What started off as a local story originally reported by East Kentucky Broadcasting, then via Kentucky.com has quickly soared to a nationally covered story by the Huffington Post, New York Daily News, and USA Today, just to name a few.
Yet again, Kentucky gains national attention for a perceived culture of ignorance and no-shoe-wearing-backwoods-rednecks. Though news coverage has soared, in its wake it leaves a sore black-eye on the state of Kentucky as well, in addition to the many great people of Pike County and Eastern Kentucky.
Not familiar with the story? Here’s a quick recap:
- Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church, a small Pike County church that usually has about 40 people for Sunday service, recently voted to ban interracial couples from membership and from participating in certain worship activities in an effort to “promote greater unity”.
- The vote was passed on Sunday - 9 to 6, with a number of members abstaining, to institute the ban.
- According to Harville's father, Dean Harville, Stella (24-year-old daughter of the church’s secretary and clerk) brought Chikuni (29-year-old fiancé, a native of Zimbabwe) 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 fiancé 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. [via Huffington Post]
- Thompson tells The Louisville Courier-Journal that he is "not prejudiced against any race of people, have never in my lifetime spoke evil about a race. That's what this is being portrayed as, but it is not." He calls the issue an "internal affair" of the church. [via USA Today]
- Randy Johnson, President of the Pike County Ministerial Association states, "It's not the spirit of the community in any way, shape or form." He also said the reactions have included heartbreak and disbelief. "Most of us thought that we'd moved well beyond that," he said. Harville said he plans to ask the conference of churches to which Gulnare Freewill Baptist belongs to overturn the vote. [via Kentucky.com]
- Watch WKYT-27’s video as they talk to the family below.
Regardless of the events and actions that have transpired by a very small minority of people in Pike County, I’m here to say that they DO NOT speak for the greater population of Kentucky nor the beliefs of many Christians. Yes, we wear shoes and no, we're not all Bible-thumpers or a bunch of hillbillies who are missing half our teeth. Simply stated, we are a community of educated, accepting and intelligent people.
Jason Falls, a proud native of Pikeville (and also author, speaker, and CEO), had this to add after I reached-out:
"Pike County is no different from Jefferson County, New York City, L.A. or Chicago. There are rich, poor, smart, not smart, good parts of town and bad parts, and so on. The difference is that when one person in the minority says or does something narrow minded, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
I saw a number of friends on Facebook organizing protests at the church, all from Pikeville or Pike County. Thinking that everyone (or even most) people from Pikeville are backwards in their thinking is like saying Jed Clampett represents what Kentuckians are really like."
- Jason Falls, proud native of Pikeville, Ky.
I could go on, but I think it’s best to close by quoting a Kentucky native, Muhammad Ali, which I feel better articulates and simplifies my thoughts:
“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”
“Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn't matter which color does the hating. It's just plain wrong.”
What are your thoughts? We’d love to hear from you, sound off in the comments below.
**Updated December 1st 9:05 PM - an official statement has been released by the Free Will Baptist Executive Office and can be found here.
Photo: By Stella Harville via AP