The Sunday Poll: “Not in my church!”; or, Is Racism Here To Stay?

My husband and I will not be visiting the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church.

We don’t take kindly to your singing together around here.

That was the message a couple in Kentucky got when they performed a song together at the woman’s home church. It should’ve just been a nice little interlude for the congregation, but Melvin Thompson, the long-time pastor of the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church, afterward made a point of telling the couple they wouldn’t be welcome back.

The problem was that Stella Harville is white, and her fiance, Ticha Chikuni, a Zimbabwe native, is black.

In August, Thompson informed the Harville family that Stella and her partner would not be allowed to sing in church again. He stepped down as pastor shortly after that, but wouldn’t let the issue go, because while the new pastor decided that Harville and Chikuni could sing in church if they wanted to, Thompson got busy introducing a proposal to officially discourage interracial marriage among church members.

A Kentucky.com article quotes from the recommendation: “parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services” or other church functions (though they could come to funerals). This “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.”

Some unity.

It was decided that this policy should go to a vote before the congregation. Six people voted against it. Nine people voted for it. The rest didn’t want to reveal their opinion.

“It sure ain’t Christian. It ain’t nothing but the old devil working,” Harville’s father is quoted as saying.

Indeed.

“Why are you laughing?” my husband asked mildly when I told him about this joyous little nugget earlier this week. I said I had to laugh, because otherwise I’d get really pissed off that things like this still happen.

I try to tell myself that if we just stay out of the Kentucky neighborhood, we’ll be fine. Things are different in Philadelphia.

Yes, there are members of the older generation and what I’ve always thought of as “ignorance racism.” My 88-year-old grandmother isn’t going to stop asking me whether I mind that my friends in South Africa are black.

But I got stopped cold early this year, when I was on the job-hunt networking circuit and lunched with an esteemed colleague who had resume advice.  We discussed ways to present my skill set and professional arenas I could adapt myself to. We were almost done lunch, but I could see that there was something else she wanted to say. She had gotten a piece of advice for me from someone else, and was afraid of offending me, but she also wanted to be honest, even though she didn’t necessarily agree with the tip.

She had circulated my resume to a department head in her organization, a prominent local non-profit. He had said that I should change the “Mabaso” on my resume to some other name,  because hiring managers would assume I was black, and therefore toss my resume in the trash.

I gaped like a fish for a second or two. Then I managed to say that if a company would really throw a person’s resume out because of their race, I wouldn’t want to work there anyway.

America has come a long way when it comes to race relations. Hasn’t it? I guess the question I would put to you, dear readers, is whether or not you think we’re slowly moving toward a racism-free world, or if the above examples of prejudice are proof that a society without racism is impossible. Will there always be some dark corner where Melvin Thompsons sow their mean and pointless division?

Notice there is no answer option for those who think interracial marriage bans are a good idea. If you were looking for this option, you are welcomed to my blog just as warmly as Mr. Thompson welcomed Ticha Chikuni to church.

P.S. I want to put in an apology to regular readers, because I know I’ve been slacking the last few weeks on the Sunday Poll. My beloved great-aunt is not long for this world, and I’m one of her caretakers. After many hours of hospice care on the weekends, I’ve been going to bed instead of blogging. I’ll try to get back on track. 

 

 

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10 Comments

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  1. Sadly, I think that legislation will be the only thing that will curb racism, rather than people coming to their senses. If anything, the heavy influx of imigration throughout Europe is having a negitive impact on a lot of people. I wish I could say that it’s old thinking or the narrowmindedness of a small town, but it’s pervasive. Poeple just don’t speak of it out loud. But if enough people acrosss races married and had kids and we moved toward a population of indeterminate races….

    • We’re already a population of indeterminate races. According to what I’ve read, modern genetic science is increasingly proving that race is already more of a social construct than anything else. And if you’re right about legislation being the only answer (and I fear you are), that’s not really curbing racism at all, just racism’s outward effects, but I guess that’s the best we can do. The need for anti-racism legislation actually proves that racism is alive and well, because if people naturally saw each other as equals, we wouldn’t need such laws.

  2. When I lived in Alabama I was truly horrified by the racism I saw there, not just towards African Americans, but towards “anyone who looked like they could be a terrorist” and, yes, “Yankees”. And women. I also think it’s no surprise that Alabama has the second to worst educational system in the US. I don’t know if lack of education is the only thing to blame, but dumb ideas rush in where education is absent for sure. That’s why I had to leave there in a hurry!

    • When I visited South Africa in past years, I used to get on my high horse because I thought that our civil rights movement preceded South Africa’s by a few decades, and therefore the US was much further along as far as race relations. But I’m continually convinced that Americans aren’t doing that well in this arena. South Africans have a long way to go too, but they have come a fairly amazing distance since the early nineties. I don’t think Americans have done as well since the sixties. Glad you moved up here!

  3. in the questionairre I said i still think that there is racism in society and that some still promote it. I think that the “older” generation is still predominantly racist and some of them don’t really even know it or sadly, understand it. When that generation dies, I think there will be less fertile ground for sowing the seeds of racism, but….I do think there are churches and “churched” people who are very racist and try and promote that. I find small minded meaness towards others appalling.

    • After I wrote this poll and went to bed, I was thinking that maybe I had excused the oldsters too easily. Is it ok to make excuses for them b/c they’re from a different time? Of course, many elderly people are not racist.

  4. This always astounds me when I read news like this. Perhaps I could understand if the singers garbled off key, like the woman who loves to sit in the pew behind me and split the ends of my hair with her sonic musical blasts. But to ban praising God based on the color of one’s skin.????? Being an oldster myself, I say hogwash to bigotry based on age. This was a case of Mr. Thompson’s small-minded, short-sided, Biblical stupidity..

    • I always worried that I was that person behind you in church – my cousins sing for a living but the gene skipped me. Oldsters always welcome on my blog – thanks for stopping by. I think many in the older generation are perfectly tolerant, thanks for proving my hunch.

  5. It amazes me that Americans can put down Hindus for their caste system when after 400 years of covert miscegenation, the so called races in America are actually castes. If miscegenation is so offensive to some white people, why don’t they just convert to Hinduism?

    • I myself am a devout miscegenationist. I also shake my head at Americans who extol our classless society. Social, economic, sexual, religious or racial divisions sometimes seem as rigid here as they do in many other countries the US would criticize. In my experience, fortunately, I don’t think the racists represented in this particular church are the norm nowadays. As to your question, I’m pretty sure Hindus are hedonistic and dangerous yoga-worshiping pagans.

      And it is true that nowadays, race is usually a social construct rather than an objective physical or genetic one.

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