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. Darren

    who cares what this fake religion thinks ? There is no god

    December 6, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  2. Tomoyuki Kumagai

    Don't go back there, there are good churches elsewhere, and some of them are even Baptists, too.

    December 6, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Bob

      "Good church" is a contradiction in terms.

      That is, except for those disused churches that have been put into non-religious uses, such as non-religious community centers, libraries, or even bars.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  3. jeanine

    Our previous Pastor used the N word while preaching. Our new Pasror amd his wife oir controlling. Several members are racist.obama haters. My children are inter racial. This 9 plus year saga is over for me. It appears lots of chirches sre clubs not for Jesus or our children. I pray gor all racial ignorant people.

    December 6, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Hello, its me

      Jeanine. Pray for some spelling and writing classes first. Heres a clue for ya. Not caring for Obama doesnt make one a racist but those who criticize others on that basis ARE the racist. Did you get all that you empty headed SOB....

      December 6, 2011 at 8:35 am |
    • AlanMichael

      To: "Hello its me," Leave Jeanine alone! Judge the contents of the article not Jeanine.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • Bob

      jeanine, Christianity is intrinsically racist. Christian "god", among its many other evils, has a "chosen people" or preferred race, and has even slaughtered whole races or caused them to be slaughtered.

      The evils and errors of Christianity are legion. It's a motley collection of backward supersti-tions from primitive people. Time you got past it and joined the modern world.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • MoonUnitarian

      Yeah, join the modern world and try using the internet! Oh, wait...

      December 6, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Bob

      That's merely a testament to OK usability of recent technology.

      Next time, Moonie, try to stay relevant.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Bob

      Again for jeanine

      jeanine, Christianity is intrinsically racist. Christian "god", among its many other evils, has a "chosen people" or preferred race, and has even slaughtered whole races or caused them to be slaughtered.

      The evils and errors of Christianity are legion. It's a motley collection of backward supersti-tions from primitive people. Time you got past it and joined the modern world.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  4. sbooth

    As a Christian born and raised in Kentucky, this is an embarrassment to my state and my Christian faith. Racism is something I can't understand and my Lord and Savior never taught. This sickens me and saddens my heart.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:58 am |
  5. Plug1

    Nice couple.....good luck.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  6. Doc Vestibule

    When the American south was forced to rescind the Jim Crow laws and accept racial integration, it was Baptists who most strongly opposed equality.
    Wallie Criswell, an extremely popular and influential Southern Baptist Minister famously said "Let them integrate! Let them sit up there in their dirty shirts and make all their fine speeches. But they are all a bunch of infidels, dying from the neck up."
    Scarcely half a century later, the zeitgeist has shifted so radically that such open racism is considered abhorrent to the very same Christian sect that spouted scripture to justify insti.tutionalized bigotry.
    I fervently hope that the prevailing Baptist condemnation of ho.mose.xuality will soon be viewed with the same sense of shame that the memory of segragation elicits.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  7. Baptist

    I attend a baptist church sometimes and it is multiracial. I there is a lot of love in that church and I don't know one person that would think the way these people did. I don't think this is a baptist thing folks. I think this was a community/location thing. Where obviously the love of Christ was not the main focus.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:55 am |
    • MJ

      I am sure that you know many people that "Think like these people do" They are just very good at hiding their true feelings from you.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:01 am |
  8. Plug1

    Whites,tell their daughter's,you can only marry a black guy if he's rich...facts.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • Igor

      I', sure trying to marry your daughter rich is crosses more racial lines then you imagine. Facts, you're doing them wrong.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • Igor

      I'm sure trying to marry your daughter rich crosses more racial lines than you imagine. Facts, you're doing them wrong.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:53 am |
  9. Joseph

    Kinda like burning a cross on someone's front lawn and saying,Oops sorry about that.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:34 am |
    • Joe-Bob

      You mean we can't do that? When did this happen? I don't get out much.....

      December 6, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • AlanMichael

      GOOD ONE!

      December 6, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  10. SoTiredOfThis

    When are people going to remember there's only one race – the human one.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:31 am |
  11. Plug1

    It just goes to show you.....racisim is well"....all over the u.s.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  12. TaxiBob

    Welcome to the 21st century. You racists are just insecure people who the only way to feel good about urself is to look down on others. I feel sorry 4 you.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  13. Jorge

    Friedrich Nietzsche once said God was dead. Well, not every God, the Southern Baptist one is crashing at a friend's trailer, topped out on meth, hiding from a restraining order violation put up by his pretty 15 year-old second cousin, trading EBT transactions for beer and blaming it all on Mexicans.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:23 am |
    • Mirosal

      It's a protection order he's running from? I thought it was the back child support he's been owing her for 3 years now. You do the math.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:30 am |
  14. heliocracy

    I think it's safe to take away from this that there are at least nine old-fashioned, unabashed racists with voting power in a 40-member church in Kentucky. Is anyone really surprised by that? Let's hear from the conservatives who are always claiming that racism isn't real or pervasive, so therefore we don't need hate crime laws or affirmative action...here's proof that you are very wrong.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:08 am |
    • Igor

      "Let's hear from the conservatives who are always claiming that racism isn't real or pervasive, so therefore we don't need hate crime laws or affirmative action.."

      Of course not, with a little twist of logic it appears that mean minorities here are bashing a few good Christians who don't hate those with darker skin color, they just want to wash the sin away. Clearly if this was a minority group spouting the same kind of nonsense these evil people would ignore it. Gents like that usually project onto others their own depravity. Perhaps many of them genuinely believe such idiocy.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:22 am |
  15. mattski

    They may have changed their decision, but the racists are all still there. It's right up there with the other so-called Christian churches that preach a very anti-Christian message. They can't un-ring that bell..

    December 6, 2011 at 7:07 am |
  16. Joe Blow

    Wasn't it Jesus himself who said:

    "go yea and discriminate against other people".

    Funny how it is always the bible-beating Baptists who do things that would make Jesus cry in shame to be associated with them.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:07 am |
  17. Jason Stuckey

    It seems to me that the most racist white people are white christians. When the Africans 1st arrived here, they were forced to give up their religion, and christianity was forced upon them. The slave owners made sure all of his slaves became good christians, the these good christians slaves were not allowed to worship with their good christian slave owners. When Black people built their own christian church, they were bomb by the good white christians. All Klan members and Skinheads claim to be good white christians, while they lynch, kill, and preach hate of all non white people. So my question is to all of the Black people, why do you try so hard to be good christians? Why would you want to be a part of a group that does not want you? In 2011 they don't don't wany your Black butts in their churches to worship!

    December 6, 2011 at 7:06 am |
    • Michelle

      The guy in question is not African American. He is from Zimbabwe so he doesn't share the same history. His ancestors were never slaves in America.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:33 am |
    • Igor

      And if he was or will be naturalized as a U.S. citizen then the term African American will certainly apply to him, more so than it does to most minorities others swipe under that designation. If you were born in U.S. you are an American, and as an American you can be black, white, brown, whatever.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • Michelle

      The point is he has no more culturally to do with blacks who are the descendants of US slaves than if he was Hungarian, Chinese, or Arab. Many Africans make a clear distinction between themselves and Norh American black people and vis versa. Caribs are also culturally distinct.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • Igor

      I get your point, but you don't have any way of knowing if his ancestors were slaves in U.S. or Britain. It's a definite possibility. But I stand by my initial statement, if he is a U.S. citizen then he is technically an African American. of course describing someone's origin by using a continent is a bit moronic. To illustrate the point consider that American can technically refer to anyone from either North or South America. I don't describe myself as Eurasian American that's just silly.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Cillia

      Many black people are just as racist as any white racist. They too vote and exclude and discriminate and commit racist hate crimes. Some who call themselves "African-Americans" are racist against other blacks who don't "qualify" and treat them badly. It's all about group-identlty and how ignorant the people are who identify with any particular group.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • Archtype

      It takes a special kind of bad upbringing to create a racist or one that's ready to happen. Religious upbringing is at the top of the list, but the list is pretty long. And we are all individuals, which racism and other forms of bigotry usually ignore individuals in favor of hate against a group regardless of any real facts. I've done it myself. It's very easy unfortunately. We don't always have time to really mull things over and figure out a more intelligent way of reacting to perceived threats regardless of whether they actually exist.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • Archtype

      Okay I could have taken more time to write that out better. An edit function would be nice, but then the responses wouldn't match. Oh well.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  18. Craig Shearer

    It is always the fat, ugly ones.

    December 6, 2011 at 6:58 am |
    • my view too

      still upset about your momma

      December 6, 2011 at 7:25 am |
  19. Daryn Moerike

    Normally, I don't hold with burning Churches, but if the bus fare wasn't so high – I'd come down there and burn that one down myself.

    December 6, 2011 at 6:50 am |
  20. Buddy Kowalski

    We are all Africans.

    December 6, 2011 at 6:32 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Spot on Buddy.... It's always refreshing to see a comment from someone who actually knows something. The modern human species Ho.mo sapiens emerged from Africa to migrate outward to populate the planet.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:59 am |
    • Mirosal

      And it was millions of years ago, not 6000 lol

      December 6, 2011 at 7:04 am |
    • The Bobinator

      Actually the location of the "cradle of humanity" has changed recently. It's now more towards the middle east / china.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:53 am |
    • Baptist

      Curious, I am not anti-evolution or anything but doesn't evolution support racism? Wouldnt part of the species depending on resource and geographical location begin to evolve more? I could just see a racist using it to say that some select group of whites are more evolved. oh yea.... Hitler. -- We are all humans with feelings and souls and the same needs.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Mirosal

      I remember the term "cradle of civilization", and they say that was in Iraq, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. I did not know about the moving of the cradle of humanity in general, I'll look that up. Thanks for giving me something legitimate to research.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:03 am |
    • AtheistSteve


      Actually evolution supports the idea that the humans have diversified due to adaptation to environmental change plus other factors. If humans were isolated from the main population for sufficiently long time periods then speciation would occur. Example: if humans were to colonize Mars lets say and were cut off from interacting with Earthlings for a long enough period of time their decendants would at some point become a new species...even to the point of not being able to interbreed.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • Archtype

      We are all Earthlings / Terrans. Why have a geo-centric label limited to a single continent?

      December 6, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • Archtype

      Oh the humanity!

      December 6, 2011 at 8:56 am |
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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.