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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. Jules Winnfield

    I have had it with all these m%$&&*@ggin' idiots on this m(*&^^!%ggin' thread!

    December 6, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Igor

      "Idiot. This was clearly man's decision, not god's. Try reading before you open your fool mouth again."

      John, typical of an open mind, can't or won't point out what's wrong with my post substantively. He merely insults me, accuses me of not having an open mind (right John, anyone not absolutely convinced of your nonsense has a closed mind)., It's actually very ironic, because it's almost as if he didn't read anything I said, or maybe his reading comprehension isn't what it used to be. Because the next time john opens his mouth he clearly read enough not to sound like a fool, And so he says intelligently, and with an open mind: "I have had it with all these m%$&&*@ggin' idiots on this m(*&^^!%ggin' thread!"

      December 6, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  2. KeyWestConch

    Gee real big of them.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  3. Sean Russell

    Ha ha. It takes a public outcry to make these 'christians' actually act like christians.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • PeteDO

      For all that they say their god is watching them, it doesn't appear to make them act like decent people does it?

      December 6, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  4. NOT MY CHAIR

    They were a little late with this one but would like to welcome the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church to the 21st century and am glad they are finally reading the bible

    December 6, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  5. chilly g

    my guest is that senator mcconnell is a secret member of that church and if not a member he support the church bias policy

    December 6, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • George

      Senator McConnell is a great American. Do not dirty his name/

      December 6, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • Alphabet Soup

      All Republitards in Congress are already as filthy as humanly possible. His name couldn't be any dirtier.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  6. Religion Fail

    Christianity is so fragmented. I love it. There's hundreds of "sects" and each one thinks they are the TRUE Christians and only they represent the Church and their faith correctly. Totally hilarious. They all point fingers at one another as if to further impose their selective intolerance upon one another. Love it. I'm just glad that I'm alive to see the continual death of this religion. Now if we can move the end of Islam along we all might have a chance at real peace.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • MarcTTF

      I know right? It's like christian friendly fire.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Joseph

      Christianity will never die. It is the only true faith.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • OhPlease

      "Christianity will never die. It is the only true faith."

      That's why most of it was stolen from other pagan religions of that time period. LMAO!

      December 6, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • tallulah13

      You realize, Joseph, that every true believer of every god every created thought exactly that.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • MontyP

      They're hurling their own Holy Hand Grenades at tehmselves.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Religion Fail

      Joseph – I hate to break it to you but in 1000 years (if there is anyone left on the planet then) they will look back on Christianity the exact same way we look at ancient Egyptians. They will study it, shake their heads, laugh at what ancient idiots we all were, put on their jetpack and zoom away.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  7. Digi

    The only reason they are retracting it is because they are afraid it will hurt the attendance at their big Hillbilly Days celebration every year. That's that area's big income maker and they can't afford bad publicity like this going national!

    December 6, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  8. jh5

    I think dey should close da whole church down cuz u never kno dey could be runnin a kkk organization in there. an really i dnt think dis is the only racist church in ky cuz the whole state is still racist today

    December 6, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • D

      So I hope you are just messing around and this is not how you really spell (because that would make you just as ignorant as the pastor if you are). If it really is than hooked on Phonics didn't work for you.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  9. MeatyPortion

    Stay classy, Kentucky.

    December 6, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Kentucky Fried Christian

      We was bourne classy!

      December 6, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • DownWithShrinkRayCorporations!

      Colonel Sanders was a bigot but the chicken was good. Now KFC sux.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • KeyWestConch

      Kentucky Fried Christian, you can't spell either. I think the word you are looking for is born. Not exactly impressing anyone with the literacy in KY.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Kentucky Fried Christian

      I will have you no that I am very literate in KY mr. smarty pants!

      December 6, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • TR6

      @George:”So since you want to hold this up as representative of all Christianity, I guess then it's ok to find some bad atheists and say that they represent all atheists? “

      It’s Christians that claim to be following the commands of their infinitely good, omnipotent sky fairy, so Christians behaving badly is evidence that their god does not exist. Atheists behaving badly is just evidence that some people are ass holes

      December 6, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  10. A4mrtheist

    Chomp...Don't you love a god who says do it my way or die in a fire? God is great...NOT

    December 6, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Sheldon

      You don't get it, do you?

      December 6, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Igor

      Promises of divine wisdom are of little consolation to a slave to a tyrannical, petulant, unusually cruel, narcissitic deity. Imagine if you real parents demanded the kind of obedience and extolled that kind of punishment on you using the mere fact of giving you birth as an excuse to torture you? Well, I'm glad God decided to torture own son for a bit to show humanity that he forgave them for not suffering enough under the Old Testament god.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Jules Winnfield

      Idiot. This was clearly man's decision, not god's. Try reading before you open your fool mouth again.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • George

      @Igor

      God's ways are not our ways.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • PeteDO

      George, your god's ways are nothing more than the ways of a spoiled human child, so you're wrong again.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Igor

      @Igor

      "God's ways are not our ways."

      Thanks for pointing out the obvious. I'd be much more distressed about humanity if we acted with such reckless disregard for others all the time. Perhaps I am wrong, and there is the Abrahamic God, and when we all finally go up there it will have a good laugh at the exopense of those who ignored its apparent evil nature citing mystery of its ways. Then that God will continue doing what it has been since its invention, hurting humans in ingenious ways laughing at the Stockholm syndrome of those who think it loves them despite all the evidence to the contrary.

      Oh well, good thing I worship Melej Tawus. If I'm lucky that one also exists and when I die our gods can have a Pokemon battle match.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Scott

      @Igor: “Promises of divine wisdom are of little consolation to a slave to a tyrannical, petulant, unusually cruel, narcissitic deity. Imagine if YOU REAL PARENTS demanded the kind of obedience and extolled that kind of punishment on you using the mere fact of giving you birth as an excuse to torture you? “

      Being the good Christians that they were, this is exactly what they did

      December 6, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  11. George

    A story like this is like red meat to the rabid atheists. I don't know why CNN put this on a belief blog. I've said it before, but I will explain it again: This church does not represent Christianity. This church does not represent religion. It is a small independent church setting its own rules. A ban on interracial marriage is unbiblical and runs counter to Christianity. So you have no cause to bash Christianity as a whole over this.

    December 6, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • PeteDO

      Oh, but you are horribly, horribly wrong about all that. This is about having stupid beliefs that cannot be supported by facts.

      So atheists can speak to this as being yet another example of people acting ignorantly and hatefully without proof of any sort.

      See that ugliness in the mirror now?

      December 6, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • JeramieH

      Which church exactly does represent Christianity, and how does one go picking and choosing which do and don't?

      December 6, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Colin

      Great in theory George, however, history has shown that major Christian churches are notinhg short of barbaric toward outsiders or those who show their teachings to be nonsense.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • George

      So since you want to hold this up as representative of all Christianity, I guess then it's ok to find some bad atheists and say that they represent all atheists? Huh? Sounds good to me. Let's start with Stalin and Mao. When we're done with that will progress to Pol Pot. And when we're done with those we will start on some of the hateful atheists on this very board.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Jules Winnfield

      Excuse me. What about all the churches that openly condemn and reject racism? What about the many more churches of all denominations where race is not even an issue worth discussing? Why do you cherry pick examples and then hold them up as a representation of Christianity as a whole? That is completely and utterly unscientific.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Kentucky Fried Christian

      Right on Geroge. I'm all for hiding the truth when it hurts your agenda.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • PeteDO

      George, I am going to explain this to you one time: Atheism is not a system of any sort. It is not a belief system, nor does it have any doctrine, rules, or agenda.
      Atheism is the lack of a belief in a god or deity. That is all. Those people you listed were totalitarian dictators who demanded that their victims worship them. That's not atheism, George. If I could pound this knowledge into your head with a rock I would definitely do so.
      Now I suppose you'll say I'm violent because I'm an atheist. You'd be wrong again. I'm angry at your lack of brains. That's not atheism talking, that's frustration at your thick-headedness. But maybe you aren't all that bad. Maybe I'm wrong.
      Show me I'm wrong, George.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • JeramieH

      "Atheism is to religion as bald is to hair color." – I always liked that one.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • George

      PeteDODO
      Atheism is a religion. Like it or not. Prove me wrong!

      We all know you atheists do evil all day long, and then try to pretend you don't because you're afraid of God's judgement. Your religion doesn't fool the enlightened.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • PeteDO

      Let me introduce you to my rock, George.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Igor

      Why do i get a feeling George gets secret pleasure from flagellating himself and imagining all the evil deeds the atheists must be performing. Why the atheists are probably responsible for the couple in this story being shunned by bigots.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • JeramieH

      Hey George, I realize that literacy may not be your strong point, but you haven't answered my question as to which church exactly is the representative church of Christianity.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • erb

      george is just herbert or havent you noticed the lack of maturity and overwhelming ignorance

      December 6, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • TR6

      @George:”So since you want to hold this up as representative of all Christianity, I guess then it's ok to find some bad atheists and say that they represent all atheists? “

      It’s Christians that claim to be following the commands of their infinitely good, omnipotent sky fairy, so Christians behaving badly is evidence that their god does not exist. Atheists behaving badly is just evidence that some people are ass holes.

      December 6, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • TR6

      @George: “
      We all know you atheists do evil all day long, and then try to pretend you don't because you're afraid of God's judgement”

      You made me spray coke out my nose I was laughing so hard

      December 6, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  12. Phaethor

    Typical. From small little towns all the way up to the head of the Republican party. Pretty much the Vast majority of them has hatred, racism, war mongering and just about every vile belief in their tiny cold little hearts. It is so unbelievable that they claim out one side of their face to believe in Jesus and follow his teachings and spew evilness out of the other side. Truth can be ugly when it bubbles up on the front page.

    December 6, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Tryx

      Ah yes, time for the anti-Christian trolls to visit the belief blog. The same people moaning about the intolerance of religion are very passionate about the correctness of their own intolerance; how about you atheists practice what you preach. Oh, wait....

      December 6, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • SeanNJ

      @Tryx: The day that atheists propose legislation outlawing Christianity, you can complain about intolerance. You're permitted to believe and worship what you want, but I have no compulsion to treat your belief as rational.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • MarcTTF

      Trixy
      It's hard to be tolerant of bigotry. At least it is to any sensible person.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  13. John B

    Too funny. Oh you mean people think we're being racist? I guess we should let them in because...even though we ARE obviously racist...we don't want to look like racists.

    December 6, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  14. Afghan Man

    You people need to get real. This thing in our country is a hundred years or more too late. If you read the history of the world it has been going on for a long time. It is just your short sided thinking that makes it a sin. As long as they have love then let them be together. Read the Bible and find out what is right. God is love.

    December 6, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Tomas

      How can a god be an emotion? And not any of the other ones? I think you are just parroting what you've been brainwashed with and haven't thought about it all that much. Am I right?

      December 6, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  15. Tracey

    The reversal is too little too late. Eveeryone has already seen the intolerance of those who are supposed to willingly open their arms to anyone wanting to receive God's word.

    December 6, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  16. Rosslaw

    These fellows could teach the Taliban a thing or two about religious intolerance. I just don't have much confidence though that they're going to be able to successfully morph into an actual Christian church.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  17. Denise

    I knew they were gonna change it when they saw it was cutting into their profits.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  18. RobertOKUSA

    Too late. Everyone now knows you run a racist church.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  19. Flasher

    This society will never know what it is to love and care for one another...The roots of this country are way too deep....Malcom X was right when he spoke about the "white evil man"(susie good luck, get out of there and move further south you'll find an island where we are all the same.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  20. Nicholas

    Lord have mercy.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • Chomp

      There is none. When you die in a fire you'll find this out, fool.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Daveid Johnson

      "Chomp" you are the very ignorant fool. You will soon find out the truth for yourself.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:40 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.