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Published: Saturday, 12/3/2011

Church's interracial ban spurs firestorm

Officials rush to revoke policy


LOUISVILLE -- When Stella Harville brought her black boyfriend to her family's all-white church in rural Kentucky, she thought nothing of it. She and Ticha Chikuni worshipped there whenever they were in town and he even sang in front of the congregation during one service.

Then in August, a member of Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church told Ms. Harville's father that Mr. Chikuni couldn't sing there anymore.

And last Sunday, church members voted 9-6 to bar mixed-race couples from joining the congregation.

The policy has drawn a firestorm of criticism and sent church leaders scrambling to overturn it, perhaps as early as Sunday.

The executive secretary of the church's national organization said he has been inundated with angry phone calls.

"We are not a group of racist people," said Keith Burden of the National Association of Free Will Baptists. "We have been labeled that obviously because of the actions of nine people."

The resolution approved by the Gulnare church says it does not condone interracial marriage and "parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services and other church functions, with the exception being funerals."

Ballots were cast after the service, attended by about 35 to 40 people, but it wasn't clear why so few people voted.

The church member and former pastor who pushed for the vote, Melvin Thompson, wouldn't tell the Associated Press why he did it.

"I am not racist. I will tell you that. I am not prejudiced against any race of people, have never in my lifetime spoke evil" about a race, Mr. Thompson said in an interview. "That's what this is being portrayed as, but it is not."

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