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December 5th, 2011
02:01 PM ET

Church reverses ban on interracial marriages

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN)–
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. darlene egnatios

    Who would want to belong to a church that was racist?

    December 5, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Follow-up question, who would want to belong to a church?

      December 5, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  2. Mary

    Racism exsists in every culture. Because people are the same everywhere. Yeah, people may look a littler different, may sPeak a different languAge,or wear different clothes but inside people are all the same. Some people just forget that. Its too bad.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      You are right Mary. There is no such thing as race. People are indoctrinated into their social beliefs most often by there parents. Ignorance in the form of racism/bigotry handed down from genteratino to generation. It is more than sad, it is a tragedy.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  3. athanasius96

    The Gospel of Matthew (written to a Jewish audience) goes out of its way to point out that Jesus had interracial marriages in his bloodline. It is completely ridiculous for any church to make a case against interracial marriage.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Sounds like typical chruch bull shi t to me.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  4. Clark Nova

    Melvin C Thompson
    (606) 432-3049
    79 Knob Fork St
    Pikeville, KY 41501-3540

    Call him up and let him know what you think of him.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      have u called him yet? if so, how did the conversation go?

      December 5, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  5. MashaSobaka

    Bigotry is inherent in any religion. No one should have been surprised by this.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  6. Edennight Sky

    Being a Pagan in Kentucky, this does not surprise me, it is funny to see them trying to to something their Bible says is wrong.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      I thought I had it bad growing up unaffiliated in Arizona; being Pagan in Kentucky must be pure hell.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  7. JeramieH

    Free Will... unless you're doing something we don't like.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  8. M in Oz

    Why do they have the words "FREE WILL" in their name if they din't believe in it?

    December 5, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      i suspect "free will" in this case is referring to a point of theology, specifically Arminianism vs Calvinism, not "whosoever will may join us". Tragic.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
  9. Trixie

    A black God? Come on people get real.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      A God? Come on pimples get real.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • helene

      bethlehem is in the middle east...did you really believe he is porceline white??

      December 5, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  10. Uncle Baire

    ROFLMAO!!!! Ticha don't know how lucky he is. Man's rejection is God's protection. He would be bored to death in a redneck church. Fire & Brimstone does not go over well with Africans.

    Did these morons think God wouldn't visit their church if a Black person was in it? The sad truth is, they probably do.

    Ticha! Run far and run fast.....

    December 5, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  11. color blind

    Red and yellow; black and white; they are precious in his sight!
    He made them all and loves them all equally!

    December 5, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • PooCorn

      This is really stupid.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  12. Peter

    God Almighty created the races, so why does man think he can undo what God has created?
    If God Almighty didn't want races he wouldn't have created them.
    The question is do you still love people like O.J. Simpson and Tigar Woods, sure you love everyone, but they can't be trusted.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • pat@pqhost.com

      ok so you only mentioned black people. a racist then you are.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • Tribalman

      Well, no Peter, god (if you wish to use an all inclusive generic term) did not create all the races. Go back to the original autographs, read the words of the ancients, study the movements of people through the ages, study history. The lies of the adversary will reveal themselves. Study to make yourself approved. You will then be able to answer to such insanity as is demonstrated in the postings here, but would a sane man expect otherwise?

      December 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  13. SequoiaAdmirer

    That's what happened to many churches always worry about color skins to be conflict but God so loved all different colors people. But DNA will be working. Sad! They are so snobbing, no love for God, they are so offend God's creation! Shame on the members!

    December 5, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  14. koga

    Why why why are people still surprised when christians are hateful and racist? religion is, by it's very nature, exclusionist. They always have to have someone to hate so they can make themselves feel good, and race is an easy thing for (very stupid) white people to judge.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • PooCorn

      I know you might be shocked to know this, but white people aren't the only people capable of being racists.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      Judge not, that ye be not judged.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • An Infidel

      Yo dude:
      ALL belief systems are exclusionist, it is the nature of truth. You cannot say that one thing is true without categorically casting other things as false, it is the definition of truth.

      December 5, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  15. Genki!

    Come one people. A church of fifty does not reflect the entirety of a religion of over a billion people. Churches that have issues with interracial marriage are only because they are filled with an older population that still holds on to American-bred racism. Let's be reminded that the church was a huge part of the abolitionist movement. The Bible clearly condones inter-racial marriage. Moses married a black woman. And when people call every person in a religion part of a cult, you just sound ignorant. Like comparing all athiests to Hitler, Stalin, or Ayn Rand.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • PooCorn

      By definition, all religions are in fact, cults. Ignorance is not knowing this simple fact.

      http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cult

      December 5, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Uncle Baire

      Amen brother, AMEN!!!!

      December 5, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      Hitler was a Catholic, not an Atheist.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • pat@pqhost.com

      Hitler wasn't an atheist.

      On the belt buckles of the SS it said "Gott mitt Uns". – "god with us". not very atheist, eh, einstein?

      December 5, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Reggie

      I beg to differ, I believe that there are a lot of younger white people feel the same way, it's just that these older people from the south was bold enough to speak their true feelings, in their own back yards. I have had my own experiences in an interracial marriage, and they are not alone, in their feelings.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  16. Russ

    To start with if people didn't belong to these cults....yes for all you ignorant god fearing people church is a cult.....you wouldn't have to worry about who you dated or married. Not one of you can show one shred of phsyical evidence to support any of your god told me or made me do it crap. You can't produce one shred of evidence of anyone going to heavan or hell, that anyone is looking down on you, that a prayer ever made a difference. Usually it's the most down on their luck that are most religious. Obvioulsy it isn't working for you. Get up off your lazy ass and do something for yourself instead of sitting back praying that god will do it. It ain't gonna happen. It's fate, it's luck, it's what ever you want to call it but it isn't god or jesus!!!!

    December 5, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • PooCorn

      You sure showed me who's boss.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Uncle Baire

      Amen Brother! Tell the truth and shame the Devil!!!

      December 5, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  17. WJOnes

    A little too late in my book. I wouldn't step inside that church if they paid me.

    The South is so stuck it's pitiful.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Michael

      True a lot of the bible belt turns ignorant when religion comes into play, but not all of the south. And definitely not all of the churches.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  18. Wasupwitdis

    What kind of trash gossip is this silly story!? This sort of bickering and petty crap goes on in these teavangelical-type churches constantly...that's why they are constantly splitting and starting new congregations...they just can get along. BUT -These are the same folks who put up folks like Cain and Bachmann to be our president! Wake up America.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  19. fred

    Sounds like a church that hippypoet would fit right into.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  20. Deep North

    It's the Appalachians.....Get real people. The Kentucky Hills. Hatfield and McCoys and all that jazz......Why is America Suprised?

    December 5, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      It is, in fact, the same county that the Hatfield-McCoy feud started in. Also a county with a very large Klan membership.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:09 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.