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. lroy

    Okay, by my logic since 666 is supposed to be for Satan, so 999 is God (the opposite of evil for you atheistic people who don't believe . So Plan 999 (not 666) whatever it is should be good to go in my book.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • Adrienne


      December 5, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  2. unowhoitsme

    Now...let's change our mind, because we're "Christians" and can't let people know we're racist. Find a different church...bet yet...stop going to church...they're all hypocrites. They're occults.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • christian soldier

      You are incorrect.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  3. Jason Danger Storm

    I know of churches in my home-area that preach against inter-racial marriage, and even some that would still ask a black person in attendance to leave. I don't consider those places "houses of worship" at all. Just houses of ignorance and racism hiding under a thin veil of what they call their "faith."

    One of the most heated arguments I ever got into with one of my best friends was over this issue. His pastor had preached the Sunday before against inter-racial marriage and he came to school parroting that trash. I cut him off at the knees, seeing as a mutual friend of ours was in an inter-racial relationship at the time.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • christian soldier

      Wow, aren't you an all-American hero.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • partenope

      @Jason Danger Storm
      Where is your home area? I'm visiting the US in the new year, I'd like to know which parts to avoid.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  4. hippypoet

    yup, only in kentucky! NOT! this was a vatician church ruling years ago, they are just slow to learn...not implying that the RCC can learn but at least pretend to care...these folks are just to dumb to know when to play dead no matter your true feelings. Go the way of whats accecptible to the society at large or get left behind and demonized. HA, i do love puns! 🙂

    December 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • christian soldier

      Please learn the difference between "to" and "too." We all grow dumber from reading your posts.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • fred

      I like your toto, got one in pink?

      December 5, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • hippypoet

      you mr. loser (christian soldier) and dumb dumb (fred) are sad little creatures who instead of pose an argument against mine chose to insult like children. Fred, you are just TOO stupid to understand things are they truly are and mr soldier boy are an oxy-moron, but you do say it all in your name alone!

      later losers

      December 5, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • christian soldier

      Who is slinging insults? I didn't call you any names. Pot, meet kettle.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • fred

      I think Christian soldier is being ho-mophone ick

      December 5, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • hippypoet

      see i am allowed to judge and call you a loser because no 3000 year old thought told me i couldn't. You should know better! Your conviction is showing by yor lack of conformity to your false beliefs! tisk tisk.


      December 5, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • fred

      To and too are called ho-mophones, I was just poken fun

      December 5, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Alfred E Neuman

      The poet didn't know it. Nice one fred !

      December 6, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Ethernet

      Doood! Like uh, yeah, go hit a bong or sumpin. That would make more sense than what is dripping out of your hole.

      December 6, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  5. Calamari

    Can't believe this actually happens. I could understand if it was gay marriage, as being gay is unnatural and wrong (and don't give me that crap about how its natural and how you're born this way, lets see how that would go if you were in a different place), but intteracial marriage? This church needs to learn that this is 2011, not 1911.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • Adam Williamson

      So, apparently, do you.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • Sheepleherder

      Well, as long as you're not prejudiced or anything ...

      December 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • christian soldier

      Calamari is correct.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Calamari. In what way is being gay unnatural? it is less common perhaps but not unnatural. your assertion that it is a choice also goes against evidence. And what other place are you talking about ?

      December 5, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • *frank*

      "lets see how that would go if you were in a different place"
      what the fuck is that supposed to mean?

      December 5, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • Emperor Norton

      For something that's "unnatural" and "wrong," it does seem to have been cropping up for thousands of years, in every recorded culture.

      You might want to do your best to ignore it and live your own life. This isn't exactly some kind of passing fad.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  6. Kyle

    Kinda funny considering Noah had a black wife. *cough*

    December 5, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • Guest

      Noah was probably also black

      December 5, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Bozobub

      Or at least rather olive-green.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:16 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "Or at least rather olive-green."

      bobbing up and down in a boat for 40 days will do that to you 😛

      December 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  7. CPW

    "He said, 'Furthermore, Susie can take her fella back where she found him from,'" And he is still the Pastor? Anyone that allows this man to remain a Pastor stands up for racism.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • lroy

      Thank God it's a guy-a BLACK guy-instead of a lesbian female! It's hard to believe that this happened in this day and age...and in Kentucky of all places. I would expect this to happen in the deep south.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • Jason Danger Storm

      From how they described him as "pastor at the time," I read that as, "but not anymore." At least I hope so.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  8. Ladybug

    Ahhhhhhh!!!! Only in Pike County!!!! Yes, these people really do exist in the backwoods of Kentucky, so lost and ignorant. The only reason why Rev. Jesse Jackson disn't drop by for the service is because in this neck of the woods, the inhabitants have and will use guns.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • lroy

      Lay off the moonshine.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • THunter99

      Unfortunately, this type of ignornace is everywhere, not just in Kenturcky.

      What the hell is wrong with people? Wasting so much time hating over non-issues. Go out and build some afforable housing, donate to a soup kitchen, buy a needy child some toys and clothes this holiday season, In other words, try a real life for a phucking change . . .

      December 6, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  9. syfredrick

    I'll bet anything that Melvin Thompson denies that he's a bigot.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  10. gaucho420

    Boy, did they ever prove all naysayers right about small towns and rednecks. I mean, this is 2011 and you read this and you think its the 1940s!

    December 5, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • lroy

      Agreed. If this was the 60s this would sure's heck fuel the movement.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  11. syfredrick

    It's good to know that churches are still allowed to be bigoted toward anyone they feel like (or should I say that God tells them to). If not, then the government could force religions to adhere to non-discrimination laws, at least when they take government money. I guess that tax exemption isn't actually taking government money. Too bad so many people think that the 1st amendment only works in favor of religion.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  12. Gary

    Free Will Baptists.... HA! That's an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  13. movement31

    there should have never been a vote, period...this is ridiculous

    December 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  14. Christina

    Another reason that I believe in God, not religion.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Kapner

      Spot on!!! Me too!!

      December 5, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  15. Javajoe

    Terrible that they (church voters) were so blatant or even if they were subtle. Hello folks, this is 2011.
    It makes me sick.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  16. natalia

    I am willing to bet these people are republicans also

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

      I bet you're right.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • CosmicC

      While you are probably right from a statistical standpoint, I wouldn't take that bet.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  17. sarah S

    It's so sad that this type of racism still exists. i hope i live to see the day when it doesn't.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • syfredrick

      Which type of racism would you prefer? The "soft" kind? We've seen enough of that with the Republican Southern strategy.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  18. billy bob

    what about GAY ppl... bet they wont let them in..the only reason they let interracial couples in is because of the news is all over the place!

    December 5, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • John Smith

      As long as they aren't of different races...

      Same se.x? Same race! ...by god.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • John Smith

      / sacrasm (in case you couldn't tell)

      December 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  19. LL

    It's really sad that some of u on here feel as though this is ok! And don't like it.. Who the hell cares what u think? Nor does this couple or all the rest like myself who are in interacial marriiage's.. I've been with my husband for 17 years and have 4 kids. God is the one who determine's who we should be with not Society! And not a church.. Shame on all of u who live in your messed up world and judge someone on the color of there skin.. May God have Mercy on your Souls before it's to late!! Oh and for all the racist folks on here? Do u think Heaven is segregated? No u stupid idiots!!.. So maybe u should think about that before u start judging someone else..

    December 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • lroy

      Though there'd be hell to pay if I married a black (or any other color besides my own), I was still taught that black people-if they are nice to me-are just as good as anybody. When I was growing up, it was shocking (there was one classmate who had mixed parents–scandalous!). The fact that you have a successful marriage and four kids has nothing to do with being an interracial couple-it's how you treat each other that counts. My mother always taught me (and this is for you single gals out there)...judge a guy not by how he treats his sister, but how he treats his mother...and that's a direct quote. I'm not white, I'm pink.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  20. McJesus

    Who cares about black and white. Lets talk about winged humanoids and horned red skinned evil dudes! They are REAL! Just like Unicorns and Leprechauns!

    December 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • 999 Plan

      People want to ignore the critical issues like the leprechaun crisis in Scotland or the discriminatory exclusion of unicorns from the Kentucky Derby...they would rather talk about this. I just don't get it.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • roaming

      999 Plan: funny 🙂

      December 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • lroy

      Hey Stupid! Bloody Idiots! Leprechauns are Irish, not Scottish. Can you please get your countries straightened out? Blimey!

      December 5, 2011 at 7:03 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.