The Bible and interracial marriage

28 Aug 2021 3:24 PM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

My aim in this chapter is to argue from Scripture and experience that interracial marriage is not only permitted by God but is a positive good in our day. It is not just to be tolerated, but celebrated. America is ambivalent about this. On the one hand, interracial marriage has been advancing:

Half of all Asians are now marrying non-Asians; by the third generation half of all Hispanics are also marrying outside the ethnic group. The black intermarriage rate is slowly but steadily rising. The categories “Hispanic,” “Asian,” and “white” (always questionable) are fast becoming a positive anachronism, and even “black” is a label that is fraying at the edges.1

On the other hand, the history of resistance, while changing, is still with us. There is opposition to interracial marriage from all sides.

LAWS AGAINST MISCEGENATION

Thankfully, this strange word, miscegenation, is not known the way it used to be. It means “the interbreeding of people considered to be of different racial types.” It used to be found in the law books of many states—as prohibited.2

“As late as 1958, only 4 per cent of American whites approved of inter-racial marriage.”3 Interracial marriage was against the law in sixteen states in 1967 when the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision struck down those laws.4 Not until 1998 did South Carolina, the state I grew up in, remove from the state constitution language that prohibited “marriage of a white person with a Negro or mulatto or a person who shall have one-eighth or more Negro blood.”5 “According to a Mason-Dixon poll four months before the vote, 22 [percent] of South Carolina voters were opposed to the removal of this clause. It had been introduced in 1895.”6

The legislature in Alabama took until the year 2000 to remove from the state constitution Article IV, Section 102, which said, “The Legislature shall never pass any law to authorize or legalize any marriage between any white person and a Negro, or a descendant of a Negro.”7 That law had been introduced in 1901. “According to a poll conducted by the Mobile Register in September of 2000, 19 [percent] of voters said that they would not remove section 102.… However, 64 [percent] said that they would vote to remove it.”8

That is very fresh historically. I spent the first eighteen years of my life growing up in a state where interracial marriage between white and black was illegal. When those laws were struck down by the Loving case in 1967, I was a senior in college. From a historical perspective, that is almost like yesterday. Laws reflect deep convictions. Often the change in conviction lags far behind the change in law. That is certainly the case with regard to interracial marriage.9

OPPOSITION TO INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE

When I was preparing to preach on this topic in January of 2005, the first website that came up on my Google search for Martin Luther King and interracial marriage was the website of the Ku Klux Klan, which still had this anachronistic quote: “Interracial marriage is a violation of God’s Law and a communist ploy to weaken America.” Communist?

Many African Americans believe interracial marriage erodes the solidarity of the African American community. Lawrence Otis Graham wrote that “interracial marriage undermines [African-Americans’] ability to introduce our children to black role models who accept their racial identity with pride.”10

Some whites oppose interracial marriage for a different reason. Syndicated columnist H. Millard wrote:

We are seeing the death of the American and his replacement with a non-European type who now has enough mass in our society to pervert European-American ways.… White people … are going to have to struggle mightily to survive the Neo-Melting Pot and avoid being part of the one-size-fits-all human model. Call it what it is: Genocide and extinction of the white genotype.11

One personal letter I received from a white Christian man went like this:

As individuals, they are precious souls for whom Christ died and whom we are to love and seek to win. As a race, however, they are unique and different and have their own culture.… I would never marry a black. Why? Because I believe God made the races, separated them and set the bounds of their habitation (Deuteronomy 32:8; Acts 17:26).

He made them uniquely different and intended that these distinctions remain. God never intended the human race to become a mixed or mongrel race. So, while I am strongly opposed to segregation, I favor separation that the uniqueness with which God made them is maintained.

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

To these opposing views, I would add my own experience. I was a Southern teenage racist (by almost any definition), and since I am a sinner still, I do not doubt that elements of it remain in me, to my dismay. For these lingering attitudes and actions, I repent and set my heart against them.

Racism is a very difficult reality to define. But let’s again make use of the definition that the Presbyterian Church in America decided on in the summer of 2004: “Racism is an explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one race over other races.”12 That is what I mean when I say I was a racist growing up in Greenville, South Carolina. My attitudes and actions were demeaning and disrespectful toward nonwhites, and blacks were the only nonwhites I knew. At the heart of those attitudes was opposition to interracial marriage.

As I mentioned in the introduction, my mother, who literally washed my mouth out with soap once for saying “Shut up!” to my sister, would have washed my mouth out with gasoline if she knew how foul my mouth was racially. She was, under God, the seed of my salvation in more ways than one. As I mentioned previously, after our church voted not to admit blacks in 1963, when I was seventeen, my mother ushered the black guests at my sister’s wedding right into the main sanctuary herself because the ushers wouldn’t do it. I was on my way to redemption.

In 1967 my wife, Noël, and I attended the Urbana Missions Conference. I was a senior at Wheaton College. There we heard Warren Webster, former missionary to Pakistan, answer a student’s question: “What if your daughter falls in love with a Pakistani while you’re on the mission field and wants to marry him?” With great forcefulness, he said something like, “Better a Christian Pakistani than a godless white American!” The impact on us was profound.

Four years later I wrote a paper called “The Ethics of Interracial Marriage” for Lewis Smedes in an ethics class at Fuller Seminary. I still have it. For me that was a biblical settling of the matter, and I have not gone back from what I saw there. The Bible does not oppose or forbid interracial marriages. And there are circumstances which together with biblical principles make interracial marriage in many cases a positive good.

Now I am a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. One quick walk through the pictorial directory of our church gives me a rough count of 203 non-Anglos pictured in the book. I am sure I missed some, and that more have joined since the directory was printed in 2005. And I am sure the definition of Anglo is so vague that someone will be bothered that I even tried to count. But the point is this: many of them are children and teenagers and single young men and women. This means very simply that we as a church need a clear place to stand on interracial marriage. Church is the most natural and proper place to find a spouse. And some of them will find each other across racial lines.

John Piper, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 203–206.

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