PIKEVILLE, Ky. (The Blaze/AP) -- The pastor of an eastern Kentucky church where the congregation voted to not accept interracial couples as members says the decision is unlikely to stand. The Blaze first reported on the church's startling decision to prevent interracial couples from leading worship services and becoming members earlier this week.
As we reported, 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.
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. The two performed worship music and, as a result, Stella claims the pastor (who has since left his post) decided to push a measure placing bans on interracial couples.
Stacy Stepp, pastor of Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church, told the Appalachian News-Express in Pikeville he believes state and national Free Will Baptist associations will stand with him and other members of the church who oppose the ban.
Stepp also said he's seeking another vote on the issue, perhaps as early as Sunday, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. "We're going to get it resolved," Stepp said, going on to claim that he doesn't believe the congregation is racist.
The Blaze spoke with Dean over the phone this week and he told us that he is hopeful that he and his wife will be able to convince the church to change its mind. Still, regardless of what happens, Stella claims that she likely won't go back to the house of worship.
Dean confirmed that a decision would likely be made this weekend and that an earlier meeting this past Wednesday to address the matter had been cancelled.
The Herald-Leader has more on the controversy:
The National Association of Free Will Baptists issued its first formal statement on the controversy Thursday, saying the vote by the Pike County congregation does not reflect the denomination's position.
"Many interracial couples are members of Free Will Baptist churches. They are loved, accepted, and respected by their congregations," said the statement issued by Keith Burden, executive secretary of the association.
"It is unfair and inaccurate to characterize the denomination as racist," the statement said.
The newspaper continues, claiming that the Free Will Baptists have a history of championing human rights. In fact, according to the group's statement, the denomination was a leader in the fight against slavery in the 1800s. The statement goes on to say that there is no policy barring marriage between individuals of different races, as the issue has never come up.
Many members of the congregation did not vote last Sunday on a statement that everyone could attend services, but that interracial couples could not join the church or have a part in worship services. Of those who did vote, 9 favored it and 6 opposed it.
But -- with only 15 of the 40 congregants voting, one can't help but wonder why the others abstained. Stay tuned for more on this developing story this weekend.