Is racism still prevalent in some all-white churches?

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The well-publicized story about the rural all-white church in Kentucky passing a vote to ban interracial couples reminds us that racism is still prevalent in the United States.

In this recent case, members of the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church in Pike County, Kentucky, voted for a resolution which would effectively ban mixed couples from worshipping or becoming members of the church, with the exception of attending funerals.

Racism within the church is nothing new. Not so long ago students at the fundamentalist Christian school, Bob Jones University, were banned from interracial dating and marriage. It was only in 2000, following media uproar after George Bush visited the university that the then president, Bob Jones III, abruptly dropped the interracial dating rule on CNN’s Larry King Live.

The Mormon Church has also been embroiled in lengthy discussions surrounding interracial marriages. Although there is no official policy banning mixed marriages there is evidence of opposition in LDS speeches and literature, before the 1980s.

The official newspaper of the Mormon Church, the Church News, for example, printed an article in 1978 entitled “Interracial marriage discouraged”.

The church member at Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church who drafted the resolution, Melvin Thompson, claims he is not racist. Thompson, who stepped down from his role as pastor of the Kentucky church due to health problems in August, also called the matter an ‘internal affair’.

Those who condone interracial marriage commonly use Biblical Verses to justify their beliefs. Scriptures such as Joshua 23: 12-13, 1Kings 11:2 or Nehemiah 13: 23-27. The problem is that all these scriptures are hand-picked from the Old Testament as God commanded Israel to be a nation set apart from other nations.

Church secretary Dean Harville says the resolution only came after his daughter – who has attended Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church her entire life – visited the church this summer with her boyfriend from Africa.
Stella Harville brought Ticha Chikuni — now her fiancé — to services 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.

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

Chikuni, 29, is originally from Zimbabwe but he has lived in the United States for eleven years. He is employed and by all accounts sounds like a popular and well-liked young man.

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

However, the couple’s relationship unsettled ardent members of the tiny rural South church, so much so, they felt the need to remove them.

In the latest twist, current pastor Stacy Stepp told the Appalachian News-Express he expected state and national Free Will Baptist officials to overturn the ban.

He has also called for a new vote on the matter, perhaps as early as this Sunday, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. The ban was passed in a 9-6 vote of church members last Sunday, though many of the 40-member parishioners abstained. “We’re going to get it resolved,” Stepp said.