Stella Harville, 24, has been attending the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church in eastern Kentucky her entire life. A vote within the congregation last week, however, will keep her from entering its doors ever again.
As long as she stays married to a black man.
Harville, a long time parishioner at the Pike County, KY church, is white. That’s fine and dandy for the shot callers at the place of worship, but after she brought her husband, Zimbabwe-born Ticha Chikuni into Gulnare, they decided to rethink things. After a vote of 9-to-6 last week, interracial couples have been ordered to keep out of the church.
The vote was brought to order after former pastor Melvin Thompson proposed someone take a stand earlier this year after the couple came to the church to pray a few times , but the priest says he isn’t racist at all.
“I am not racist,” Thompson tells the Associated Press. “I will tell you that. I am not prejudiced against any race of people, have never in my lifetime spoke evil.”
Believe it or not, some find that hard to believe.
“If he’s not racist, what is this?” asks the church’s secretary, Dean Harville; he’s also Stella’s dad.
The elder Harville calls the move “a black eye to the church, a black eye to our community and a black eye to God.”
“The way I look at it, it’s a slap in God’s face to say something like this.”
Thompson begs to differ.
“I do not believe this will give our church a black eye at all,” he responds to The Guardian.
About 25 parishioners left the church in lieu of voting for or against Thompson’s measure, but he still insists it isn’t a matter of race.
“That’s what this is being portrayed as, but it is not,” he swears. Instead, he says, the move “was not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve.”
“It’s embedded in our culture, especially in certain areas, that interracial marriage is wrong,” responds Stella Harville to The Guardian. “Some of them have tried to invoke the Bible to support their argument, but anyone who reads the Bible knows there is no scripture saying this.”
Thompson says that the matter is “an internal affair,” but as far as he is concerned himself, he says he personally doesn’t believe in interracial marriages.
Keep in mind, however, that he’s not racist. No, no, no. Stella’s mother, Cathy, however, thinks that Thompson might be a bit confused. When she confronted the pastor over his gripe, she says he responded that “The best thing that Stella can do is take her boyfriend back to where he came from.”
Chikuni came to America over a decade ago and is currently employed as a student advisor at Georgetown College.
“I think part of me is still in shock and trying to process what’s been going on the past few days,” Stella tells the AP from Indiana, where she is currently pursuing a master’s degree. “I really hope they overturn this,” she adds.