Kentucky church denies racism after vote to ban interracial couples

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A tiny church in rural Kentucky was fending off charges of racism Thursday after some members voted to ban interracial couples from most church activities, the members said, “to promote greater unity among the church body.”

Members of the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church in Pike County, Kentucky, voted for the resolution after their Sunday service, which says the church ‘does not condone interracial marriage’.

The church member who drafted the resolution, Melvin Thompson, claims he is not racist and called the matter an ‘internal affair’.

“I am not racist. I will tell you that. I am not prejudiced against any race of people, have never in my lifetime spoke evil about a race,” said Thompson, the church’s former pastor who stepped down earlier this year.

However, church secretary Dean Harville says the resolution only came after his daughter – who has attended Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church since she was a baby – visited the church this summer with her boyfriend from Africa.

Stella Harville brought Ticha Chikuni — now her fiancé — to services back in June. Harville, who goes by the name Suzie, played the piano while Chikuni sang for the congregation. The two had visited the church before.

Chikuni is originally from Zimbabwe but he has lived in the United States for 11 years. He now works as a student advisor at Georgetown College in Kentucky.

“Ticha Chikuni is a loved and respected member of the Georgetown College family as is his fiancé, Stella Harville, a 2010 graduate. We look forward to celebrating their wedding this summer,” Todd Gambill, Vice President for Student Life & Dean of Students at Georgetown College, told theGrio.

Church members voted 9-6 in favor of Thompson’s proposed ban, Mr Harville said. It was taken after the service, which about 35 to 40 people attended. Mr Harville said many people left or declined to vote.

Stella Harville, a 24-year-old graduate student at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana, called the vote extremely hurtful.

“I think part of me is still in shock and trying to process what’s been going on the past few days,” she said. “I really hope they overturn this.”

Harville and her fiancé are planning their wedding in July but won’t be tying the knot in Pike County.

On Wednesday night the church’s pastor, Stacy Stepp, said that he was against the resolution. Mr Stepp said the denomination’s regional conference will begin working on resolving the issue this weekend.

The National Association of Free Will Baptists in Tennessee has no official position on interracial marriage for its 2,400 churches worldwide, executive secretary Keith Burden said.

The denomination believes local churches have autonomy over decision-making.
“It’s been a non-issue with us,” Mr Burden said, adding that many interracial couples attend Free Will Baptist churches.

He said the Pike County church acted on its own. Mr Burden said the association can move to strip the local church of its affiliation with the national denomination if it’s not resolved.

In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. According to latest statistics 1 in 7 marriages in the United States are interracial.