Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church, an all-white church in Kentucky, has voted to ban interracial couples from joining.
Members of the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church voted for the resolution after their Sunday service, which says the church “does not condone interracial marriage”.
The church member who crafted 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 Melvin Thompson, the church’s former pastor who stepped down earlier this year.
“That’s what this is being portrayed as, but it is not.”
Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church secretary Dean Harville disagrees, saying the resolution came after his daughter visited the church this summer with her boyfriend from Africa.
Stella Harville and Ticha Chikuni – now her fiance – visited the church in June and the man sang a song for the congregation. The two had visited the church before.
Stella Harville’s father said he was counting the church offering after a service in early August when he was approached by Melvin Thompson, who told him his daughter and her boyfriend were no longer allowed to sing at the church.
“If he’s not racist, what is this?” he said.
The vote by members last Sunday was 9-6, the father said. It was taken after the service, which about 35 to 40 people attended. The man said many people left or declined to vote.
The resolution says anyone is welcome to attend services, but interracial couples could not become members or be “used in worship services or other church functions”.
Stella Harville, 24, a 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,” Stella Harville said.
“I really hope they overturn this.”
Last night the church’s pastor, Stacy Stepp, said that he was against the resolution. Stacy 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 the Bible is inerrant and local churches have autonomy over decision-making.
“It’s been a non-issue with us,” Keith Burden said, adding that many interracial couples attend Free Will Baptist churches.
Keith Burden said the Pike County church acted on its own. He said the association can move to strip the local church of its affiliation with the national denomination if it’s not resolved.
“Hopefully it is corrected quickly,” Keith Burden said.