Pike church takes stand against interracial couples

bestep@herald-leader.comNovember 30, 2011 

Interracial Couples

Stella Harville and her fiancé, Ticha Chikuni are seen in a November 2010 photo provided by Stella Harville.

AP

A small Pike County church has voted not to accept interracial couples as members or let them take part in some worship activities.

The decision has caused sharp reaction and disapproval in the Eastern Kentucky county.

"It's not the spirit of the community in any way, shape or form," Randy Johnson, president of the Pike County Ministerial Association, said of the vote.

The issue came up at the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church, said Dean Harville, a longtime member who serves as church secretary and clerk.

Attendance is usually around 40 people for a Sunday service at the church in the Johns Creek area, Harville said.

Harville said his daughter Stella Harville, who is pursuing a master's degree in optical engineering at a school in Indiana, brought her fiancé, Ticha Chikuni, to church in June and played the piano as he sang.

The couple performed I Surrender All, said Stella Harville, who is 24.

Chikuni, 29, who works at Georgetown College, is black. He is a native of Zimbabwe.

Stella Harville grew up in the church and was baptized there, but she is not a member, Dean Harville said.

Dean Harville said Melvin Thompson, who had been pastor for many years, told him in August that his daughter and her fiancé couldn't sing at the church again.

Thompson stepped down as pastor in August, citing health issues, but he refused Harville's requests to drop the issue, Harville said.

The new pastor, Stacy Stepp, said the couple could sing at the church if they wanted, Harville said.

In early November, Thompson proposed the church go on record saying that while all people were welcome to attend public worship services there, the church did not condone interracial marriage, according to a copy of the recommendation supplied by the Harvilles.

The proposal also said "parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services" or other church functions, with the exception of funerals.

The recommendation "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," the copy supplied to the Herald-Leader read.

Members at a business meeting decided to put the matter before the whole church. Last Sunday, nine people voted for the proposal and six voted against it, Harville said.

There were more people in attendance, but some didn't want to take a stand, he said.

Harville said the resolution was motivated by racism and has given the church, the community, the county and even God a black eye.

"It sure ain't Christian. It ain't nothing but the old devil working," Harville said.

Thompson, who owns a hardware store, told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday that the proposal has been taken out of context, but declined further comment.

Stella Harville said it has been hurtful that some members of her church family made such a decision.

"They're the people who are supposed to comfort me in times like these," she said.

East Kentucky Broadcasting, which owns several radio stations, first reported the story about the vote on Monday.

Hundreds of people have since posted comments disagreeing with the decision, said reporter Shannon Deskins.

Johnson, with the local ministerial association, said the reactions have included heartbreak and disbelief.

"Most of us thought that we'd moved well beyond that," he said.

Harville said he plans to ask the conference of churches to which Gulnare Freewill Baptist belongs to overturn the vote.

Even if that happens, however, "I don't think I'll be able to go back there," his daughter said.