The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Kentucky Church: No Interracial Couples Welcome

By Marilyn Elias on November 30, 2011 - 3:05 pm, Posted in Christian Right

The Bible commands us to love our neighbors, but members of a Kentucky evangelical church have set strict limits on that love: The Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church voted Sunday to bar interracial couples from becoming members or participating in worship services.

Not everyone at the church agrees, and it may not be the last word.  Stacy Stepp, pastor of the small church in Gulnare, Ky., is appealing the new policy at a regional conference of church leaders Saturday in Pikeville, Ky.  “I want them to investigate the matter and resolve it,” Pastor Stepp told Hatewatch, adding that nothing in the Bible says that interracial marriage is bad.

After noting that the church “does not condone interracial marriage,” and that spouses of another race won’t be allowed to join or take part in services, the policy adds, “All are welcome to our public worship services.” And in case you’re wondering if this means that people who marry outside their race are somehow not up to snuff, there is one more sentence: “This 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.”

Several members said the move was prompted by the engagement of Stella Harville, whose family has belonged to the church for decades, to Ticha Edza, 29, a Zimbabwe native and student life administrator at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky. Harville, a 24-year-old graduate student, said she brought Edza to the church several times, and they always were treated politely. Edza even sang a spiritual song to the congregation more than a year ago, with Harville accompanying him on piano, she says.

“I’m shocked that they did this,” Harville told Hatewatch. “I’ve been going there since I was a toddler. I’ve always felt welcome, the people there have always been a part of my life, they’ve supported and loved me. They’re my extended family and now, at one of the biggest moments of my life, this is how they treat me.”

Harville said her parents told her that the former pastor, Melvin Thompson, opposed her interracial relationship and had called them in to discuss it before he left the church post in August. Thompson never took up the issue with her, Harville added. “I get that this is a sensitive subject for some people, but he would always shake my hand and act real friendly. He never confronted me. At least have the nerve to stand up for what you believe in!” Thompson, still a church member, introduced the new interracial policy. He declined to comment on anything about the issue when Hatewatch reached him by phone.

Gary Alley and Nina Blackburn, two other members who voted to keep out interracial couples, also declined to comment.

The current pastor, Stepp, wants the ban on interracial couples ended. “As a spiritual person, I’m deeply hurt by what’s happened,” he told Hatewatch. “Jesus loves all people.”

Anthony Hite, 28, a Gulnare church member, voted against the policy.  “God told us to love everyone, so just because your skin color’s different that’s no reason not to extend love.”

Although the new statement doesn’t explicitly address the children in interracial marriages, Sharon Taylor of Gulnare is concerned about what’s going to happen to her two biracial grandchildren. Her divorced son, who is Caucasian, brings them to the church often, and the kids attend Sunday School there. “It really bothers and worries me,” she told Hatewatch. “They’ve always been real nice to my grandkids, but I don’t know what will happen to them now,”

The Kentucky church is affiliated with the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Inc., based in Antioch, Tenn. The national group has no policy either forbidding or promoting interracial marriage, says executive secretary Keith Burden.

“I travel extensively, and we have churches where there are interracial couples all over the country,” Burden told Hatewatch.  “We don’t want to be painted with the stripes of prejudice, because we’ve been a champion of rights for all. We were one of the few U.S. denominations that fought for the abolition of slavery.” The southern wing of the church was founded in 1727, a northern branch started in 1780, and the two eventually merged, according to the group’s website.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t prejudiced individuals in certain local churches, “just like any denomination,” he added.

The national group is not a governing body, so it can’t force the Gulnare church to change its policy, Burden said. The regional, state or national group could, however, urge the church to rescind it. The group also could reconsider Thompson’s credentials as a pastor if there’s any evidence that he’s compromised moral or doctrinal issues. And, as a last resort, the national association could expel the Gulnare church from its group. “Hopefully, it can be resolved without doing anything like that,” Burden said.

There is one consolation in the new policy for people like Stella Harville, who plans to marry her African fiancé next July. There‘s a single exception in which the interracially married are allowed to participate during church services: at funerals.

That doesn’t do much for Harville, though. “We just don’t want this to happen to another couple. We don’t want anyone to be hurt in this way.”

  • Jerry Moore

    I am white,my wife of 38 years is Afro-American.I live in Black Mountain N.C. We have a Presbyterian Church which had some KKK members who were using the church to expand their hatred.They had grown from a couple to about 35 members.When the Pastor got wind of what was going on He managed to get them out of their church.I would recommend the church in Kentucky get rid of that hand full of Hate Members before it grows. Now if Black Mountain could get rid of Loyal Order Of Moose Black Mountain Lodge which also supports hatred and discrimination.If this town in Kentucky has a Loyal Order Of Moose Lodge I bet you it’s all white and don’t permit Afro-Americans to join.

  • Anna

    I suppose the spawn of interracial marriages are to be considered satanic, to be driven from churches and cast into brimstone and fire, from the Commander-in-Chief of the USA on down. I supose those Kentucky churchgoers ban their offspring from joining the military, as it is led by one such satanic spawn. Can America get any more nuts? Internal church business? Oh right, that means their pastors can pedophile away and its internal church business too.

  • Bronson

    What does God say about racism? Like in all matters of life, when we need the Truth, the real answers, we have to go to our final authority in all matters, the Bible. One of the greatest weapons of satan is division. The enemy has figured out every way imaginable to divide men. Since virtually the beginning of the human experience, man has fallen into satan’s trap of division based on the color of a person’s skin or their ethnic origin. While racism has always been an issue in this country, the fact is it is an issue in every country. This divisive mindset is not unique to the United States. Sadly, in some form it is practiced everywhere on the planet.

  • CM

    Yes, that’s right, if you don’t totally agree with us, then go away.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Frank, Islam does not forbid interrracial marriage. I don’t know where the hell you got that idea. If you actually read this article you would see that the controversy is between MEMBERS of the church and the church leadership, in other words people who do have a right to oppose and have a say in the making of church policies.

  • RRoberts

    Hopefully they will reconsider their position and wiser heads will prevail. If so, then the ‘system’ worked. It pointed out to these people that they were acting in an un-Christian like manner.
    Unfortunately, some Christians can be judgemental when they come across what they feel to be a moral issue. However, I have found that some who are judgmental are also the most willing to help out those in need.
    It can be easy to pigeon hole someone when you hear of a very poor decision like this one.

  • Frank

    This is an internal issue for the church. They interpret the bible the way they see it. That is why there are different religions. If anyone does not feel welcome, go somewhere else. You want to go to a church that believes in inter-racial marriage or homosexuality, that is your choice. I don’t see you blasting muslims for their belief. Read the quran and you will see they are very strict on this matter.

  • why is left so damn intolerant?

    certainly there are black muslim mosques and haredi jewish synagogues and hindu temples where interracial couples are unwelcome. is this somehow worse?

    why would a couple want to belong to a group that doesn’t want them? i think jesus would allow an interracial and even a gay couple in his church, but i’m not surprised many disagree with me. if the church wants to approve of an interracial marriage, let its members do this by overruling minister’s decision or voting to get a new minister. Its nobody else’s business, certainly not the business of non-Christians.

  • Sam Molloy

    Georgetown, Ky, where Mr. Edza lives, is home to TMMK (Toyota), where they are a champion of diversity and will not tolerate bigotry. Gulnare is way back in the woods, miles from even the nearest railroad, and I would bet saw it’s first automobile pass through it sometime either just before or maybe even after WWII.

  • Mitch Beales

    Is Concerned Citizen off his meds again?

  • Erika

    Concerned Citizen, the United States has had interracial dating and marriages since at least the time the first Spanish Conquistidors showed up in Florida.

    As an American, your racial identity is really a matter of what your parents were accepted as – its not even totally a matter of appearance – I’m “White,” but I’ve seen “African American” people who have much lighter complexions than I do. In one case, I saw such a person’s “African American” father whose skin tone and complexion was almost identical to my “White” grandmother. What was the difference – my “White” grandmother lived up north where having light skin will get you classified as “White” – the “African American” lived in the South where one drop of African blood got you classified as “Black.” Now any intelligent person would realize that all four of us were mixed race – and in every case, White was the predominate appearance – yet two of us were preceived as being Black simply because of racists morons like you who so feared race mixing that some states passed “one drop” laws – and of course, racism also created an incentive for light skinned people to pass as “White.”

    Smart people know that the American public with the exception of some recent immigrants is technically almost entirely mixed race – however, it is basically impossible to know what the mixture really is without genetic testing. If you were tested for genetics you would likely be surprised by the results.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Liberal activists love to say that the Bible say nothing about interracial marriages. However. I can’t anything in the Bible that say interracial marriages are okay. as a rule of thumbs. The world has manage to surrvive without the majority of it citzenries engages into thid kind of propaganda. In my opinion the world may have been destroyed eons ago, if everybody engage into interracial dating and marriages. I applaud this church for standiing up what believe in. Let this church determine it own policies, not the politicians and all the liberal do gooders out there in the world, especially in the USA.

  • J Carlson

    Pretty offensive stuff. I’m no believer, but I know more than a little about the Bible and I don’t recall anything being written about the subject of mixed marriages.

    The eternal guiding principle from Jesus is to treat others as you would be treated. Sounds like a few of these folks have lost their way.

  • Larry

    I was born and raised in the South… left there when I was very young because of this kind of thing. I have now retired and returned to the Area that this happened in. Let NO ONE deceive you folks THIS is REAL and since the election of President Obama has become more of the Norm in the deep south than an exception. In fact I would go as far as to say that it is WORSE now than it was in the 60′s, much worse!

  • Khouri

    I may have not been raised in a family that attends church but my mother and father made sure that I understood that our differences is what makes us all beautiful and enriches our lives when we allow ourselves the joy of acceptance. Being a lesbian in an interracial relationship I can’t imagine the hush that would fall over a congregation such as this.
    I have had the experience of meeting Mr. Fred Phelps himself and all I could do was refuse to share his hate. I was simply passing by a street corner where he was protesting the local gay pride festival and all I could think was “how sad. this man has no value to himself and so he has to try to strip the value others have.” I was shocked then by his words of hate and the words of hate comming from the two small childern he had with him; just as I am saddened by this. I agree that God is love. And who are we to decided where and to whom that love is to be given or refused. I know that I do the best I can and all I can hope for is that if there is something in my life I must answer for (i.e. being gay) that God sees that I loved hard and with honesty and integrity and that I don’t feel the need to be forgiven for that simply because who I chose to love was not a man. Thus the intention of free will.

  • Gregory

    ” When told the black lady was my mother-in-law there was a noticable gasp as if they had just discovered they had been betrayed.”

    [head smack] Throwing the bullshit flag here. That is the lamest story that you’ve told yet, Dick.

  • Ellen Myers

    I could be mistaken but I think people like them get that idea from what the apostle Paul said about not to be “unequally yoked”. Because they’re personally against interracial marriage, they use/misuse that verse to apply to interracial marriage, which is not what Paul was
    talking about at all. He was talking about believers and non-believers. But as is typical of fundamentalists, which is what they are, they pick something out of the Bible, usually from the Old Testament or something Paul said (very rarely do they quote Jesus), and they twist it to fit their narrow-minded, hate-filled thinking.
    As despicable as that way of thinking and doing is, they have every legal right to say who they do or don’t want in their church. It is strictly a religious matter that the government has no say in, nor should they. And as much as I hate discrimination, especially in what’s supposed to be the Lord’s house where ALL are welcome, I would definitely not want the government to be able to have any control over it.
    There’s plenty of churches to go to. If a person isn’t accepted in one, they can leave and look for one where they will be accepted. If they can’t find any that accepts them, they can worship God in their home, as I do. Jesus doesn’t require church attendance for salvation or to be a follower of His.

  • Ellen Fredrickson

    Shame on the persons who voted to ban this couple. Who appointed you as god to make such a judgement. Isn’t the church/christianity about coming together in one’s own belief; not making judgements on other Chrisians who have a way of life different from yours. I have questions for you; Do you allow a person who is divorced come to your church, how about a couple living together and not married, a single person who has HIV/AIDS. Can these people come to your church? Should your answers be no, I pray for you.

  • http://www.twitter.com/AronL, Aron

    Dick,

    Because only liberals are racist, right? Your views on race have been destroyed time and time again. Yet you keep making a fool of yourself.

    The situation you described would have been awkward for anyone, regardless of political slant. And I’m SURE your ex-wife would have preferred knowing that she worked with a bunch of unabashed racists. How unbelievably delusional can you be?

    I eagerly anticipate your response. It’s sure to be illuminating.

  • Rick Blackburn

    Seems like an in-house issue to me.Whether we agree or disagree with this church’s policies,in America we have freedom of religion.There are other churches aren’t there?Why is this church not entitled to practice it’s religion as it sees fit without it becoming a national issue?

  • Jonas Rand

    BTW it is NOT a faith decision if the faith in question is Christian. Nowhere in the Bible is miscegenation prohibited.

  • Jonas Rand

    Whatta bunch of bigoted jerks. ‘Nuff said.

  • Dick Lancaster

    I like to see honest bigots. Only then can you really know what you’re up against. The SPLC and other groups like it have done an outstanding job of forcing bigotry into the closet. Far from erradicating it, the SPLC has only succeeded in masking it.

    I recall when my ex-wife, who is half black but could “pass” for a darker Natalie Wood showed our vacation pictures to her white, liberal co-workers. One of them asked who the black lady was. When told the black lady was my mother-in-law there was a noticable gasp as if they had just discovered they had been betrayed. For the past year and a half they had treated her like one of the gang. Then they stuttered and hem-hawed the rest of the evening trying to convince us they weren’t prejudice, praising the black “stock” and reciting the standard liberal lines about race that are both comical and sickening. Had they been a bit more conservative we could have escaped the phony praise and just went on with the get-together.

  • Sara

    I happened to be born caucasin, if this was passed out at a church I was attending I would oppose it, and start looking for a new church. How can you get spiritual guidance from people are that openly racist? I definately wouldn’t want my kids around that.

  • Ithink

    ^Ah, well, so much for post-racial America. The Reich-Wingers and Tea Partiers can continue winking, denying, and explaining incidents like this away, but there’s no doubt that beliefs like these are deeply instituted in many individual Americans (just as to not an explicity violent or obvious degree as say during the Jim Crow or Reconstruction eras)…

    I wish the best for Ms. Harville and Mr. Edza as a couple and that they have an extraordinarily happy life. God is indeed Love, and in the end, love will persevere through all hate. Whether or not the rest that composed and agreed to this despicable proposal can revoke their prejudice is between them and whatever ‘God’ who’s laws and verbatim commandments they won’t acknowledge exist, let alone are worth their efforts following.

  • kate

    Since there is absolutely no basis in the christian religion to justify such racism, I would like to see this church lose its association with the greater church and/or have the IRS review whether churches like this represent a political organization or a purely religious one.

    But I won’t hold my breath. The christian churches in this country have a long history of endorsing a rule or there that supports the views of their congregation and yet has no relationship in theology. Racism has been propounded by Christians in this country for decades, how do you think the “African Methodist” church and others came about?

    I hope that at the very least, the congregants that don’t support this new rule will leave and the church will strangle by its own rope.

    More than likely the supporters will go somewhere else to have a forum for their racism if the leadership in the church pushes against the policy.

    Nothing gained really, they just move somewhere else and in a state like Kentucky, like my native St. Louis, they probably won’t have to walk far.

  • Open heart in Florida

    All of these bigots will be going to Hell with gasoline drawers on. How can you love God whom you haven’t seen and cannot love your brother whom you see. Plus, if you say that you love God and don’t love your brother, then you are LIAR!!!!!

  • snorlax

    What Would Jesus Do?

  • Bible Student

    THIS IS WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS. ANY PRIEST, PASTOR OR PERSON WHO IS DENYING THE WORLD OF GOD IS FROM THEIR FATHER THE DEVIL. Read these scriptures from YOUR bible and then decide what stand you should take as a “real” Christian.
    The Bible also says: “God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34, 35; 17:26)
    34 At this Peter opened his mouth and said: “For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial, 35 but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him. 36 He sent out the word to the sons of Israel to declare to them the good news of peace through Jesus Christ: this One is Lord of all [others].

  • Cindy in KY

    Actually, I think the church has that right, without being political, if they believe that it is a faith decision. We can decide which church we belong to and on what faith positions we will stand. They are not saying that such and such person can or cannot run for office in the government, they are saying who is welcome in their church. Not political in the sense the IRS will be interested.

    It doesn’t matter that I disagree with that decision. I will simply not attend that church.

  • Jay

    these two have some explaining to do….Gary Alley and Nina Blackburn

  • rev. eric

    perhaps if they read their Bibles, they would find that Moses,the man of God, married a black lady (cushite). It created a problem with his brother and sister, but not God.

  • MST

    My family is interracial and we never had any problem finding a welcoming church, but then again, I live in a big, diverse city. Maybe Ms. Harville and her fiance should find another church — or another city to live in!

    @Karen — you would be most welcome in my church, too!

    @Matt — I guess I’m not like “most people,” but my son is biracial and his girlfriend is white. They recently had a son who is one quarter black and looks very white, with fair skin and no discernible African features, but I love him dearly, even though he doesn’t resemble me at all!

  • jokr8790

    Is this church permitted to discriminate in this manner and still retain their tax exempt status?

  • Roger

    It is hard to imagine any inter-racial couple that would want to associate with such bigots but that does not make their stand defensible. I agree with previous poster that such organizations should lose their tax free status.

  • Emma Onawa

    Can’t believe there are prople who still think this way in 2011. Will the human race ever grow up completely?

  • bsman

    I think that churches like this one, the Wesboro Baptist Church (of God hates fags infamy) and others that take on policies in direct opposition to the bill of rights are perfectly free to do so, but then in doing so they become political, not religious institutions and as such should be made to surrender their tax-exempt status. I firmly believe that doing this would help to eliminate the noxious practice we currently have in this country of religious institutions crossing the line into political advocacy.

  • Karen, a tired old lesbian

    I’m a native of western Kentucky. Although I’m not black, I am a lesbian, so I know what Kentucky-style discrimination feels like. In my opinion, most of the bigotry in the state comes from churches like this one whose members use the bible to justify their prejudices. A lot of people in the state have wised up to this biblically-thumped attempt at exclusion, but there is a lot and and it runs deep. I moved to Wisconsin to avoid some of the religious-based hatred I endured in Kentucky. It’s just not good to be different at all in the Bluegrass State.

    Wisconsin is far from perfect, but it beats Kentucky hands down.

  • Matt

    It’s called freedom, free will let them choose where and how they like to worship. Most people when they are honest wish their grandchildren look and believe as they do. It’s natural.

  • CriticalDragon1177

    Sorry,

    I meant to say,
    “We should point this out to people who oppose gay marriage on religious grounds”

  • CriticalDragon1177

    Marilyn Elias,

    We should put this out to people who oppose gay marriage on religious grounds

  • http://www.twitter.com/AronL, Aron

    ‘Give me your tired, your hungry, your poor huddled masses yearing to be free — so long as they’re the right color, m’kay?’

    I don’t know how to respond to this. Other than perhaps thanking the wonders of probability that I was borne to a Jewish family… Yeesh.