Church Votes Against Interracial Couples Becoming Members

I thought it was a typo when I read that a Pike County (Kentucky) church had “taken a stand” against interracial couples. What?! They mean the church is taking a stand for interracial couples, right?

Nope.

Prompted by the attendance of the couple above, Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church in Pike County, Kentucky has voted to deny church membership to interracial couples, forbidding them from taking part in certain “worship activities.”

It sounds to me like they’re doing those couples a favor.

In case you’re wondering, this rule is perfectly legal. In general, if there’s no state action, then there’s no right to equal treatment. (That’s a pretty big over-simplification of the issue, though. Businesses that serve the general population — like hotels — cannot violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by, say, discriminating against African Americans.) That said, the government can’t mandate that churches refrain from discriminating against interracial couples.

Is this what we mean by separation of church and state? Should it be?

When I read this story, my first thought (as mentioned above) was that the church was doing this couple a favor: they can now get the heck out of there and do some serious questioning of their beliefs and their community. But let’s say, hypothetically, that this was the only church in town, in a town that’s dominated by religious life, such that excluding the couple from the church amounted to excluding them from a large swath of social and political life.

Should the government get involved then? Again, legally, the answer is no. Personally, my answer would be no as well, but I can see how, for some people, the answer might be yes. What’s the answer for you?

Legal issues aside, I’ve always found this type of behavior to be incredibly bizarre. The church is doing this, presumably, because the Hebrew Bible has a problem with the Israelites getting it on with foreigners. But unless the church also recommends stoning your daughter if she has sex before marriage and avoiding shellfish, I don’t see why the passage in question here should be taken seriously by anyone.

About katherine

Born in Texas, Katherine is now a lawyer in the northwestern United States.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DocMonkey Mick Wright

    Of course you don’t see how the passage can be taken seriously, Hemant, you’re not locked in a mindset where these filthy little rules are taken as equal to the laws of physics in terms of importance for the world’s function.

    I’m dating a Southern Baptist. I try to be tolerant of the religious. Really, I do. But it’d be a couple of nights on the sofa if she could hear my thoughts right now.

    • dorothy30

      and you’re pursuing this relationship why, exactly???

      • MadRed

        Perhaps love has something to do with that choice.

        • The Other Weirdo

          In the end, however, love *doesn’t* conquer all. Religion scorches everything it touches, even nominally non-religious people who, as it turns out, are still beholden to religious relatives back home. Even if “back home” is a continent away.

    • Anonymous

      Another silver lining is that it really does go to show that people will pick and chose what they accept based on what prejudices they have.  Racists will go and find passages to interpret their way and justify their racism rather than be challenged to grow.  Moses had married a black woman, and the story says God punished the person that objected to that marriage with leprosy.

    • Secular Planet

      A couple nights of the sofa implies you’re living with this girl right now while you’re dating. How does she justify “living in sin” while taking the Bible so seriously? I don’t get it.

      • http://www.bblss.org Miki

        Oh, c’mon.  You know how this works.  Like “all of us” she’s a sinner falling short of the “glory of God.”  As long as she’s not caught before she can ask forgiveness, it’s all good.

  • Pete084

    Errm, how does a church have closed membership, I thought their god was the only one to make such decisions, and what happened to all the love and good will to ALL men?

    • Anonymous

      God hasn’t been around to make decisions in a while. (Due to a lack of exististance.) As for the love and good will… sounds good, perhaps it’s not the reality.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Religions, despite propaganda to the contrary, have never been about love and good will to ALL men. The gods Men invent are reflections of the worst impulses of the human race, given voice through holy books. They have always arbitrated membership because, you know, God isn’t there to do it for them. :)

    • Anonymous

      Always remember….. In the begining, man created Ghod.

  • Riptide

    Of course the government can’t get directly involved. But they can’t stop the deranged hippy leebrul faggots from The Coasts (tm, horror and awe) from descending on the town either digitally or literally and making the church regret their action. They can’t stop us from publicizing this as a very specific example of how religions promote *in*tolerance and *deny* love. They can’t, in short, stop themselves from getting fucked six ways from Jesusday.

    We need to get the Pharyngulites on this. STAT.

  • http://twitter.com/mandikaye Mandi Kaye

    Actually… many churches, particularly of this denomination, use 2 Corinthians 2:14 to justify this behavior. Well, part of it at least. It says, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?”

    Obviously it’s not at ALL referring to race, but I have heard many a sermon where the pastors say it also applies to interracial relationships.

    *facepalm*

    • Sarah T.

      So basically white women = believers and black men = unbelievers, despite their faith or lack thereof?

      Yes, not racist at all.

  • Anonymous

    Well, discrimination is discrimination, so if you ban one kind you really have to ban all kinds. That means if you allow for churches to become “public accomodations” they would then have to admit into membership:

    - People of all races
    - People of all sexual orientations, regardless of their views on the subject
    - People of all religions, which means a Hindu, or an atheist, could not be denied

    Now, though I have no love for churches (let alone for racist churches) it seems that if you do not allow them to employ their theology (no matter how twisted and wrong) to determine who is and is not a member, then you may as well declare them social clubs and be done with it.

    I think they should have the legal right to be as assholish about membership as they want. It’s true that in some towns not being in a church can exclude you from many social aspects, but the solution to that is to make sure that communities never depend solely or chiefly on a religious institution, and that means building up secular institutions to give people options.

  • Sven

    The State doesn’t need to get involved with this church’s internal affair. However, it will inevitably have an effect in the public space as individuals will consider this a sanction from God to behave punitively towards this and other interracial couples.

  • Anonymous

    Do churches allow the public to access their services?  Can you walk into a church during opening hours and reasonably expect to listen to the service, sing along to the songs or to pray?  If so then they serve the general population and should be under the same legislative limitations as any other business or service.  In what way is a church different?  Why should not have to obey the law of the land?

    Or is this simply a refusal to perform their wedding (which it seems that they haven’t asked for) and hypothetical baptisms, etc.  In which case these could reasonably be construed as membership only privileges to a private club.  Membership that could not and should not reasonably be denied based on skin colour.  I can understand a church not performing services for non-members but not to deny membership.This would never be tolerated in Europe you know.  We have laws against discrimination even if we allow special exceptions for religious hiring of staff.

    Still, the couple look quite happy and I agree that they are better off apart from the bigots of Pike church.

    • Rich Wilson

      In early November, Thompson proposed 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, according to a copy of the recommendation supplied by the Harvilles.
      The proposal also said “parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services” or other church functions, with the exception of funerals.
      The recommendation “is not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve,” the copy supplied to the Herald-Leader read.

      So they can still attend service, they just can’t be’used’ in worship services (which I presume means singing for the congregation).  All to ‘promote unity in the community’.  So, a majority of the community is racist, so to keep the community happy, they’re going with the racists.

      Keep in mind folks, it wasn’t until Nineteen Hundred and Ninety One (1991) that a national public opinion poll in the US showed majority support for interracial marriage.
      http://www.marriageequality.org/polls-and-studies

      Ouch!  Was that a collective head-desk I heard?

    • Anonymous

      It’s a little tricky because historically, not every church/religion allows just anyone off the street to participate or observe services. In fact, in an early stage of Christianity, non-baptised people were not allowed in during mass (i.e. group worship)  because at that time it was a mystery religion only open to initiates. With this type of precedent, it would be easy for this church to say: only members (or potential members) allowed in; those in an unauthorised marriage can’t be members; interracial marriages are forbidden by our doctrine; therefore this couple can’t come in. How this interacts with tax law is another issue.

  • EJC

    Yes, the government SHOULD get involved if this Baptist Church enjoys TAX FREE STATUS or any sort of financial programs the US or state of Kentucky allows. If it is like most churches, it gets tax-free status. This alone is enough reason to get involved, or to use as a great case for why churches should not get tax free status.

  • Anonymous

    Another great reason to tell ”religion” to go FORK ITSELF!!!!

  • BrandonUB

    While it’s unlikely that this is even remotely legal, the one good thing about it (as Hemant points out) is that everyone gets to find out exactly where they stand with the church in question. While I’m sure it’s painful for the couple in question to be ostracized, it’s still better than having lying scum whisper behind their backs.

    • Anonymous

      Separation of Church and Reason. Its not in the Constitution, but it is certainly their right.

  • Anonymous

    To the extent they are discriminating on the basis of race, the IRS may revoke their tax exemption.  This isn’t a religious freedom issue.  It’s a tax issue.  Only organizations that do not discriminate on the basis of race qualify as tax exempt.  They discriminate on the basis of race.  They should not have a tax exemption.  

  • Rich Wilson

    George Takei posted this on Facebook and said “I guess Brad and I have two strikes against us”.

    btw everyone, note that this was a guest post by katherine, not Hemant.

  • Gabriel

    I don’t know what the law on this is. But I love stories like this. This is one of the reasons that atheist, agnostic, non-religious and unaffiliated is growing. The churches are our best allies. They do more to drive people away from church than we can ever hope to do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    I think the present line on separation of church and state is a reasonable one.  And bear in mind that there are also freedom of association matters involved.

    Remember, the worst case scenario for this type of discrimination is an entire mono-religious town that snubs someone, without actually discriminating against them in employment or the provision of goods and services.  Because if either of the latter happened, there would be a separate cause of action for it.

    In the meantime, I appreciate that every so often these cases pop up.  Its worth remembering that this particular aspect of freedom of religion is only necessary because of how far religion often falls below modern standards of moral behavior.

  • http://www.ebfl.org Absolutes

    Sounds hypocritical to me.  According to the Bible, we are all one race, the human race, descended from Adam and Eve, one blood (Genesis chapter 3; Acts chapter 17).

    I’m a white guy, hoping to marry an East Indian woman, and we will serve the Lord together (we both are Christians).

    “Churches” like the one in this article should be avoided if they do not adhere correction (I think of Paul’s letter to Titus)

    • BrandonUB

      Excellent use of the No True Christian gambit with the scare quotes around “churches”.

      I’m unclear on what would make you decide to use Genesis as a source of factual information regarding human ancestry instead of genetics though.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Wow, serving the Lord seems to involve a lot of convoluted and largely fictional literature. Couldn’t you come up with something less ancient than Paul’s letter to Titus? All this marvelous, advanced Christian theology I keep hearing about, and it hasn’t changed an iota in 2,000 years. Has God seriously not imparted any new information, provided no new insight into the human condition, afforded the human race no clearer understanding of Himself than 2,000 year old scribblings from an area not known for scholastic excellence or even rational thought?

    • TheBlackCat

      Google “Hammite hypothesis”.  There is a lot of basis in the Bible for discrimanating on racial grounds.  Heck, the entire Old Testament is pretty much entirely about that, and the only part of the gospels that might argue against it appears to be a much later addition.  It isn’t until the epistles that we actually see some serious push-back against that.

      • Anonymous

        There is a rather (in)famous court decision in the US that justified segregation (I think) with something like “God put the different races on different continents for a reason and if it hadn’t been for men interfering with that it would have stayed that way”

  • Miko

    If they voted to keep them out, then a government mandate to force their inclusion would do absolutely nothing to bring them into the social and political(?!) life of the town.  The Civil Rights Movement was doing a fantastic job of changing hearts and minds before it was co-opted by the Civil Rights Act, at which point that all stopped.  The CRA is the (indirect) reason that so many people in the U.S. today are still racists: because it destroyed a social movement that was effectively combating racism to replace it with a weak and ineffective government mandate.  Try the same thing here and you’ll get the same result.

  • Annie

    After reading the entire article (linked above), it appears that many people in the community are against this decision.  I hope they will be against it enough to take a stand and leave this church.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    But they are probably going to reverse that soon. The congregation voted 9 to 6 to implement the ban with over 40 members choosing to abstain. So the majority of the church was unable to decide whether they were racist assholes or not.

    http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2011/12/02/380537/pastor-at-kentucky-church-that-banned-interracial-couples-calls-for-vote-to-reverse-decision/

  • Annaigaw

    This is a fine example of how churches are becoming less relevant to young people today. I’m sure the happy, young couple pictured above can find a supportive community among their peers.

    As for the government getting involved, churches are not restaurants serving the general public so they are free to discriminate in accepting membership. Let them continue to marginalize themselves into irrelevancy, I don’t have a problem with that.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    Is this what we mean by separation of church and state? Should it be?

    Yes.   Religions and religious institutes should be allowed to set their own beliefs and membership.

     However, I agree that their tax-free status should be revoked. 

    • http://thegodlessmonster.com The Godless Monster

      I agree. If we want separation of church and state, we need to acknowledge that it goes both ways – freedom from religion and freedom of religion.
      As long as they are free to pursue their own beliefs, I believe their tax-exempt status can be revoked without violating the U.S. Constitution.

  • http://youratheistmuse.blogspot.com Autumn Treadwell

    I want more of this to happen. I want this church’s next step to be to ban divorced couples from participating fully in church services. I want them to be *really* Bible-based, making more and more members and neighboring churches uncomfortable. And I want all those Christians who say, “My wife speaks in church, which Paul said women weren’t supposed to, but that’s okay because the church is evolving, but keep gays from marrying because that’s EVIL and the Bible says homosexuality is wrong!” to realize that they either have to go all in, or, instead, abandon any ideas that the Bible should be taken literally and, instead, start THINKING FOR THEMSELVES.  Maybe a few people at least will realize just how much religion has been holding them back. Maybe.

  • http://www.bblss.org Miki

    These are the experiences that sew those first seeds of doubt.  Maybe they’ll spawn a future American president who’ll discuss her roots in atheism as beginning with the time her parents were kicked out of church.  Kinda like how Condoleeza Rice claims she’s Republican because the Democrats wouldn’t allow her parents to register to vote. 

    • http://www.bblss.org Miki

      *sow

  • Bob Becker

    You asked:  ”Should the government get involved then?”

    No. Absolutely not.   The Constitution guarantees people the “free exercise of religion,” and that includes racial discrimination as a matter of faith in religious activities if that’s their doctrine.   

    Before anyone brings it up: no, of course the “free exercise” provision does not justify any action in the name of faith.  A church cannot for example on religious grounds put at risk the life of a minor by refusing medical help to save its life.  [Though any adult can refuse medical care on religious grounds.]  

    But those of this benighted church have a right to believe as they do and to association with others who share their belief  and to limit their church to those who believe as they do.   Absolutely no government intervention called for in this instance.  

    • Rich Wilson

      My Mormon cousin is convinced that if same sex marriage is legal, that her bishop will be forced to marry same sex couples against his conscience.  Patently false of course, but it’s my word against the bishop’s.

      But that a church can legally refuse to marry an interracial couple is a pretty good argument for the notion that a church can also refuse to marry a same sex couple.

      Which is fine with me.  There are plenty of churches a gay couple can go to.  It’s not like they’re Gelato shops or Jiffy Lubes.

      • Bob Becker

        Living here in Utah, I’ve run into the same. I usually try to counter with divorce. It’s been legal in every state for a very long time. But the Catholic Church does not recognize civil divorces and will not marry [or remarry] Catholics within the Church who have obtained civil divorces.  And yet no state, no judge, no court, no government has ever attempted to force the Catholic Church to conduct marriages for divorced Catholics. Why should it be any different in re: gay marriage?

        • Ben

          Logic. Facts. Pffft. Since when are they relevant?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Just another late Cretaceous dinosaur stumbling its last few steps
    through the sticky mixture of post-impact soot and snow. Keep it up,
    Gulnare Freewill Baptist Churchasaurus, and your extinction will be more
    mercifully quick. Good riddance.

    Christianity needs only to look to its own members to find its most
    devastating enemies, those who shelter their hatred and ignorance under
    its rooftops.

    I hope that Stella and Ticha can find happiness and acceptance, although it may have to be far from either of their birthplaces.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Great post, Katherine. Welcome.

  • http://www.suburbansweetheart.com/ Suburban Sweetheart

    This is frustrating & sickening. And made all the more so by the fact that it’s legal. I’m all for the separation of church & state, & I do believe in religious exemptions in some instances, but this… makes me want to reconsider.

  • Dogmamaonly

    I wonder how the vote would have gone if the man had been white and the woman had been black.

  • EJC

    I wonder what Ken Hamm has to say about this. Doesn’t he have some mighty god-like sway down in Kentucky? Kentucky = the state with the Creation Museum where you and your kids can see how Fred Flintstone lived happily along side Dino, all while god planted fossils in the ground he would later blame on the jews…

    As an aside….just one more piece of proof on why the south lost….

    • Anonymous

      Technically, Kentucky is often considered a Midwestern state.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    to be fair…

    “This kind of thing brands all of us so easily,” said Randy Johnson, president of the Pike County Ministerial Association. “That’s not who we are. From all the churches I’ve talked to so far, it’s really not anger so much as it is shock.”

    Most of the people who attended the church had left because they didn’t want anything to do with that vote.
    http://news.yahoo.com/kentucky-church-votes-ban-interracial-couples-003419318.html

    I think we can all sympathize with that.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      No, I can’t sympathize with that. Leaving so they wouldn’t have to vote on it one way or another was cowardly and irresponsible. They should have stayed and not only voted that decision down, they should have also voted the bigots out of the church. For every bigot, bully, and hypocrite in a church who is directly harming people, there are always dozens of cowardly sheep who look away pretending they don’t see it. They bear an equal part of the blame.

      The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

        That’s not exactly what I was talking about. I was talking about the part where the assholes become so loud and overwhelming that they become the bad stereotypes of an entire group. We’ve have that happen too since not all atheists are exactly a shining example of us.

        Yes, the people attending the specific church didn’t have the courage to stand up and endure a fight against the bigots and whatever other harm that would have caused them. But Christians all around the region and country are standing strongly against it. It was an isolated incident and it wouldn’t be fair to judge Christians or Christianity on the hate of a few when the majority are against it.

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          Ah, I see what you were getting at, Larry.  Yes, the ugly few can cast a shadow across the general group, and it is not fair to judge them all by their idiot brethren. It is heartening to see other Christians in the area repudiating the bigots. I hope that something positive on a human level can come from this painful and embarrassing incident.

    • Ben

      ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’ – Edmund Burke

  • Anonymous

    Should the government get involved then? Again, legally, the answer is no. Personally, my answer would be no as well, but I can see how, for some people, the answer might be yes. What’s the answer for you?

    No, no, no, no, a thousand times no.   Rights of religion and association are both at play here, and the government must not interfere.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Daniel-Werst/1318164479 Daniel Werst

    One thing i read about this story that pisses me off even more:
    Apparently, a majority of the church members who could’ve voted on this decision ABSTAINED.

    What a bunch of spineless cowards, allowing their unashamed racist peers to win the vote. Christians are supposedly called to stand up against injustice and for the oppressed…can’t think of a worse way to fail than this.

    • Rich Wilson

      I wonder if the women were given a vote.  And I wonder how different it would have been with a secret ballot (assuming it wasn’t).

  • http://MichelFortin.com Michel Fortin

    When I shared this news from HuffPo, someone disagreed with me. Even though this was disgusting on the part of the church, this fellow said, it is irrelevant as it is within the church’s right, as a private entity, to do as they wish.

    But I reminded him that it’s certainly not.

    Like Hitch often says, if churches get government tax breaks, they are therefore subsidized by public funds, ergo they are public entities. Not private. And as such, by law they must abide by public policy — racial discrimination being one of them.

    Case in point: Bob Jones University v. United States Supreme Court ruling about banning interracial marriages:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Jones_University_v._United_States

    Educational and religious institutions fall under the banner of that ruling. Which is actually a clarification of an 1861 ruling whereby charitable organizations that receive tax exemptions *must* abide by, if not at least never contradict, public policy.

  • Diandra128

    Separation of church and state works both ways.  The bible forbids interracial marriage, therefore this couple should look for a more tolerant church or join the ranks of the many that are finally beginning to question the religions that they were brainwashed into.  The government cannot and should not do a thing about racial issues within a church.


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