Sometimes you have to wonder what century we are living in. Stella Harville, known as Suzie, grew up in Pike County, Kentucky, and attended the Gulnare Freewill Baptist church; her parents are long-time members and her father, Dean Harville, has served as church secretary and clerk. In June, Harville brought her fiancé, Ticha Chikuni — who was born in Zimbabwe and has lived in the US for 11 years — to the church and played the piano as he sang. Afterwards, the pastor, Melvin Thompson, told Dean Harville that his daughter and Chikuni could not sing at the church again. Then, this past Sunday, church members voted 9-6 not to condone interracial marriage.
It was back in 1967 that the US Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. 7 percent of marriages in the US (including mine) were interracial as of 2005, says Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld.
Randy Johnson, president of the Pike County Ministerial Association, says that the vote is “not the spirit of the community in any way, shape or form.” Thompson has stepped down as pastor due to health issues but has still refused to drop the issue. Dean Harville says that a new pastor, Stacy Stepp, says that the couple can sing in the church. But in November Thompson proposed to have the church actually go on record saying that, while “all people” were welcome to worship there, interracial marriage would not be condoned and “parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services.” Such a recommendation was not meant to “judge the salvation of anyone,” but “to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve.”
Stella Harville says that it has been “hurtful that some members of her church family made such a decision.” In an interview with WYKT, she said:
“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. It hurts even more that I have attended this church ever since I was a baby.”…
“He just has one of the kindest hearts for God and then this is happening. People who have backwards way of thinking, they should know that their racism actions should not and will not be tolerated.”
Dean Harville described the resolution as “motivated by racism” and added:
“It sure ain’t Christian. It ain’t nothing but the old devil working.”
Harville, who is pursuing a master’s degree in optical engineering, says that she does not think she’ll go back to Gulnare Freewill Baptist church, even if the recommendation is overturned. Her parents have also said that they will ask the church to change the recommendation; if Gulnare Freewill Baptist church does not, they will look for a new church.
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