A vote to ban interracial couples from a small church in the eastern portion of the state has touched off some hand-wringing and lots of embarrassment.
Nine members of Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church decided to back their former pastor, with six opposed, in Sunday’s vote to ban interracial couples from church membership and worship activities. Funerals were excluded. How kind.
The vote was taken after most of the people who attended Sunday services had left the church in Pike County, near the border with West Virginia. Many members left specifically to avoid the vote.
Most members of the church “didn’t want anything to do with this,” said longtime church official Dean Harville, whose daughter and her black fiancee had drawn the ire of pastor Melvin Thompson.
“It sure ain’t Christian,” Harville said. “It ain’t nothing but the old devil working.”
At Mass earlier this year, Stella Harville, 24, who is working on her master’s degree in optical engineering, sang “I Surrender All” with her fiancee, Ticha Chikuni, 29, a native of Zimbabwe. Chikuni, an employee at Georgetown College in Kentucky, played the piano.
“There didn’t appear to be any problem,” Dean Harville said. “None whatsoever.”
Harville said the pastor then told him the two would not be permitted to sing at the church again. Thompson resigned in August but wouldn’t let the issue go.
Thompson told a local radio station, “I do not believe in interracial marriages, and I do not believe this (ban) will give our church a black eye at all.”
The move has drawn criticism from far and wide.
“This kind of thing brands all of us so easily,” said Randy Johnson, president of the Pike County Ministerial Association. “That’s not who we are. From all the churches I’ve talked to so far, it’s really not anger so much as it is shock.”
“It’s not the spirit of the community in any way, shape or form,” Johnson said.
It should be noted that Pike County is 98 percent white and home to the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud.
The Harville family doesn’t see Gulnare’s new policy promoting anything resembling unity or peace. “They’re the people who are supposed to comfort me in times like these,” Stella Harville said.