A US church has been plunged into a racism row after it banned interracial couples from joining its congregation. Members at Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church, in Kentucky, have voted to prevent interracial couples from becoming members or taking part in any services other than funerals.

The ban has opened a war of words between worshippers in the Pike County community and provoked accusations of discrimination. It was imposed after Stella Harville, the church secretary's daughter, attended a service with her black fiance Ticha Chikuni.

Harville accompanied Chikuni on the piano as he sang the hymn I Surrender All at the service in June.
Her father Dean Harville accused Melvin Thompson, the church's former pastor who crafted the resolution, of racism.

"Thompson told me that Stella and her boyfriend were not allowed to sing in the church any more," said Harville. "If he's not racist, what is this?" He added that the ban was a "black eye to the church, a black eye to our community and a black eye to God".

"The way I look at it, it's a slap in God's face to say something like this," he said. The resolution said that anyone is welcome to attend services, but interracial couples could not be "received as members, nor will they be used in worship services and other church functions -- with the exception being funerals".

The move "was not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve," Thompson's motion said.Thompson said, "I am not racist. I will tell you that," he said.

1967 The year in which the US made it legal for interracial couples to marry