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Interracial couple ban voted "null and void"

Controversy about a freewill baptist church's decision not to condone interracial marriage in Pike County has caught national attention.

The Sandy Valley Conference includes more than a dozen member churches, and they voted Saturday in Bowling Fork to reinforce rules to help the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church.

The Sandy Valley Conference's meeting was closed to the public.

The meeting was scheduled before the controversy erupted at Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church, but it was still a hot topic on the agenda.

"I don't believe it's right. People should be able to worship. I don't care what color their skin is," said Mr. Bowling, who lives in Bowling Fork and attends the church that the meeting was held in.

"We believe that everyone is welcome in the house of God, and we are not a racist group of people," said Bobby Mullins, the pastor at Martin County Freewill Baptist Church.

A vote conducted by Pastor Stacy Stepp banned interracial couples membership at his church.

Members of the Sandy Valley Conference say that Pastor Stacy Stepp asked for their assistance.

Conference members say Pastor Stepp's vote was not in proper order.

"No motion is in order that conflicts with the laws of the nation or state or with the assembly's constitution of by laws. And if such motion is adopted, even by an unanimous vote, it is null and void," said Jim Patton, the pastor at Pikeville Freewill Baptist Church and a member of the Sandy Valley Conference.

Pastor Stepp plans on bringing his church together to vote on the matter one last time.

But members of the conference say racism of any form is unacceptable and another vote will not change their decision.

"It's done. It's over. It's against our rules," said Patton.

The interracial couple in question is Stella Harville and her fiance from Zimbabwe.

The Harville family says they have no hard feelings.

"My daughter is doing good on this. She's moving forward. It's time to get it behind us. She's doing okay," said Dean Harville, who is Stella's father and a member of Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church.

The Harvilles say they are ready for their church to get back to normal by allowing all people of all races to attend.

Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church's final vote on interracial marriage is set for Sunday following the church's morning service.


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