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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. Suitearia

    I am white and have been married to a black man for 10 years. I also consider myself a christian. I would NEVER go back to the church regardless of the decision to over turn the ban. That congregation is racist and would not have overturned their decision if not forced.

    Which makes you wonder ... are they really christians?

    December 6, 2011 at 5:47 am |
    • ModRen

      You are white? Wow. So what's it like to be an albino? Do you have pink eyes? Do you need special vitamin D supplements?

      December 6, 2011 at 6:02 am |
    • ModRen

      Sorry, just had to pick on you a little. This whole black/white nonsense is not really productive in my view. I'm glad you are still together after so long. Most marriages fail within the first two years regardless of the amount of melanin in their skin.
      I wish that "racist" church were seized and turned into a parking lot. It is clear they have been doing this stuff for a long long time.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:07 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Good question....are they Christians if they discriminate based on race?...or if you're a woman?...or if you're gay?...or if you decide not to bring an unplanned pregnancy full term. Christians can find excuses in the Bible to marginalize any group they think doesn't match up with their expectations. The Bible isn't a book of moral teachings, it's a book of dictated Laws. Laws that cannot evolve from their barbarous roots in ancient culture. The simplest example is slavery. Clearly owning people is not considered immoral in the Bible and yet we would all agree that this isn't true.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:15 am |
    • Igor

      Adopting an ideology without a test in reality certainly goes a lng way toward allowing the nastier members of our specie to slap a divine seal of approval on the most abhorrent behavior. People aren't evil because of religion, there are good and bad among us regardless of the belief, but dogma can guide even the good astray while giving them the delusion of following a higher moral path.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:13 am |
  2. Eric Zeeff

    This is just completely wrong on every level. When God daid be fruitful and multiply, I really dont think he meant for people to be breeding outside their species.

    December 6, 2011 at 5:34 am |
    • Mirosal

      What exactly do you mean?

      December 6, 2011 at 5:35 am |
    • Suitearia

      By the way Eric Z – it is impossible to breed outside of your species. Regardless of skin color we are all of the same species: human beings. We just come in the different shapes, sizes, and colors that God made us.

      December 6, 2011 at 5:51 am |
    • Mirosal

      I was waiting for "it" to reply, and to respond with basically your same retort. But, I wouldn't have used the 'god' refeerence. He's just an idiot who failed grade school biology.

      December 6, 2011 at 5:58 am |
    • ModRen

      I think he's talking about breeding with chimpanzees, the closest possible species that would have any chance of interbreeding with humans. Or maybe Cro-magnons and Neanderthals?
      The sheer unadulterated ignorance and stupidity is amazing in "racists" who are really more accurately described as "ethnicists".
      The only problem is the language which is a holdover from the days when people really thought of people unlike themselves to be a different "race".
      With DNA analysis, science shows all such ideas about "race" are totally untrue. We are all human.
      Republicans may seem sub-human, but they are just brain-damaged humans who shouldn't breed with anyone or anything despite their attempts to the contrary. (couldn't help myself)

      December 6, 2011 at 6:00 am |
    • Michelle

      Well breeding outside the species is completely impossible brainchild. And I can guarantee that your genome is made up of multiple races, as is almost everyone on this planet. Than again with such a brainchild post I doubt you even know who your daddy is.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:22 am |
    • James

      Yes, what do you mean exactly? The definition for species is, " An individual belonging to a group of organisms (or the entire group itself) having common characteristics and (usually) are capable of mating with one another."(http://www.biology-online.org/dictionary/Species) We are of the species called Humans. Like other organisms we demonstrate variation amongst ourselves. Variation depends on the alleles represented within a population. In certain parts of our world, skin colour is different because certain genes are represented in that geographical location. In those different areas the genes cause different amounts of Melanin to be produced thus causing different skin colours. It's similar to how in certain parts of the world you may find many people with blue eyes. However it's interesting that Melanin is also related to eye colour as well. God has designed for there to be biodiversity in our world. We come from many different cultures and speak many different languages but we are all Human. It is wrong to judge or treat people differently because the colour of their skin is different or they have different traditions. God has called us to love our neighbor as ourselves. People shouldn't consider themselves better than everyone because they happened to be born into a posh lifestyle, or with a certain skin colour, or of a "better" country. They should treat others as they would like to be treated.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:27 am |
    • Igor

      "The sheer unadulterated ignorance and stupidity is amazing in "racists" who are really more accurately described as "ethnicists".."

      One can only hope that one day they will push bigotry to such an extremeas to isolate themselves in some perverted narcissistic racist ideology. After deeming themselves as the only ones fit to breed with themselves they will go the way of other extinct species.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:56 am |
    • Ironicus

      Igor, if they breed that means they won't go extinct. They need to be sterilized. Some people just shouldn't be allowed to be around children at all and why would you let such people have children of their own? Eugenics? No. This is just keeping certain people away from children because they have no idea how to raise a child as well as keeping those who shouldn't be allowed any access to children away from children.
      It's time to be rational about how we intend to protect all children throughout the world. Letting people have children when they have no business even thinking of having children is a crime against humanity and the children themselves.
      I only put this forth as a goal, not a method, so any of you who think I'm all about destroying existing families are dead wrong. Any steps towards helping people to understand the most healthy and happy ways to raise children before they have children themselves might go a long ways towards raising everyone's ethics towards other people and making the best effort to reduce all human rights violations and not just those being done to children. As these children grow up they would be less likely to violate the rights of others, with the usual exceptions.

      December 7, 2011 at 5:26 am |
  3. JohnENY

    Despite surface differences, we are among the the most similar of all species. Look at all of the beautiful black neighborhoods and countries in the world. And the NBA is a perfectly proportionate reflection of American racial demographics. Can we please have an honest discussion on race and skip the PC agenda that so many Americans have been brainwashed with?

    December 6, 2011 at 5:00 am |
    • Mirosal

      Race should NEVER be an issue, but the very loud narrow-minded bigots have made it so. Just shoot the bigots, and *poof* no more issue.

      December 6, 2011 at 5:18 am |
  4. AtheistSteve

    I watched this report on CNN 2 days ago and wondered when it would show up here. Just another example of the divisive and exclusive nature of religion. How ironic this particular case is when you consider that as a north african Jew Jesus likely had fairly dark skin himself.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:43 am |
    • Igor

      I wonder if some of the loonier fundamentalists figure out a way to pray teh gay away, maybe these folks can miraculously whitewash skin pigmentation? I mean it's only a matter of time before they find some poor sap to dump some white primer on. YOu know...a sign from, above.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • Archtype

      I think you are forgetting Michael Jackson and his massively insecure efforts to change his face and skin color. He ended up looking more like Diana Ross but he definitely had mental issues. Who would want to look like Diana Ross? I doubt that even she wants to look like herself.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:39 am |
    • Mike from CT

      Amen Steve, people need to return to the historical record and get the idea of White Anglo Saxon Jesus out of their heads

      December 6, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  5. 100% ETHIO STRONGER!

    If it was up to the American Women, we would not have America at this moment. The American English Men fought Day and Night and spilled Millions of Men blood, to get US here with Great Freedom. But, the White Women who bends for every Donkeys, has no ideas how they got these Freedom.

    Freedom can not be achieved by having funs and bending around for everyone.
    The Founding Fathers of America are rolling in their graves, because of American Women Sins. Their blood and histories must not be forgotten.

    Wake up American Men!
    Wake up English Men!
    You got a Great History to tell!
    The enemies are among US!

    December 6, 2011 at 4:28 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Hopefully you will not breed and your pathetic blood line will be eradicated from the Earth.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:50 am |
    • Mirosal

      Well, given his misogyny (look up that word Ethio), he's probably a 40 year old virgin, unless his sister/mother isn't a fast runner.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:53 am |
    • Igor

      Clearly you hold a grudge against American Women (who appear to have descended from a variety of cultures). Perhaps you are more comfortable with other American and English Men. Fortunately, i doubt you have a great history to tell, since you seem to be ignorant of history. You sing praise to the English Men who weren't always so eager to grant American Men their freedom. So either you are an idiot or completely ignorant of basic U.S. history. Or both.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:50 am |
  6. Mirosal

    I think the government should do a spot check on this church's finances. Since the churches have tax-free exemption under 501 (c) or 503(c) (I don't remember which one exactly), their finances as a non-profit are a matter of public record. let's see just where their money goes. How many white sheets did they buy, how many lumber planks (for crosses) did they buy? How muck did they give their Grand Kleegle down at the local Klavern?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:45 am |
    • nancy

      It doesn't say if the pastor quit or was removed. It just has one pastor at the beginning and then a different pastor.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:30 am |
    • PeteDO

      A miracle!

      December 6, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  7. Mirosal

    I wonder what would happen if she were a member of that fanatic, psychotic Westboro church insted of this redneck hillbilly inbred church?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:23 am |
    • JohnENY

      Despite surface differences, we are among the the most similar of all species. Look at all of the beautiful black neighborhoods and countries in the world. And the NBA is a perfectly proportionate reflection of American racial demographics. I'm gonna move to detroit so my children can get an excellent education

      December 6, 2011 at 3:49 am |
    • Mike

      Actually it funny since it probblly wouldnt have caused an issue there one of two BBC flims on Westbro had an Asian kid from San fran in the process of joining them. so they don't seem to ahve an issue honestly in the flim it seemed like the kid who seemed pretty navie and dorky was trying to join because of all the avaible single women there lol

      December 6, 2011 at 3:58 am |
  8. Mike

    I'm sure in a few days, we'll be hearing from the locals how these 9 people are "very good Christians" and/or "wonderful people" or something to that effect.

    Reality check: they're NOT. Anyone who thinks like this is simply not a good person. I can't wrap my head around the fact that people still have these beliefs in 2011. Makes me SO proud to be from the Northeast and not the backward-thining South.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:22 am |
  9. Bon Voyage! Bon chance!

    So a white cougar got her claws in a young black man. From the smiles on their faces I'd say they are happy with each other.
    And that's all that it takes for a marriage. Two people or more who are happy with each other and the idea of marriage.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:12 am |
    • Loves BBC

      I'm jealous. She got her hands on some young BBC ... I hope she screams in pleasure on her honeymoon, if not before. I know I would.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:15 am |
    • Michelle

      Is she really that much older than him? Generally whites, as well as women, often look older compared to black and male counterparts.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:15 am |
  10. eilisartis

    Maybe the parishioners who initially voted to ban the couple should put their sheets back on their beds! Organized religion strikes another blow for racial equality but only if you're white. Send these people back to the 19th century.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:49 am |
  11. Max

    Now if only they could show the same humanity to the GLBT community. It's taken the Christians so long to get over the color of people's skin though and really that's hardly all resolved.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:45 am |
    • Chootles

      Sometimes I think we should all shove these religious idiots somewhere, but there's too many of them. WMDs might do the trick but would also wipe out non-targets. Why anyone would want to join such a bunch of racists or their religion is beyond me.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:16 am |
  12. JUGGERNAUT

    RACISM IS DEAD IN THE USA.
    !

    LMAO, riiiiiiggggghhhhhhttttt........................

    December 6, 2011 at 1:59 am |
  13. Rebecca

    Lord have mercy, what were they thinking? What was this pastor thinking? Tragic error? More like idiot speak.

    December 6, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  14. jdoe

    Too late. Their true colors have been shown.

    December 6, 2011 at 1:40 am |
  15. Rossy

    Then why do people pretend to be spreading the word of God all over the world? If we can't stand each other let's keep our word with us.The bible says don't pretend to love me(God-whom you cannot see) if you cannot love the person you can see.

    December 6, 2011 at 12:53 am |
    • Rebecca

      You make it up as you go? Quote chapter and verse on this.

      December 6, 2011 at 1:51 am |
    • Igor

      He knows when you're naughty and when you're nice. Psalm of St. Nicholas, Verse 1.

      I swear, this is no more made up than a good portion of all scripture.

      December 6, 2011 at 1:58 am |
    • Michelle

      Igor: Not to be too much of a nit-picker, but I think that's verse 2. 😉

      December 6, 2011 at 7:45 am |
    • Igor

      "Igor: Not to be too much of a nit-picker, but I think that's verse 2"

      Maybe in the King James Version.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  16. Jimtanker

    They VOTE on who they are going to accept? How christian of them. Much like they voted on what books to accept as the cannon and how they voted on the divinity of Jesus.

    December 6, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • Max

      And they voted to decide if women had souls, or if they'd allow slave owners in their church... Human rights and access to civil courts and secular law is not something religious people should be able to vote away.

      December 6, 2011 at 2:47 am |
  17. Hot Damn Ready Set Get Hitched

    Wow does she got all her teeth? I wonder if her mom / aunt and dad approve?

    December 5, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Michelle

      Did you read the article? The Dad loves her daughter's fiancé. And the fact that they are engaged shows it's more than just a booty call or some dumb fetish.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:19 am |
  18. Hot Damn Ready Set Get Hitched

    Wow ... looks like they sold their General Lee car and are welcoming the new world. It wont be long and they will have the internet and flush toilets in this KY town......
    I am betting Mitch McConnel lives here since he is not so modern in thought either.

    December 5, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • George

      Mitch McConnel is a great senator and a great American.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  19. Jesus

    Burn it down with everyone who voted against this in it.

    December 5, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  20. hippypoet

    shes ugly. we dont want her any way.

    December 5, 2011 at 11:48 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.