PIKEVILLE, KY (12/6/11) - A small Free Will Baptist congregation in Pikeville, KY has caused a firestorm of controversy and questions over the last week throughout the state after news that they voted to prohibit inter-racial couples from entering into membership or activity with the church came to light.
Melvin Thompson, a member of the church, introduced a resolution to the church after the daughter of the church secretary, Dean Harville, visited the church with her African-born boyfriend, and the couple sang for the congregation earlier this year.
Thompson has been quoted as saying that he is not a racist, and that this matter is an internal issue with the church. However, national media attention on the small Appalachian congregation has made it one of the most famous Free Will Baptist churches in the country.
The congregation’s decision to bar interracial couples has also caused a public relations nightmare for the National Association of Free Will Baptists. According to a press release from the Free Will Baptist Association’s Executive Office, “The National Association of Free Will Baptists does not have an official policy regarding interracial couples because it has not been an issue in the denomination. The Free Will Baptist Treatise neither condemns nor disallows marriage between a man and woman of different races….Many interracial couples are members of Free Will Baptist churches. They are loved, accepted, and respected by their congregations. It is unfair and inaccurate to characterize the denomination as racist.”
Keith Burden, the Executive Secretary for the denomination based in Antioch, Tennessee, has also been quoted as saying that although the Gulnare FWBC is an autonomous congregation, if steps were not taken to correct the church’s mistake, the National Association could recommend withdrawing from fellowship with GFWBC.
The decision by the church has also caused backlash among other Free Will Baptists. Zack Anderson, youth pastor at Owensboro’s First Free Will Baptist Church, tells SurfKY News that the decision by GFWBC is not typical of the Free Will Baptist denomination. “It is absolutely wrong.” says Anderson, “Our association and its churches welcome all races.” Hundreds of Free Will Baptists have spoken out against the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church via Twitter and Facebook, making it one of the biggest controversies to ever strike the denomination.
That will no longer be an issue, however, as the Sandy Valley Conference of Free Will Baptists voted Thompson’s resolution null and void at a meeting on Saturday, stating that new bylaws cannot run contrary for local, state, and national laws. Stacy Stepp, pastor at GFWBC, has been quoted as saying that the new resolution was discriminatory in nature, and therefore couldn’t be adopted.
Calls to both the Thompson and Harville residences by SurfKY news were unsuccessful.
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