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. McMillian

    One of life's experience

    December 5, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  2. ted409

    i think the guy is scamming her to get citizenship

    December 5, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • Veritas

      Prove it. Oh yeah, people like you don't require proof, or common sense for that matter, or really anything remotely intelligent. All you have to do is make the accusation and in your small mind it must be true. I suppose you must be a member of this church.

      December 5, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Mike

      I'm SURE you're right; he's all BROWN, and has a funny sounding/looking name. He MUST be up to no good.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:39 am |
    • PeteDO

      Considering the massively intrusive and oppressive lengths the INS will go to in every case like this, I don't think it's a problem.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  3. Bucky Ball

    Actually this is a very interesting development. If they can "reverse" themselves about this, then why can't they change their minds about anything else they believe next week ? Hmm. 😈

    December 5, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • Igor

      I suppose they can, but the body of that disobedient child stoned to death will be discovered sooner or later. I wonder whether they changed their mind about condemning miscegenation or merely regretted the bad PR?

      December 5, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • MARIA

      AGREE 100%

      December 6, 2011 at 8:11 am |
  4. Colin

    Ever heard of an atheist or secular humanist organization banning inter-racial marriages? Says it all.

    December 5, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • Igor

      The capacity of the human mind for self deception and cognitive dissonance is limitless. I'm sure if you search enough you can find a self-labeled atheist who happens to be a white supremacist. Of course in the absence of arcane mythological allegory one will be hard pressed to justify such bigotry. Of course you are just as likely to find a few guys claiming they are Jesus.

      December 5, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  5. Colin

    It is a disgusting, antiquated viewpoint that should have never made it out of the Dark Ages.

    But enough about Christianity, racism is evil, too.

    December 5, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  6. Colin

    Any person who would not date another race due to fear of the reprecussions from some butt-fu@k congregation of Deliverence people in riural Kentucky is a complete moron, every bit as weak and gutless as the congregation itself.

    December 5, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Robert McGee

      Black and white aren't even of the 100% gene pool. Even the smallest fish in the sea, "Know their own kind"... has nothing to do with racism ... stick to ones own kind.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:06 am |
    • Mirosal

      She did stick to her own kind (and species). She wants to marry another human being, not the farm animals others in her little podunk redneck village have taken as "spouses". She grew up, and saw that humans are humans, regardless of how much melanin is in the skin. I just hope they beat the odds, given the divorce rate these days.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:12 am |
  7. bobby

    The Bible says birds of a feather shall flock together. You don't see a blue bird mate with a red bird. Or a sheep with a pig. Or a monkey with a chimpanzee.

    December 5, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • Ricky Bobby

      So I guess that's why you married your cousin then... thanks for making that painfully clear for the rest of us.

      It's too bad your brain doesn't have the capacity to understand HLA typing, otherwise I'd go into a deep explanation of genetic variability...

      December 5, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • Femanvate

      but you will see a white dog mate a grey one, and a black rabbit mate a brown one, etc. Don't get color mixed up with species.

      December 5, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      We share 99.5 % of our DNA. Some people are just stupid all day. 😈

      December 5, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • Igor

      Fortunately, humans are mammalian primates and not limited by their plumage in their breeding habits. Unless they are more bird than human in the brain department, which would explain thie congregation's tardy opposition to Loving v. Virginia.

      December 5, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • Robert McGee

      exactly my point.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:07 am |
  8. joshu

    "Love thy neighbor." "Judge people not by their skin but by their content of their character"

    December 5, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  9. AGuest9


    December 5, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  10. anonymous

    Considering Jesus was from the middle east, if he was reborn and attends @ the same church guess these northern European decedents would kick him out and make him sit outside.

    December 5, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
  11. George

    The ban on interracial marriage is unbiblical and runs counter to Christianity. It arose out of racism, and thank God, it's almost gone.

    December 5, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • PooCorn

      Oh, I know! The bible is more focused on instructing people to kill gays.

      December 5, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  12. Sheldon

    Wow, all of the hate on here is pretty gross. Jesus died to forgive, why can't we also?

    December 5, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • PooCorn

      You should go back and read what the bible has to say about a lot of things. For example, read what jesus said about his magical return. If you want a hint... he's 2000 years late. You know, based on his own words.

      December 5, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • Igor

      How dare these people hate on these kind souls who were merely trying to save the couple from the sin of marrying someone of the wrong skin color? Personally, I find the idea that someone had to die and suffer for forgiveness abhorrent and cruel. I would gladly give up being forgiven if it means another will avoid torture and death.Plenty good people have suffered far worse fates than Jesus for a far better cause then forgiveness.

      December 5, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  13. Abbey

    The only reason why they "reversed" their banning interracial couples, is because they got busted! Hypocrites! Another reason why organized religion or any religion don't appeal to the masses anymore. How dare they in this day in age or any day in age practice racism against any race. WE ARE ALL HUMAN...WE ARE ALL EQUAL!

    December 5, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Well them good 'ol boys ain't too bright.

      Unlike many animals, modern humans have not been around long enough, nor have populations been isolated enough, to evolve into separate subspecies or races. Despite surface differences, we are among he the most similar of all species.

      Additionally, healthy genetic diversity in propagated through inter-racial breeding.

      December 5, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • George

      This is not organized religion. This is a smal church making up its own rules. Don't blame this on Christianity!

      December 5, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Oh, trust me, this is more than "one small church", and it's not just in the south.

      December 5, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • PooCorn

      The bible tells people to kill and hate.

      December 5, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  14. john

    well what do u expect from KKKENTUCKY!!!!!!! where all the christians republicans taliban live.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      I talked to Joe-Billy-Bob and he would love to go hunting with the black boy and will give him a hundred yard head start.

      December 5, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  15. kristin

    This church out to be stripped of their tax exempt status. Reason million why I wouldn't set foot into any church. Thank you for furthering my belief that churches are a cesspool of ignorance and intolerance.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      I think 200 hundred people who skipped their morning pee should march into that church on Sunday morning and relieve themselves on the pews and pulpit. Say thank you very much, and go watch football.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • Hamilton

      If you've ever seen 200 people who skipped their morning pee, you wouldn't use the word "march."

      December 6, 2011 at 2:44 am |
  16. Igor

    I hope for the sake of these enlightened souls that Jesus never comes back. The milky white deity is likely a tad darker than their sensibilities will allow, and he will want to show his divine love for their sons and/or daughters.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  17. Max128

    Its ironic that this church has "Free Will" in its name. I guess the members have free will - just as long they do what they're told.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Igor

      It's a bit like the Democratic Republic of Korea. Their dictators were thinking that if they put "democratic" in the country name the rest of the world will ignore their atrocious civil rights record.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  18. Tom Finochio

    So thats where the KKK went to! I wonder if that (false teacher/prophet)pastor uses the alter cloth as part of his kkk robe?

    December 5, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  19. tensai13

    Thats what happens when your moral compass is nailed to the Bible. It doesn't work.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • lordshipmayhem

      Christian morality: given to you by an unwed father, an illegitimate son, and a guy who knocked up another guy's fiancee.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Whenever I run out of TP in a hotel, I reach for the Gideon's Bible to pick up the slack. I hate wasting a perfectly good roll of TP.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  20. Ungodly Discipline

    This is all nonsense. There is no such thing as race. It was invented to justify slavery, then stealing land from Native Americans and Mexico.

    Unlike many animals, modern humans have not been around long enough, nor have populations been isolated enough, to evolve into separate subspecies or races. Despite surface differences, we are among he the most similar of all species.

    Additionally, healthy genetic diversity in propagated through inter-racial breeding.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • Jim

      There is no such thing as race.... but their is " inter-racial breeding." Which is it?

      December 5, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Genetically diverse individuals. My bad.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:08 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.