Voluntary Discrimination

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryHere is a dilemma: your church decides that you can no longer attend services nor be allowed to participate in church activities because you married a spouse of a different race and/or different ethnic group. This is what has happened at the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church in Pike County in Kentucky. A long-time church member, Stella Harville, has along with her fiance been banned from the church because her fiance, Ticha Chikuni, is an African from Zimbabwe. The church membership by a majority vote decided that they disapproved of interracial marriages and will not allow interracial couples into the church nor perform church services for interracial couples except for funerals.

To put it mildly it has sparked outrage from other Baptist churches, calling it “unchristian.” It is discrimination at its worst. The church membership has chosen that they do not like anyone who is not “white” (yes, the entire membership is white, and the reason why they chose this interracial marriage ban). We must keep in mind that this church is a private institution that does not follow federal nor state laws. We must remember that the majority of the membership chose this position—many of the others remain silent. We must also remember that this church has chosen this policy of discrimination because, ironically, it is part and parcel to “freedom of worship.”

Even if I see a lawsuit here, the problem is that this is by a private religious institution. This is not the first time that a church, or a private institution or organization, will not accept people because of their race or ethnic group. There have been cases of certain other churches, and very extreme organizations that do not want non-white membership. The sad thing here is that it opens a very dangerous pandora’s box that other private institutions and organizations might follow. They can claim that they have a “right” to choose who their membership will be, or who can be in their congregation. The danger here is that this can be a not-so back door approach to allowing discrimination.

Such discrimination can creep into a number of places. It can be churches and extreme rightist group today, but it can be restaurants, private transportation companies (like taxis or bus lines), and even certain academic institutions tomorrow. Yes, both federal and state laws are supposed to prevent racial discrimination especially where public establishments are concerned and follow federal and state regulations. But this is a problem in private institutions where they do not feel an obligation to follow federal and state law in this regards. It is a very dangerous trend that can spread in defense of another freedom .

[Note: The pastor of the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church, Stacy Stepp, has declared the vote null and void. No doubt due to the bad publicity the church as received]

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