.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:00 am |
    • Chris

      I think you're right,but for a different reason:in the south,it's just an unspoken given that some (most? lol) people are racist.
      In the north,I think the assumption is they aren't,but because they are more outspoken and willing to just put their racism out there,they prove that is is present there as well,and it comes as a surprise to those who don't publicly state their views.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  6. Yugo

    Welcome to the 20th Century! Just think, in another 100 years it will be the year 2000 in Kentucky!

    December 5, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  7. GSA

    Maybe the pastor believes in the phrase once you go black you don't go back.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  8. kevin

    Its just certain people in all walks of life that are ignorant they were born that way cuz there parents are ignorant

    December 5, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  9. Sheila

    Now the church should vote out the former pastor, who was the ringleader for this nonsense, and the other members who supported it.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Chris

      lol,that would be most of the church,considering the article said the initial vote was 9-6!

      December 6, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  10. Bill

    I think it is time to ban the Baptist Church

    December 5, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Larry

      Bill, you are obviously as much of a bigot as the people who voted for this ban. To lash out at all people who worship as Baptists because one AUTONOMOUS (that means they choose their own rules) congregation makes an uninformed decision clearly indicates your own prejudices. There is nothing defensible about what this church did, but that certainly doesn't mean they represent the views of all Baptists. In fact, they clearly are out of step with the views of their own branch of the Baptist faith.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Bobby

      This is terrible but if this is the worst of racism now in days, we have changed a lot as a society in a positive direction

      December 5, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • josh

      it wouldnt hurt my feelings if they banned ALL churches.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • roaming

      Larry- too bad that excuse never works for other religious nutjobs in the world-

      December 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  11. Uncouth Swain

    This is good, but it should have happened a whole lot sooner.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  12. TiaW

    It is crazy that a pastor that is supposed to be a 'man of God' is racist. People that see color vs character are wrong and should not be in a position of power. I can't believe how racist our country is still.

    December 5, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Snow

      Well Tia, if you are a Christian, Do this lil experiment..

      Visualize Jesus the way you want.. If he is white, you are one of those racists too..

      December 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • roaming

      Wait!!–hold the phone!-you mean Jeebus is not blue-eyed, washboard abs, and have long flowing blonde hair like Fabian?-

      December 5, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • Ed

      @Snow, "Visualize Jesus the way you want.. If he is white, you are one of those racists too"

      That hardly proves racism Jesus was Jewish often white or olive skinned visioning as such is not racist. What the church did was racist but to say anyone you visualize Christ aas white must be racist is just dumb.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Snow

      @Ed.. proves how much you know about the 2000 yr old desert people from Jerusalem. Also, your defense of "white or olive skinned" itself proves what a racist you really are in your heart..

      December 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Ed


      You have no idea what kind of person I am at heart, The Jewish people have always be white or olive skinned for the most part. The Jewsh people are their own race of humans. Jesus may have been more tan then the average Jewish person in say New York or London or any other part of the world. But that would not make him black. There was one tribe of Jews that were black. But Christ was of the house of David who was not black. It is not racist in anyway to say Christ was not black. It would be racist to say black are less then other humans but I didn't say that neither did TiaW. You seem very interested in point fingers at everone else. At calling every one a racist with absolutly no reason. You told Tia if she visualized Jesus as white that proved she was a racist. I said no it doesn't so you said I'm a racist. For all you know I could be black, or asian, or latino. Stop makeing as-sumption about what people feel about race. It shows you to be the bigot not TiaW or my self.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "The Jewsh people are their own race of humans."
      lol, too funny.

      December 6, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  13. Freddy

    43 years after Martin luther king and still those race issues???

    Come on !!! Wake up to the real world !!!

    December 5, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  14. Colorista

    Money talks – BS walks... The only epiphany that the people who voted against this couple earlier had was the fact that since they were violating federal laws, the church would have lost their tax exempt status. It always amazes me what some "people of God" are capable of doing to their fellow man.

    December 5, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • seriouslyomg

      really? it amazes you? seems right on par from where I'm standing

      December 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  15. heloise8

    Reblogged this on The Trough and commented:
    My word.

    December 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  16. Snow

    Oh you mean God changed his stand on an issue again? or did Man make some weird, unethical, stupid stand and attributed it to "God's will"?

    Makes me wonder what other stupid things people attributed to being God's will.. and why ANY of what is said in a church be considered as "God's advice"... hmm..

    December 5, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  17. Lyssa

    What a cute couple! They look like nice kids. Too bad they had to run into a bunch of klukkers.

    December 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  18. GodPot

    "the pastor at the time, Melvin Thompson, came up to him and said, "Susie and her boyfriend are not allowed to sing in this church anymore." "He said, 'Furthermore, Susie can take her fella back where she found him from,'" Harville said."

    So what happened to Melvin? Seem's he was the racist pastor who started all this, and all it says is he's no longer the pastor. Did he quit over this? Was he fired? Was he sent back to school to be taught how to be human as all racists should? Or do they still teach the fallacy "separate" but "equal" in Kentucky schools?

    And just a follow up question, who would want to be a member of a group if say 9 out of 6 of the groups leaders voted in favor of licking each others bung holes?

    December 5, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • rick

      9 out of 6?

      December 5, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Ben

      From a lifetime of experience, I can tell you that the issue is less Kentucky schools than the fact that some people in Appalachia don't really use our schools.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  19. MarcAA

    I'm kind of surprised that such a ban even existed in the first place here in 2011.

    December 5, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • J.W

      Well there are some racist people still around. I think their numbers are getting smaller though. Soon there will be zero.

      December 5, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Lyssa

      Racism is very much alive in the South, I'm sorry to say.

      December 5, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • J.W

      It will die out there too. We just need to improve the education system there.

      December 5, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  20. EU

    most disgusting thing i ever saw. I don't believe in interracial-marriages.

    December 5, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • J.W

      Why not?

      December 5, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • rick

      Why not, EU?

      December 5, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Dream Out Loud

      EU, i'm jealous of you. If you think interracial marriages to be the most disgusting thing you've ever seen, you clearly have lived a protected life. perhaps too sheltered. but clearly safe. oh, and by the way, you're STILL a redneck.

      December 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Mark

      EU is "trolling" (deliberately saying something inflammatory to get a rise out of people). Don't give him/her the satisfaction of a respose.

      December 5, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • J.W

      The problem with people who are trolls is that even though they might not be serious, there are people who would actually agree with things such as what EU just said.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Guest

      Look at some videos of coprophagia and then come back and tell us if inteeracial marriage is still the most disgausting thing you ever saw.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • movement31

      EU, i know you would prefer the inbreed marriage instead

      December 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • Jesus

      Kill yourself

      December 6, 2011 at 2:35 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      you dont believe in them? well i can tell you they do exist, they arent imaginary like unicorns or god.

      December 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.