ABOVE PHOTO: Stella Harville and her fiancé, Ticha Chikuni are seen in Richmond, Ky., in a November 2010 photo provided by Stella Harville. Stella’s childhood church in Pike County, Kentucky, the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church, voted to ban interracial couples from becoming members at the church after the pair sang a song during a visit to the church over the summer.
(AP Photo/Stella Harville)
An eastern Kentucky church under a firestorm of criticism since members voted to bar mixed-race couples from joining the congregation overturned that decision last Sunday, saying it welcomes all believers.
Stacy Stepp, pastor of the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church in Pike County, told The Associated Press that the vote by nine people last week was declared null and void after it was determined that new bylaws can’t run contrary to local, state or national laws. He said the proposal was discriminatory, therefore it couldn’t be adopted.
Stepp said about 30 people who attended church services voted on a new resolution that welcomes “believers into our fellowship regardless of race, creed or color.”
The issue came up at the tiny all-white Appalachian church after the daughter of church secretary Dean Harville visited over the summer with her boyfriend, who is from Africa, and the two sang for the congregation.
Harville said he was approached in August by Melvin Thompson, the church member who crafted the resolution to bar mixed-race couples, and was told that his daughter and her boyfriend were no longer allowed to sing at the church.
Thompson has said he is not racist and called the matter an “internal affair.”
Stepp said the Sandy Valley Conference of Free Will Baptists declared the vote on Thompson’s resolution null and void during a meeting on Saturday.
He said he told church members on Sunday about the decision and proposed a resolution to promote “peace, love and harmony.”
He said the resolution to welcome all believers passed with a unanimous vote.