The pastor of a small church in Eastern Kentucky that barred interracial couples from becoming members or leading worship said he planned to ask members to strike down the decision, perhaps as early as Sunday.
Pastor Stacy Stepp of the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church said he would call for a new vote on the ban, possibly on Sunday. “We’re going to get it resolved,” Lexington Herald-Leader quoted him as saying.
Stepp said he was confident the roughly 45 members of the church in Pike County, Ky., will overturn the resolution.
The congregation had voted nine to six in favor of the proposal, saying that while all people were welcome to attend public worship services there, the church did not condone interracial marriage. The decision stirred outrage across the country.
“I have to say that I was very surprised,” Pastor Bill Staggs of nearby Meta Baptist Church told The Christian Post in an earlier interview. “I can only tell you that from my perspective, the interracial issue should not be an issue associated with any church, period.”
Keith Burden, executive secretary of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, has urged the local conference of churches to encourage the Gulnare church to reconsider its vote. “We are not a bunch of bigots or a bunch of racists,” Burden was quoted as saying Wednesday.
John J. Johnson, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, has also criticized the church’s decision. “I am proud of the other churches in the Eastern Kentucky community and its many citizens who are being vocal about their support of tolerance, respect and mutual understanding of all people,” he said, according to the Herald-Leader.
The proposal, crafted by former Pastor Melvin Thompson, stated that “parties of such (interracial) marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services” or other church functions barring funerals. It also said that it “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.”
Thomson, who stepped down in August due to health reasons, hasn’t explained why he introduced the discriminatory resolution. “I am not racist. I will tell you that,” he was quoted as saying. “I am not prejudiced against any race of people, have never in my lifetime spoke evil about a race. That’s what this is being portrayed as, but it is not.”
However, church secretary Dean Harville claims the resolution was passed to target his daughter Stella Harville and her fiancé, Ticha Chikuni, a native of Zimbabwe. Harville says he invited them to the church one Sunday in June when Stella played the piano and Chikuni sang. Thompson told Harville two months later that his daughter and her fiancé were not allowed to sing at the church again.
After Thomson stepped down, however, the new pastor, Stepp, said the church would allow the couple to sing. Thomson then submitted the proposal to the church on Nov. 9.
“It sure ain’t Christian,” Harville said, reacting to the resolution. “It ain’t nothing but the old devil working.” His daughter said she was hurt. “They’re the people who are supposed to comfort me in times like these.”