Outrage at church's bigotry a sign of progress

Editorial Dec 2, 2011

One of the great story lines of all time pits the forces of bigotry against the power of love – from Romeo and Juliet to Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Brokeback Mountain.

It makes sense then that a Pike County church's condemnation of interracial marriage – aimed at one couple in particular – unleashed a groundswell of public interest and disapproval.

We suspect that Stella Harville and Ticha Chikuni could have done without this moment in the spotlight.

Harville, 24, a graduate student who grew up in the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church, is white. Chikuni, 29, her fiance and a student advisor at Georgetown College and originally from Zimbabwe, is black.

At a church service last summer, Chikuni sang I Surrender All while Harville accompanied him on piano. Their appearance didn't sit well with at least one member, so after last Sunday's service, the Gulnare congregation was asked to go on record against interracial marriage and to exclude interracial couples from church membership and the worship program.

Most of the 40-some worshipers left or didn't vote; the resolution was approved 9-6.

The decision was reported by East Kentucky Broadcasting, a radio network, and people haven't stopped talking about it since.

The church is free to exclude whomever it wants and to set its own rules. The First Amendment guarantees that right – just as it guarantees the rights of others to express their revulsion at the church's action, which they've been doing in droves.

We're sorry that Harville and Chikuni had to feel the sting of bigotry, especially in a place where she felt at home.

At the same time, their story is a reminder of how far we've come and how the distances that separate humankind have narrowed. It was less than 50 years ago that laws were still on the books in many states enforcing racial segregation in almost all aspects of life and society.

Now a young woman can leave the hills of Eastern Kentucky and meet a young man from Africa. They can fall in love. And no one but a handful of backward busybodies cares that their skins do not match. The rest of us just wish them a happy ending.

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