In a move to "promote greater unity" among its body and the Pike County community it serves, a small Kentucky church voted to ban interracial couples from membership and from participating in certain worship activities,Kentucky.com reports.
Though reminiscent of some Jim Crow-era mandate, the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church actually made the decision earlier this month, following a visit from 24-year-old Stella Harville, daughter of the church's secretary and clerk, and her 29-year-old fiance, Ticha Chikuni, a native of Zimbabwe.
According to Harville's father, Dean Harville, Stella brought Chikuni to the church in June where they performed a song for the congregation.
Following the visit, former pastor Melvin Thompson told Harville that his daughter and her fiance could not sing at the church again. Thompson later proposed that the church go on record saying that while all people were welcome to attend public worship services there, the church did not condone interracial marriage.
His proposal, which was accepted by a 9-6 vote last week, also suggested that married interracial couples be prohibited from becoming members and used in worship activities, except for funerals.
"It's not the spirit of the community in any way, shape or form," said Randy Johnson, president of the Pike County Ministerial Association, according to Kentucky.com.
While Pike County and the surrounding community come to grips with the church's decision, researchers at Ohio State University and Cornell University say black-white marriages in the United States are soaring, increasing threefold, from 3 percent in 1980 to 10.7 percent in 2008.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story implied that Melvin Thompson is the current pastor of Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church. The current pastor is Stacy Stepp.