I am positive that I have talked about racism here before. Being Southern by birth and heritage, it’s an inescapable part of me. I openly admit that I had racist parents. But I also will add that they were what I think of as “generational” racists, meaning that they believed and repeated what they’d heard from their own parents. It had nothing to do with their personal experiences with people of color. They just grew up hearing a bunch of garbage and regurgitated it right back out.
This brings to mind a snippet from a live recording of a Carmen concert that I have on tape. On it he quotes Philippians 4:8.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Then he says, “Basically, garbage in, garbage out.” I have never forgotten that. And as it relates to the vast majority of the racism I grew up being exposed to, I know most were just dumping out the same old garbage they’d been ingesting all their lives.
I grew up being exposed to it all, too. I won’t even repeat the countless things I remember hearing my parents say. And I know I repeated at least some of it before I was old enough to recognize it for the garbage it was. I also know that my mother at least learned that much of what she’d been taught to believe was wrong. Mostly this came when she was finally in a situation where she worked with a black woman on a daily basis. That experience changed much of how she thought and felt. Still, I can only imagine the bedlam that would have ensued if I had met and fallen in love with someone of color, then tried to bring him home.
Which brings us to the situation that has got me thinking about all this. You may or may not have already heard about it. But it comes from a Freewill Baptist church in Eastern Kentucky. Here’s the link: US Church Bans Mixed-Race Couples.
Man, my heart sank when I first read that headline a day or so ago. Mostly because I knew that it would ignite a firestorm of backlash from untold numbers calling the church in question racists and worse. I know that it is likely less about straightforward racism though, than about a handful of people clinging to old prejudices and Bible verses taken out of context.
God laid out an extensive list of rules for the Israelites. One of them was that they were not to intermarry with other nations. The Old Testament mentions this more than once. Clearly God meant what He was saying. And He was kind enough to give us the reasons why He did not want His people marrying those of other nationalities. That reason is not only a sensible one, but a practical one. In short, He didn’t want His people marrying people from other nations because those people would have their own gods and beliefs and this likely would cause the Jews to stray from their devotion to God. Makes a lot of sense. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to remain strong in your faith when the person you are closest to not only didn’t share it, but urged you to dump your faith and follow theirs. And even if your spouse wasn’t pushing you to share their beliefs, it would inhibit complete unity between you if your core beliefs differed. So God forbade His people from mixed-nationality marriage. (Notice I said nationality, not race.)
As a quick aside, He also forbade them from wearing blended fabrics. He commanded that they should wear tassels on the corners of their garments. He commanded that men should not cut the hair on their temples. He commanded that His people observe a series of festivals and feasts throughout the year. He commanded that on the seventh day no work of any kind was to be done. He declared that certain animals could not be eaten because they were “unclean.” The list – if you want to call it that – goes on and on and on.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe that God laid down these laws. And I believe that He not only expected but demanded that they be obeyed. There are multiple examples in the Bible of people who flaunted these laws and rules and paid some steep consequences. Many of the great men of God were led astray by wives (or concubines – another thing God did not condone) and wound up turning their backs on God and worshiping other deities. Most of them came back to God eventually, but that straying caused them a lot of grief. So, there is absolutely Biblical evidence that God did indeed prohibit certain marriages.
HOWEVER – and this is the thing that so many seem to either miss or intentionally turn a blind eye to – these edicts about marriage are all in the Old Testament. They are all a part of the Law that was given to the Jews. Which is where the problem with prohibiting interracial marriage TODAY arises.
First, we are not under the Law. Jesus made that abundantly clear. He came to fulfill the Law. And even if one wants to make some kind of argument against that (though I can’t imagine how) there is the also ignored point that the Law was given to the Jews, not the rest of the world. I am not a Jew. I am not a descendant of Abraham. Nor, I assume, are any of the members of this Baptist church. Since we are what the Bible refers to as “Gentiles” we have never been under the Law. Not buying that either? Then please, for the love of everything Holy, explain to me why it is that this particular tenet of the Law is the only one that seems to be singled out for adherence? What about that tassel thing? Or not eating pork? Or not wearing clothes made of mixed fabrics? And why is it that I’ve never heard a Protestant Christian teach or preach that we ought to be observing the Feast of Tabernacles or Passover? What about stoning our kids when they lie to us? Or how about stoning a woman who is raped in a town but didn’t scream for help? And if sin is sin (which the Bible tells us it is) then how is any man who cuts the hair at his temples different than someone who marries a person with a different skin color?
You see the problem, I hope. We cannot pick and choose bits and pieces of the Law and claim that they are still in effect without in turn declaring the entire Law to still be our governor. This is exactly what we are taught NOT to do! The Law is not our master any longer. The New Testament tells us repeatedly that we have been freed from the Law. It’s rules are no longer binding. Circumcision is no longer required. Sacrifices are no longer necessary. And God made it abundantly clear that the strict separation laws are no longer valid as well.
This is what I have always had trouble understanding. How is it that so many Christians flat out overlook what God tells us in Acts 10? God didn’t just tell Peter to go preach to a Gentile. I mean, most Christians will swear with their last breath that God wants everyone to be saved, regardless of the color of their skin. Anyone who would dare to say otherwise is not what I’d call a Christian. Anyway, people have no problem with the idea of people of other colors being saved. (They’d have to flat out ignore that whole Ethiopian getting saved and baptized in Acts 8.) Yet some of these same Christians draw some kind of line at the idea of – lets just say it – a black man marrying a white woman or a white man marrying a black woman. I’ve often wondered if they would make the same distinction with say a person of Hispanic descent, or Asian, or Native American ancestry, or is it just black/white? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say they would.
So, God tells Peter to go preach to Cornelius, a non-Jew. No problem. But wait, that isn’t just what God said in this passage. Remember all those rules from the Old Testament? One of them is “No pork, because it’s unclean.” Yet, while Peter is praying, his stomach presumably growling because the Bible tells us he was hungry, God gives him a vision. He shows Peter an assortment of animals, some of which were obviously on the “Do Not Eat” list and says, “Get up and kill yourself some food here and eat it.” (Obviously I’m paraphrasing, here. If you want the word for word version, read Acts chapter 10.) Peter is not only stunned, but seems to be a bit insulted. He puffs out his chest and says, “No way! I’ve never eaten anything unclean!” Does God give him a big old pat on the back? Nope, He says, “Don’t call anything unclean that I have cleansed.” And God didn’t just say this once, He repeated it two more times. I reckon He wanted to make sure Peter got the message.
While Peter is sitting there, trying to figure out exactly what God was trying to tell him, here comes a bunch of Gentiles wanting him to come with them. And suddenly, things start to click in his head. He goes off with them and meets Cornelius where he says, “I know it’s supposed to be unlawful for me to keep company with a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should call no man common or unclean.” The actual verse just for emphasis:
And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
Acts 10:28 (KJV)
Peter goes on to point out that he now realizes that God is no respecter of persons, meaning that God has done away with that whole “I’m extra special because I was born a Jew and everyone else is lower than the dirt beneath my feet.” (I am not saying that the Jews are no longer “God’s chosen people.” God made a covenant with them that is everlasting. They hold a unique and special place in God’s heart and in His plan. But they are NOT the only ones who can or will be saved. Not anymore.)
But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
Acts 10:35 (KJV)
Tell me that this does not expressly say that anyone, in any nation, of any nationality, who fears God and accepts Him is deemed acceptable in His sight. Jesus didn’t die just for the Jews. He didn’t die only for a select group of people with a single color of skin. The fact is, we are all the same race. We are human. The color of our skin is a quirk of nature and genetics. God is no respecter of persons. He isn’t a blue eyed, white man with flowing white hair and beard. Jesus absolutely did not have blonde hair and blue eyes. Which brings us full circle back to old prejudices.
God made it abundantly clear with the story of Cornelius and Peter that the old laws about who the Jews could and could not associate with were null and void thanks to the sacrifice made by His Son, Jesus. Peter points out that it was previously unlawful for a Jew to even spend time with someone from another nation. Never mind marrying one of them. Remember how surprised the Samaritan woman at the well was when Jesus not only spoke to her, but asked her to give him water? She had good reason to be surprised considering Jewish tradition and Law. Yet Jesus Himself refused to be swayed by such prejudices.
He staunchly ignored the Jewish notion of superiority and routinely spent His time with the very people the Jews abhorred. I don’t imagine it was easy for Peter and the others to let go of the things they’d spent their lives being taught and possibly even believing themselves. The Bible doesn’t give us any extra info about Peter’s meeting with Cornelius, like whether or not Peter felt uncomfortable but pushed it aside so that he could honor God by obeying His will. I can’t help but wonder if Peter had to remind himself a few times that things were different than they used to be. Oh, wait, I’m pretty sure the Bible told us that he did struggle with such issues. In Galatians 2 Paul has to call Peter to task because Peter is living a dual life, one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles. Basically, Peter seems to understand and accept that God has done away with the separation between the Jews and Gentiles, but when other Jews show up, he falls back into the old prejudices and starts observing the old traditions. So clearly it took some time for old habits and patterns of thinking to be done away with. If Peter had to work at letting go of the prejudices that had been instilled in him all his life, then I don’t expect it to be any easier for us.
I don’t know how old I was when I first started to realize that the things I’d heard my whole life were based in ignorance and prejudice. I can’t remember when I first turned that corner in my understanding. I only know that these days, I’m regularly appalled by the racism I see in people who proclaim themselves to be Christians. (Let’s not even get into political and social racism, which is not just a problem with whites.) Got told us that all scripture is given by God and is of benefit to us.
All means ALL, including the Old Testament. We aren’t under the Law any longer, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no value in it and no lessons to be learned from it. My take from the whole ban on marriage with other nationalities is that there is plenty of reason to be careful when entering into a relationship with someone of a different nationality or “race.” Along with different nationalities come different cultures. I’ve known white people from South Africa who believe and practice things I find exotic and strange. They’re white and so fair game as far as marriage goes according to the Kentucky church and those who share their beliefs. But I say that “legal” marriage could be far more troublesome than one between people of different skin colors because if both of them aren’t Christians, then all those same problems that God mentioned back in the Old Testament come into play. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, it matters who your God is. This is such a simple, undeniable truth, that I find myself repeatedly stunned by how unwilling some are to accept it.
To be sure, interracial marriage isn’t something to be entered into lightly. Obviously, it is still going to cause some issues because there are clearly some out there who find it offensive. But I can see no believable, sustainable argument against it in the Bible. What I do see is Christians, often very decent people, who just can’t quite seem to rid themselves of the deeply imbedded threads of racism that they very often aren’t even willing to admit they possess. But then that’s the flaw we all suffer from, isn’t it? We are all incredibly skilled at ignoring and/or excusing our own flaws and failings. And that’s why I’m writing this. Because I wonder how many of us are willing to take a long, hard, critical look at why we believe what we believe? How many of us are willing or even able to look at our own motives and beliefs objectively? It isn’t an easy thing to do, especially when our beliefs and prejudices are challenged openly. So how about taking a little time wherever you are to look inward at what you believe? Is it really something you can back up with Scripture, or are you merely clinging to things you’ve heard or been told that conveniently line up with your personal feelings? It would do us all good to ask ourselves these kinds of questions. And it would do the whole world good if we would not just ask the questions, but act on the answers.