A small Kentucky church finds itself at the epicenter of a battle over racism and the gospel. Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church, a small, 40-person congregation located in Pike County, Kentucky, is catching widespread grief over its recent decision to target interracial couples. The church has decided to forbid these couples from partaking in worship activities and will not allow them to become members.
At the heart of the decision stands 24-year-old Stella Harville. Her father, Dean Harville, is a longtime member of and secretary for church who has come out strongly against the newfound regulation. While his daughter grew up in the church and worshiped there, she is not currently a member.
The situation commenced when Stella, who is working on a master’s degree in optical engineering at a college in Indiana, brought her African-born fiancé, Ticha Chikuni, to church last June.
It what many would describe as a wonderful example of a couple worshiping together, Stella played the piano, while Ticha sang. All was well — or so they thought.
Later on in the summer, Dean claims that the church’s former pastor, Melvin Thompson, told him that Stella and her boyfriend were not permitted to sing to the congregation again. In August, Thompson stepped down from his pastoral post, citing health concerns. However, in what many are calling an instance of racism, he refused the family’s requests to drop the issue and to allow interracial performances.
The new pastor, Stacy Stepp, apparently told the couple that they were free to sing at the church if they wanted to. But in November, Thompson, clearly still having influence in the church, pushed the issue further and encouraged congregants to go along with his bans on various aspects of interracial worship.
Apparently, the proposal read, “parties of [interracial] marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services.” WKYT.com has the entire alleged statement:
“That the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church does not condone interracial marriage. Parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services and other church functions, with the exception being funerals.
All are welcome to our public worship services. This recommendation is not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve.”
The church decided to put the proposal up for a vote this week and apparently nine individuals voted in favor, with six others voting against it. While there were others in attendance, some didn’t take a stand on the matter.
Dean called the entire spectacle racist and said, “It sure ain’t Christian. It ain’t nothing but the old devil working.” Thomson, though, says that the proposal has been taken out of context and has declined to comment further on the matter.
“It’s just a travesty, especially of Christianity, that this church feels this way. They’ve crossed the line in revoking my fiance and mine’s right to worship in a public place,” Stella told WYMT-TV. “It hurts even more that I have attended this church ever since I was a baby.”
Stella is extremely saddened by the spectacle and does not have plans to go back to the church. Her parents plan to ask the church to reconsider its decision during Wednesday night’s service — or they plan to find a new house of worship.