Small Town Divided After Church Briefly Bans Interracial Couples

Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church originally voted 9-6 against allowing interracial couples to become members.

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Stella Harville / AP

Stella Harville and her fiance, Ticha Chikuni, pose for a picture in Richmond, Ky.

Here’s a story that will have you double-checking your calendar to see what decade it is. A church in rural Kentucky recently voted to ban interracial couples from becoming members. Even more depressing was the vote’s results: 9-6 against interracial couples.

Apparently the church, Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church, voted in late November after Stella Harville who is white and the daughter of the church’s secretary, visited the parish in the summer. She brought her boyfriend Ticha Chikuni, who is black and from Africa, with her, and the couple sang during the service. Stella’s father, Dean, said it was only a few weeks later when he was approached by Melvin Thompson, the church’s former pastor who stepped down earlier this year, and informed that his daughter and her now-fiance would no longer be able to sing at Gulnare Free Will Baptist. That mandate was later held to a vote after a Sunday service, where Dean Harville said many members declined to vote.

But nine members did vote in favor of the ban which meant that while anyone could attend services, interracial couples were not welcome to join the church or participate in church services.

“I am not racist. I will tell you that,” Thompson, the man who orchestrated the decision, told the Associated Press. “I am not prejudiced against any race of people, have never in my lifetime spoke evil about a race.”  What, if not racial prejudice, he has against interracial couples, he did not clarify.

Unsurprisingly, the decision divided the community, as some were upset by the decision and, presumably, that fact that it was an issue put to vote in the first place. That doesn’t even mention the widespread criticism the little church faced once news of the vote broke. The church’s pastor, Stacy Stepp, who had said he was against the decision from the start, told the Associated Press on Monday that the decision had been overturned as the vote was not only discriminatory, but it was against the law. Because, you know, it’s 2011.

MORE: TIME Topics: Christianity